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 where necessary.  Then self-edit some more.

Editing your manuscript yourself, to the point where you feel it is as good as you can get it, should result in a manuscript that is in fairly good shape. Note however that if this is your first book, and you have attempted something really ambitious, like a novel, or any story with a complex structure, it is likely that even after working as hard as you can to get it perfect yourself, your manuscript will still need a lot more work.

Note: some writers find it helpful to hire a beta reader to give their feedback (as a reader, not an editor) about their manuscript, to help the writer self-edit the manuscript further. You can read more about using beta readers below.

As a general rule of thumb: the better shape your manuscript is in when you hand it over to a professional editor, the less it will cost you to have it edited.

If your manuscript is an autobiography, memoir, biography, family history, a novel or a collection of stories or poems: after self-editing to the point where you feel you can’t improve it any further, you should hire a  professional editor to conduct either a manuscript assessment, or a structural or developmental edit.

After the editor has done that assessment or edit, the writer will then usually need to do a lot more work (as per the editor’s suggestions) to improve their manuscript to the point where it is ready to be copy edited.

Get into a self-editing headspace

During the 1st draft stage, you were the writer.

But now, at self-editing stage, you need to step outside yourself and put yourself in the editing space – so you can read, and edit, the manuscript as if you are the reader, not the writer.

Bearing in mind that you are actually the writer, that writer part of your brain is personally and emotionally involved in what you have written. Therefore, you cannot really be as objective as an editor when editing your manuscript.

But you can try.

The first round of self-editing should be akin to a structural or developmental edit. Although you are not a professional editor so probably won’t quite get this right, you will be able to notice some of those bigger-picture issues that need to be addressed and work out how to fix them yourself.

If your manuscript is a novel, sef-edit with these  issues in mind: Structural editing of a novel.

The  structural changes needed may include deleting or rewriting whole sections, moving chapters around, changing the point of view (who is telling the story), changing the tense or making the tense consistent (e.g. present or past tense), or changing the order or sequence of events.

Subsequent rounds of self-editing

Once you have made all the major corrections and improvements necessary, you can focus on the smaller stuff. Improve that not-quite-right word or clumsy phrase. Read dialogue aloud to gauge whether it is what those characters would really have said in those situations.

The number of times you need to self-edit, and the number of changes you make during each self-edit, will depend on how close to the mark (of getting it right) you were in your original manuscript, and how well you are able to self-edit in a way that prioritises the reader’s needs, not your own.

Sometimes a writer will spend weeks or months (or even years) self-editing a manuscript then hand it over to their beta readers, or to an editor, only to discover they still need to put in many more hours of self-editing.

Beta readers

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 reader 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 critiquing your work. Consider hiring a beta reader.

Once you have received feedback from your beta readers: 1) read their suggestions, 2) decide what to do about the things that don’t seem to be working well, and 3) take your manuscript through another round of self-editing.

Manuscript assessment

Many writers pay a professional editor to conduct a manuscript assessment.

This editor should give you the advice you need to improve your manuscript to the point where it is ready to be copy edited. So, if your goal is to self-edit your manuscript until it is absolutely as good as you can get it, then paying for a manuscript assessment is a good idea.

After self-editing

After self-editing, with the assistance of an editor to make sure your manuscript is structurally sound, your manuscript should be ready for the copy editing stage.

For more information about the structural and copy editing stages, go to: The different stages of editing.  If you are not sure how to choose the right editor to assess or edit your manuscript, go to: Choosing the best editor.

For more information about self-editing

Image: Thank you to WOCinTechChat for permission to use this image.

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