Self-editing your manuscript (fiction or non-fiction)

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. Also save it 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. Bear 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 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. Because, believe me, there will be a ‘next time’.

The first round of self-editing should include correcting or improving words or phrases. But it should also include 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 parts of the story are told. If possible, all the major corrections and improvements needed should be identified during this first round of self-editing.

Subsequent rounds of self-editing

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

The methods you use to self-edit your manuscript and the number of times you need to self-edit will depend on how well-written it is and how thorough you are during each self-edit. Sometimes a writer will spend weeks self-editing a manuscript then hand it over to their beta readers, or to an editor for a manuscript appraisal, 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.

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.

Manuscript appraisal

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: you are essentially buying the professional person’s time and knowledge.

A manuscript appraisal should give you the advice 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 for a manuscript appraisal is a good idea.

Handing your manuscript over to an editor

Once you have given your manuscript to a professional editor, unless the editor advises you that some sections need to be rewritten, you’ll never have to self-edit that particular manuscript, ever again.

For more information about what needs to happen to your manuscript during the 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, go to: Other articles about editing and proofreading.

For more information about self-editing

Photograph: Joe Bailey, Creative Director, My Trading Skills.

Copyright image: Joe Bailey, Creative Director, My Trading Skills.

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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