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The Self Publisher’s Guide to Editing

Self Publishing is an amazing option for so many reasons. You have total control over every aspect of your publishing process and don’t have to rely on others for approval in many areas — such as deciding if your novel is marketable enough to publish in the first place.

One thing to keep in check when you’re self publishing however, is your budget. When a traditional publisher picks up your work they’ll handle much of the financial end of things and you’ll get a percentage of royalties for your end of the labor. But when self publishing, you’re covering everything, so it becomes even more important to pinch those pennies where you can.

Prior to self publishing OR traditionally publishing, you’re going to have to go through the editing process. But it’s a bit different depending on which direction you’re headed.

While traditionally published books will do best with an experienced editor who understands the current literary landscape and can help your book become publisher-ready, the self publishing writer can have a more personalized approach. And so, the question becomes…

Should you edit your own novel?

Well, right off the bat you are going to have to do some level of editing on your own. You should always proofread your novel and check for spelling and grammatical errors along with plot holes and really meditate on what needs to stay, what needs to go, and what needs to be added that you missed when you review your first draft.

But, after you feel you’ve done enough in those areas you’ll be looking to further content editing, copy editing, and line editing.

While you can do all of these things, the primary benefit of an editor is the outside opinion. It is rare that you will not overlook something in your own work because you are simply so close to it! But if you are alright with that sacrifice, then let’s chat about how to edit your own novel.

Content Editing your own novel

Content or developmental editing focuses on the big picture elements of your story and plays a large role in manuscript development. It addresses such things as plot holes, character arcs and pacing.

Plot holes

This is one of the areas in which an outside eye can help. If you do not want to hire an editor though and still have that outside eye, you can reach out to a beta reader or two to do their thing and give you some general feedback.

To find plot holes on your own, I recommend using the read aloud option in Word or getting a text to speech app on your phone so you can hear another voice dictating your story to you. This will allow you to detach a bit and view your novel from a reader’s point of view.

Plot holes can actually be quite the gift if you’re looking to expand your novel’s length — fixing them builds opportunity to explore your world even more!

Character arcs

Lucky for you, there are plenty of resources online about character arcs. While you don’t have to follow a pre-set pattern to a tee, these tried and true methods work for a reason and are likely to help your novel succeed through birthing relatable characters.

If your character is set to have a transformational act, make notes through your novel of when the following points occur:

If you are missing any of these points in your character’s arc, see if you can work it into your novel. You’ll be pleasantly surprised at the change it brings about to the novel as a whole!

Pacing

If you are editing for your own pacing, Save the Cat is the way to go.

The percentages in this method have been especially useful to me personally as it makes the entire process of pacing quite mathematical. If your opening image and theme building up to the catalyst is 50% of your novel for example, you need to edit that down.

For even more connection with how to pace your novel, check out these beat sheets of familiar films where you can see Save the Cat in action.

Copy Editing your own novel

Where content editing may result in expansion of your novel (especially when fixing plot holes), copy editing is for tightening up your work.

Find your trouble words

Let’s start off right away with ‘trouble words’. As defined by Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing these are:

If your eye catches on any of these, wondering “wait… I thought those meant the same thing” then you’re not alone. You’ve just found your trouble words!

Of course by no means does this include all trouble words, but it’s a good start. Personally my trouble word (as I’m reminded of regularly by my editor) is ‘led’. I just can’t stop writing ‘lead’! 😅

Find your crutch words

What words do you use over and over again? I’m constantly saying ‘a little’ in my writing. Once you listen your words read aloud you will REALLY pick up on these. Locate them, and do something about it. You don’t want your novel to sound clunky and repetitive. Another good tip is to make sure you’re not using the same word in the same sentence or even paragraph. This is called ‘tautology’ and is jarring to the reader.

Thesaurus.com is out there, and it exists purely for your use. So use it!

Check for consistency

Do you spell a particular term differently every time you use it? You’re going to want to make it uniform. Words such as daycare often wind up switching from day-care to Day Care to daycare all in the same novel!

Other words that are commonly inconsistent include:

Pick one, and stick with it! And of course, make sure you’re sticking with one voice and tense as well. In some cases, a switch can be pertinent to the story, but make sure if you’re doing this it’s intentional and you don’t leave in any accidental switches.

Additional Tips

Before this becomes an entire course, I’d like to list in point form a few more suggestions for your copy editing process. If you’d like to see more blogging on copy editing, please leave a comment below saying so!

Line Editing your own novel

Working sentence by sentence, line editing takes a deep dive into your prose, focusing on how to use language and communicate with your reader. Sound similar to copy editing? Not quite.

Line editing is the most meticulous of your three major novel editing types as you are looking at small pieces of your writing rather than larger concepts and errors.

Before starting on any editing, it’s a good idea to let your book rest a bit as another way to detach from the words you’ve put down on the page. After a couple of weeks or a month you can get back in there and tear things up!

Check for passive voice

While this can be applied to copy editing, it’s perhaps an even more useful check to do as the first step in your line editing process. Best of all, there’s an app for that making this a minimally daunting way to ease into your detailed edit.

Grab that Thesaurus

This is it friends — if you were keeping an eye out for tautology and crutch words in your copy editing process you can get rid of every last one of them through line editing. Grab your thesaurus or head to Thesaurus.com and tighten on those lines. By the end of your line edit every paragraph should be wonderfully unique from the one before it.

Grab your Dictionary, too

Did you throw a word in thinking it would sound good, but if someone asked you to define it you’d mumble your way through? Make sure you know for sure what you’re saying in every sentence.

If you’ve done your job right, when you finish your line edit, your novel will be consistent and concise while retaining its creativity!

Invest your time or invest your money

When deciding whether or not to do the full edit of your self published novel, it comes down to what you’re able to invest: time, or money. Now that you’ve had a glimpse into the world of editing, you can see why editors charge for their services and how valid that charge is.

There are many things in the literary world that you can do yourself, and this is one of them. But you do risk sacrificing quality, experience, and that outside viewpoint especially if you’re new to the game.

Should you choose to edit your novel, all the power to you! It’s a commendable choice and we’re behind you 100%.

Book Daemons is a helper organization striving to carve out a safe haven online free from those who aim to take advantage of fledgling authors.

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