If you start Googling “Self-editing,” you’ll see some articles advocating the crucial need to self-edit your writing and others discussing how vital it is to hire an editor. It’s confusing. But there’s a reason for it.
The truth is, both are right. But the writers of these articles are talking about different kinds of editing.
It’s easy to confuse the different types of editing. Those writing their first novel (shout out to my NaNoWriMo peeps!) or nonfiction book and who have never been through the editing process tend to equate editing with proofreading. They imagine the hardest part is over and that once they’ve finished writing their manuscript, they can pass it off to an editor, and everything will be great.
Unfortunately, this is typically not the case (although working with a developmental editor in the early stages is ideal, especially for those with limited experience). After you finish your first draft, there’s still a lot of work to do before publication. And the best way to tackle it is to dive right in.
So, with that in mind, let’s discuss the different types of editing, and the best way to handle the self-editing process, step by step. Let’s go!
What Are the Different Types of Self-Editing?
Truth is, there are several different types of editing, including:
- Copy Editing
- Line Editing
- Developmental Editing
- Beta Reading
Whether you intend to self-publish your manuscript or submit it to publishers, you’ll still need to self-edit as much as possible. Although publishers typically have their own editors to handle proofreading and copyediting, they can’t help you with things like plot development, characters, and dialogue. In fact, if a publisher sees any of those kind of issues, they’ll likely reject your manuscript immediately and move on to the next submission.
For structural issues, you’ll need a developmental editor. However, once you learn how to better self-edit your work, these are the sorts of things you can do yourself.
Why Do I Need to Self-Edit My Writing?
Honestly, while a good developmental editor can help pinpoint issues in your work, no one knows your writing better than you do. For this reason, it’s often best to do as much self-editing as you can before you begin sharing with others.
Character and plot development are elements of a good story, and it’s your job as the writer to make them dance and sing. They are things that you will continue to cultivate as your writing skills grow. And once you have these skills, you’ll soon discover that you’re the best one for the job because only you know your work on such an intimate level.
In other words, once you’ve completed your first draft, the next step is to self-edit your work. This means returning to your work and starting to look at it from the point of view of a reader.
Also, as a quick aside, you may find it’s best not to start this process right away. If you can, put your manuscript away for at least a week or two. Then, when you’re ready, you’ll, hopefully, have put some distance between you and your work and return to it with fresh eyes.
Once you do, you’ll inevitably begin seeing various issues. For instance, you might notice some of the dialogue is off, especially early on in the story. You’ll think, “Wait a minute, Hannah would never say that!”
Some other things to look for include the following:
- Are there any plot holes?
- Is your dialogue (dead dialogue) bogging down your scenes, slowing things down too much, or interrupting the action?
- Do your characters act like real people, or do they come across as convenient plot devices?
- Are the tone and style of your work consistent? (Also, do you know to which genre your book belongs?)
- Is your prose smooth and easy to read?
- Are there any scenes (particularly ones with lots of description) that could benefit from being trimmed down? (It’s time to surgically remove all that purple prose!)
If this feels overwhelming, don’t worry. With a little practice, it begins to come naturally.
The more experience you have with this type of self-editing, the easier it will get. (Note: as I was reading this paragraph, I realized that the sentence above was not necessary because it basically says the same things as the sentence before it, so I’m pointing it out to illustrate the concepts in this article.)
With experience, you’ll soon master this self-editing process and even find it enjoyable. Going back through your manuscript to self-edit your writing, cutting redundancies and superfluous content, will make your book way better.
On the other hand, this intimacy, this closeness to your work, makes you the worst possible candidate when it comes to the next editing stage: proofreading and copyediting.
How Do I Hire an Editor for My Book?
Once you’ve finished self-editing your manuscript, it’s time to hire an editor (preferably a professional with an outside perspective) to copyedit your work.
At this stage, you’ve poured through your manuscript–editing and working it as much as possible. You know your work inside and out, on an intimate level.
However, it’s this very intimate relationship that you have with your book that becomes the problem. You’re too close to your work to be able to self-edit your writing, spotting all of the small things, like proper punctuation, grammatical errors, and other such issues.