Self-editing your manuscript
How do you get your manuscript from 1st draft stage to the point where it’s ready to be handed over to an editor? Self-edit. Rewrite if necessary. Self-edit. If you think it will help, use beta readers and/or an editor’s manuscript appraisal. Self-edit again.
Self-editing is not an option; it is an essential part of the process you need to finish before moving your manuscript onto the next stage.
After writing the 1st draft of your manuscript, save it as ‘1st draft’ on your main computer/device as well as in a backup drive/USB in case you need to go back to it later on. Then save it as ‘2nd draft’: this is your working copy.
First round of self-editing
Now you need to self-edit the 2nd draft. Imagine you are one of your readers: what do they see? Edit it as objectively as you can, bearing in mind you are the writer and so involved in what you have written that you cannot really be objective when editing your manuscript.
Whether you self-edit it in hard copy (with a red pen) or electronically (using track changes) is up to you. Don’t get bogged down in a passage or phrase: highlight for amendment next time and move on. Because believe me, there will be a ‘next time’.
The first round of self-editing should include not only correcting or improving words or phrases, but also any structural changes needed such as deleting or rewriting whole sections, moving chapters around, changing the point of view (who is telling the story), or changing the order in which the story is told. If possible, all the major changes needed should be identified and corrected during this first round of self-editing.
Subsequent rounds of self-editing
If you have made all the major changes necessary during the first round of editing, during your next round of self-editing you can focus on the smaller stuff: improving that not-quite-right word or clumsy phrase; reading dialogue aloud to gauge whether that is what those characters would really say and whether your readers will understand and believe them. Some authors read the whole manuscript aloud so they can ‘hear’ where it doesn’t ring true and improve those sections.
The methods you use to self-edit your manuscript and the number of times you need to self-edit it will depend on how well-written it is and how well you’ve been editing it. Sometimes a writer will spend weeks self-editing a manuscript then hand it over to their beta readers, or to an editor to do a manuscript appraisal, only to discover that they have to put in many more hours of work. So if you are thinking of using beta readers or a manuscript appraisal, don’t leave it until the very end of the self-editing process.
Using beta readers is an option many writers use when self-editing a manuscript.
The main thing you want from your beta readers is criticism, for only then will you know what needs improving. So, choosing a friend, family member or your partner as your beta readers may not be a good idea. Choose beta readers who know their grammar and punctuation, have similar tastes or views to your target audience, and will be honest in criticising your work.
Once you have received feedback from all your beta readers: 1) read all their suggestions, 2) decide what to do about any major changes that have been recommended, and 3) take your manuscript through another round of self-editing with your beta reader-notated manuscripts on the side, so you can take them into account when self-editing.
Many writers pay a professional editor to conduct a manuscript appraisal.
Paying for a manuscript appraisal is a bit like paying for advice from a solicitor: yes, it costs money but it’s usually money well spent because what you are essentially buying is the professional person’s time and knowledge.
A manuscript appraisal should give you the knowledge you need to improve your manuscript to the point where it is ready to be handed over to a professional editor. So if your goal is to self-edit your manuscript until it is absolutely as good as you can get it, then paying an editor to give you a manuscript appraisal is a really good idea.
Handing your manuscript over to an editor
Once you have given your manuscript to a professional editor, you won’t need to self-edit your manuscript again unless the editor advises you that some sections need to be rewritten. If that’s the case, part or the whole of your manuscript will come back to you, then once you have worked on it again, you’ll pass it back to the editor. And all going well, you’ll never have to self-edit that particular manuscript, ever again.
For more information about what needs to happen to your manuscript after the self-editing stage, go to: The three stages of editing
If you are not sure how to choose the right editor for your manuscript, go to: Choosing the best editor
For more information about self-editing
- An excellent article about self-editing: 10 simple ways to edit your own book
- An entertaining look at tips and tools for self-editing: How to self-edit your novel
- Self-editing different types of documents: When can you self-edit and when do you need an editor?
- The difference between what writers and editors do: Why writers need editors
The information in this article is drawn from my own experiences over about 25 years: editing and proofreading publications; and writing, compiling and self-publishing hard copy publications. See this blog for other articles about editors and editing, proofreaders and proofreading, and self-publishing.
Proofread by Dee Sansom, On Time Typing.
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