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8 Simple Steps to Edit Your Self-Published Manuscript

February 14, 2021
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Editing is a painful process that self-published authors tend to skip. We’ve purchased books from a wide range of authors over the years. The one thing that stops us from reading them, stops us in our tracks, is a poorly edited manuscript. I’ve gone to great lengths to ensure my work doesn’t suffer from this.

How Do I Edit My Books?

I can’t afford editors for my books at this stage in the game. That doesn’t mean I skip editing. Everyone needs to edit their work. The goal is to have the resources to work with editors on an ongoing basis. That’s one of my goals, one I’m slowly reaching.

In writing over 15 books in two years, I’ve come up with a simple, effective way to edit my books. It ensures the fewest amount of published errors, providing manuscripts to readers with a pleasant experience.

1. Learn From Others

The first step is to learn about editing. Pick up books, read, and learn from their mistakes. Find books about the editing process. Use online articles. Learn about grammar, structure, and other elements you tend to miss in your own work.

The more you learn, the more likely you are to write without mistakes.

2. Plot Something, Anything, As Long As You Stop Pantsing

Many writers pants, writing without a planned structure. If you want to refine your editing process, stop pantsing as soon as possible. Pantsing causes editing problems. Plotting eliminates them.

If you’re one of those writers who can’t plot, just keep in mind, the more you pants, the more likely you are to run into structural issues.

Create a structure to guide you while you write. It doesn’t need to be complex, but if you want to reduce editing time, revisions, potentially even full rewrites, make sure you have a plot or an outline of some kind.

For fiction, I plot each scene with the name of the scene and the key bullet points of what needs to happen. No extreme detail, but not simplistic either. I make sure I plot all the characters, the important dialogue points, and any actions that need to happen to move the plot forward. When I write, I can review that scene quickly and know exactly how it fits together.

For nonfiction, I write the overall subject of the chapter with a few thematic bullet points. Nonfiction comes easily to me, so a limited outline works.

Plot in a way that works for you, but plot something to reduce your editing process. Before you write, you can work out plot holes and potential pitfalls that would cause future editing issues.

3. Write Without Editing

Never write and edit at the same time. When you write, you want your ideas to flow onto the paper or the screen. You don’t want to be bogged down in grammar, structure, or word repetition. Just write.

Get the ideas out of your head. Focus on one thing at a time. Write first. Editing comes later.

4. Wait.

A lot of writers forget this step. The best thing you can do to help your editing process is to wait. Set your manuscript to the side after you are done writing. Wait at least one week before editing.

This lets your brain relax and reset. If you edit right away, it will still be thinking about the manuscript and you’ll miss obvious issues.

A brain reset is necessary.

5. Don’t Edit on the Computer

In the day of digital, many disagree with me. Your brain works differently when writing on a digital display and reading on a printed piece of paper.

Print your manuscript. Grab a red pen of doom. And edit until that paper looks blood red.

When you’re done, put those edits into the computer and move to the next step.

Tip: Print it out double-spaced first with a different font. I write in Courier on my computer. My first draft is printed in that font. Later drafts print with Palatino Linotype, the font I use for printed editions. Using multiple fonts helps you catch issues you might not see with earlier versions.

6. Use Automation

Automated editing is part of the process, it isn’t the process. It’s here to help you, but you need to guide it so it doesn’t make mistakes too.

Use something like ProWritingAid to catch grammatical errors, overused words, repeated sentence starts, or other structural problems that you aren’t good at catching on your own.

ProWritingAid reduced my editing time in half. Use it to help reduce yours and learn from it as it catches the techniques your own eyes fail to see.

7. Wait.

You’ve edited with the red pen of doom. Those edits are on the computer, and ProWritingAid has scanned the draft for grammatical errors.

Wait another week.

Writers are tempted to continue editing. Don’t fall into that trap. Put the project to the side for at least a week. Work on writing something else; another fiction book, nonfiction book, article, anything other than your current project.

Then move on to the next step.

8. Repetition Is Your Friend

Print that manuscript again. Get your red pen of doom. Turn the pages red. Run it through the automated editor. Wait a week. Then repeat until you can’t find more edits.

You’ll never have a perfect manuscript. Even the most popular authors like Stephen King and Terry Brooks have errors in their books. Nothing is ever perfect.

Don’t stop at one edit and think you’re done. The more you repeat the process, the more likely you are to come close to perfection. When you find yourself reading an error free script, you can start finalizing the publishing process.

Just remember, it’s rare for things to be error free. We are human after all.

That’s the Process I Use

It’s worked well with only a few minor issues appearing in my latest books. Readers know I’m self-published. They often comment on how well the books are edited compared to other self-published authors.

Best of all, many of my readers will send me those pesky mistakes that find their way into the final draft.

When that happens, I fix them and republish the draft. You should do the same to bring your writing closer to that perfected manuscript.

And strive to hire an editor in the future. Editors are here to help, but sometimes we have to go through the growing pains to reach that level of self-supported income with our books.

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