How to Edit Your Book: Editing Tips for Each Stage of the Process

Posted August 28, 2014 by Amanda Shofner in Editing / 4 Comments


If you’ve already written your book, you know one of the biggest writing secrets: editing is a heck of a lot harder than writing. But that doesn’t mean you have to throw up your hands in despair.

Figuring out how to edit your book may be one of the more difficult challenges you face, but here are a few tips specific to each stage of the editing process to get you through.

Quick note: This is simplified version of the editing process. Check out my step-by-step look for a more detailed explanation.

1. Self-Editing

Resist the urge to skip this portion. It’s NOT about catching typos and grammar errors at this point. It’s about building on the foundation of your first draft. You’re focused on content.

Tip 1. Spend time away from your manuscript.

By the time you read “The End,” you’re so involved in your manuscript that you’ve lost all objectivity. Spending time away from it allows you to reclaim some of that objectivity (you’ll never be completely objective) so you can approach editing with fresh eyes.

Tip 2. Print it off and complete a full read through (without editing).

This tip is more of a two-fer. But you want to read your manuscript completely through because you need the full picture. You wrote in bits and pieces, and that’s how your brain thinks of your work. But that’s not how people will view it. And printing it off—reading it in a different format—helps you catch more issues.

Tip 3. Create a “needs to be fixed” list.

While you complete your read through, jot down issues you’d like to fix. This guides your self-edit and gives you an easy-to-identify stopping point. Because, toward the end of your self-editing, you’ll get so involved (again) that you lose objectivity and you’ll be tempted to keep editing until it’s “perfect”—spoiler: perfect doesn’t exist.

2. Beta readers and content editor

Tip 4. Go into this stage expecting your manuscript to need work.

If you think your book is great as-is, you’ll resent the critical (and likely helpful) feedback you get. But that feedback is invaluable: it’ll help you publish a better book. And if your betas or content editor have issues, you can bet your readers will have those issues, too.

Tip 5. Find the right people, whether they’re beta readers, a content editor, or both.

A bad (read: unhelpful) beta reader or content editor is as the same as not having one at all. You want people to like your book, yes, but you also want people who can deliver quality feedback about what you can improve.

Tip 6. Remember that these people want to help you put out the best book—it’s not about you or your ego.

Receiving feedback is terrifying. But needing to work on your manuscript doesn’t mean it’s hopeless or that you’re an awful writer. Focus on publishing the best book possible.

3. Feedback and revision

Tip 7. Look for common themes in your feedback.

If multiple people have issues with something in your manuscript, that’s a clear sign it needs addressing.

Tip 8. Break it down into manageable steps.

This stage is often where many get tripped up (heck, it’s why I offer coaching services) and breaking it down from “I must edit my book” to “I need to edit this chapter” (as a grossly simplified example) makes it easier to tackle.

Tip 9. Remind yourself that you’re in control and feedback is ultimately an opinion.

Every person reads a different book. Your beta readers and content editor bring their own values and beliefs into your book, and these will influence what they think—and what they suggest. You have the power to ignore feedback. Just remember tip 4 and resist the urge to utter the words, “But they just don’t understand.”

4. Copy editing

Tip 10. Read your manuscript out loud before you hand it off to your copy editor.

Reading out loud illuminates a number of issues you’d never catch if you read silently, especially since, by this point, you’ve read your manuscript so many times your brain gets bored. Your manuscript will be cleaner and more polished when you hand it over to your copy editor, which means your copy editor won’t be bogged down by nit-picky items.

Tip 11. Stop thinking you don’t need a copy editor. You do.

You have an inflated opinion of your writing. And you’ll never be able to read your writing from the perspective of someone else. A copy editor helps you make your writing clear, concise, and readable. You’ll sound as brilliant as you think you are.

Even copy editors need copy editors. My copy editor made Elusive Memories so much better than it was.

Tip 12. Remember: error free doesn’t mean quality writing.

Because I’m a copy editor, I’m good at writing grammatical sentences and spotting typos. But that doesn’t mean what I write is going to be awesome. Good story telling and good writing aren’t the same. You can write a grammatical sentence that’s boring and lackluster. Copy editing makes your writing shine.

5. Proofreading

Tip 13. Read your manuscript out loud. Yeah. Again.

You think you’ve done everything you need to before publishing? Wrong. Read your book out loud and read it proud. You need to double check that everything’s as it should be.

Tip 14. Expect to find typos and errors at this stage.

Not only will you find issues that pop up from applying the changes your copy editor suggested, but you’ll also find problems that everyone else missed. Everyone—from your betas to content editor to copy editor—is human. They’re infallible. They will miss problems. And it’s natural.

Tip 15. Don’t rush.

In the proofreading stage, you’ve had your book for so long that you just want to be done. I get it. But rushing is your enemy. Rushing through proofreading opens you to missing mistakes. The little pieces that separate the mediocre from the great.

Full confession: I rushed through proofreading the ebook of Elusive Memories, and had to go back and fix typos I would’ve caught if I had slowed down and taken my time. Learn from my mistakes.

What are your tips on how to edit a book?

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