Self-Editing Techniques (Before Submitting to an Editor)

MatriarchFrontPageThe more you edit yourself, the better you’ll become. Knowing the grammar rules and how to apply them is part of the process; the rest is actually finding the errors in your own work. The more mistakes that you find and correct yourself, the easier of a time your actual editors will have finding the things you’ll STILL miss.

  1. Set it aside for a few days for a fresh look – Looking over the same pages, paragraphs and sentences over and over has a peculiar effect on the brain: you’ll start filling in words that aren’t there. Close the book, go do or work on something else, then look over it again and NOT on the same day. If you can wait a week or longer, even better.
  2. Change the font face and text size – A special thanks to Gabrielle Faust for this suggestion! Changing the font up does a couple of things: it makes everything look different as if you’re reading it for the first time (again), including pushing words to different lines to break up the familiar cadence. This helps obvious mistakes stand out.
  3. Edit chapters from the back to the front – Another good way to catch continuity errors is to start at the end and work your way forward. This helps train your brain to wonder how you got to where you ended up; did you forget any important details earlier in the text that would make your story read or flow better?
  4. Let Adobe Reader read it to you – This is one of my best tricks for catching bad phrasing, double words, missing words and more. Compile your manuscript into a PDF and open it with a free copy of Adobe Reader, then select the “Read out loud” option under “View.” A dull and boring computerized voice will read your book to you paragraph by paragraph without anything resembling inflection, but it hearing it out loud rather than reading it again to yourself helps to find lots of glossed-over errors your brain omits.

Remember: many eyes make for easy editing. Different readers will catch different mistakes, so if you have a trusted beta reader with both kick-ass grammar skills and a willingness to read your entire book, take them up on it. Never, never, NEVER reply solely upon your own judgement that the editing is done and the book is perfect – I promise you… you’re wrong.

Does anyone else have any other trick that they use? Add them below!


5 thoughts on “Self-Editing Techniques (Before Submitting to an Editor)

  1. A couple more…

    – Read your text out loud. You’ll be more likely to catch issues with cadence and word-smithing.
    – Walk through, draw out, act out, or use the salt shakers/rocks/whatever’s handy to check out actions, even simple ones, to see if what you have the characters doing makes sense. If it’s a fight you’ve choreographed, play out both sides (shadow-boxing if necessary) to make sure no one’s doing impossible human tricks.


  2. Something I’ve found that helps is to read someone else’s work. Most times I revisit the work of my favorite authors, but more recently I have been exploring the work of my peers. (indies)

    When writing, I’m competing against the work of these authors. Not the story, mind you, but the actual work they put into creating it. In my experience, the work of most published authors tends to have fewer mistakes. Transitions are smooth, the stories flow and grammar/spelling is good enough that I’ll subconsciously overlook any mistakes that I DO find.

    I’ve read some very good indie-published stories, and I have read some very shoddy ones as well.

    With the former, I’m trying to write a story that people will enjoy in much the same way as I did the work before me, where-as with the work of my peers I am comparing techniques.

    Reading is an excellent way to help one improve their self editing techniques. While it DOES start with one’s own work, I think it helps to take an approach to another’s work as if one were editing it as well.


  3. R. Ricardsson: that is very true, and it can especially help if the work is in your own genre. That can only help with the initial writing however; being well-read does nothing to help you edit your own work unless you’ve edited the works of others rather than simply read them.

    That said, no one should have to compete against anyone else; if anything, we should all be encouraging one another to improve. The ones with the most success are often the ones with the largest body of work, an accomplishment than doesn’t hurt when trying to create a fan base. Everyday is a new day for someone to discover your work for the first time, and at no time should an writer feel less accomplished over someone else’s success.


  4. Good tips! Here’s another: If you’re editing a printed version, use a neon-colored envelope and go down the text line by line, using the top edge of the envelope. The bright color makes errors pop out more easily.

    Find-a-word puzzles (where you circle a word horizontally, vertically or diagonally) are also good for editors. They help to increase your visual acuity.


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