There are 2 crucial steps before your manuscript is sent off for editing. The first is self-editing. Here are our top 10 tips for how to self-edit your w...
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How To Self-Edit Your Manuscript

There are 2 crucial steps before your manuscript is sent off for editing. The first is self-editing. Here are our top 10 tips for how to self-edit your w...

A common thought among first-time writers is that once they finish writing their book it’s ready to go straight to a professional editor. However, there are two crucial steps that need to take place before you ship your manuscript off for editing. The first is that you must do a few rounds of self-editing yourself. This is the time to read your book as if you’ve never seen it before. Look for plot issues and other trouble spots that could trip your readers up. Take the time to delete material that doesn’t need to stay, run spell check, look for ways to simplify your language, and more. The other crucial step is beta reading, which you can read more about here. As for now, let’s jump into the top 10 tips for doing self-edits on your manuscript.

1. Avoid throat-clearing.

If you spend the first few pages of your book or a specific chapter giving backstory and setting the scene, that material needs to go. You need to be ruthless with your writing and cut these pages out. You can take that information and find better ways to work scene-setting and backstory through a more active storytelling approach. Instead, use your characters to do this work for you in dialogue, or use flashbacks.

2. Lean toward normal language over the complicated language.

Your book is not the place to show off your vocabulary. Your book’s reading level needs to meet a specific reading level for the genre you’re writing. There are plenty of tools online to check the reading level of your work, too. The Flesch-Kincaid score is commonly used.

3. Delete redundancy.

“She cried as tears ran down her cheeks.” This sentence can end after “cried” because “as tears ran down her cheeks” is redundant. Readers know she has tears because they have already been told she’s crying. The same goes for “Shawn blinked his eyes.” Delete “his eyes.” Comb through your work for these redundancies and delete the extraneous words.

4. The word “that” isn’t as necessary as you think.

In most cases, you can delete “that” anywhere you see it. You only need to keep it if the sentence is unclear without it.

5. Respect your readers.

Once you’ve told your readers something, you don’t need to repeat it. Remove additional word count you added to explain something readers will already understand.

6. Check your plot.

Ask yourself if your plot structure is engaging and logically flows throughout the story and maintains a certain level of momentum. If you have plot twists, do they make sense? (Beta readers are extremely important truth-tellers when it comes to plot issues.) Ask yourself if you’ve tied up all loose ends by the end of the book. If you haven’t, you need to go back through and connect all your dots. You also need to check your plot against traditional plot formulas used in your genre. If you don’t match up to what is currently selling, you’ll need to do some reworking.

7. Strong characters are important.

If you notice your characters coming off a little flat—not well rounded or not multidimensional—then you’ll need to take some time to refocus on your character profiles and incorporate new information to add depth to them in your story.

8. Scenes are required.

You can’t rely on backstory, scene-setting, and dialogue to tell a story. You must break your book into scenes that only move your story and your characters forward. If the material doesn’t progress the story, it’s important to leave it on the cutting-room floor.

9. Check your dialogue.

Each character needs to have her or his own tone and style of speaking. And if you start a character with a specific dialect, for continuity purposes you must continue that dialect throughout your manuscript for that character. Also, be sure you’re only using “said” or, “says” (depending on verb tense you’re writing in) for dialogue tags. Tags like “he huffed” or “she smiled” or “he laughed” aren’t correct dialogue tags.

10. Review your point of view.

If you start your story by using your protagonist to tell the story in the first person, you must continue that point of view throughout. That means you can’t switch and have a secondary character tell the story or share his or her thoughts. Everything has to come from the protagonist or be told to the protagonist.

Once you’ve self-edited your manuscript—which should take a few passes—you’ll want to engage some beta readers for your work. From there, you’ll want to take your beta readers’ thoughts to further revise your work before moving into a professional edit.


Tell us: Do you enjoy the writing process or the self-editing process more?


Erika Bennett is the Content Manager for Xulon Press. She has worked in the publishing industry for more than a decade and her passion is to make sure great books find their way into readers' hands. You can also find her writing on

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