How To Edit A Book: Tips For Self-Editing A Book

Tips On How to edit a book

After investing months on end in writing your book, editing it can be a surprisingly sobering process. From making sure that the overall continuity of your book is maintained to paying attention to the tiniest details, editing is an extensive process. For writers looking at how to edit a book, this process can be simplified using a structured step-by-step checklist. Regardless of whether a writer chooses to get a professional editor or not, self-editing your manuscript first can go a long way. Self-editing is as much a part of the writing process as the writing itself. A system of checks and balances for the narrative and the characters are innate to writing a story.

However, just like how surgeons are not allowed to operate on their family members because objectivity goes out of focus, in the same way, if you are looking to self-edit your book, you must let it rest for a while for it to become a close enough stranger whom you can analyze. This helps look at your own work in a manner that is more introspective rather than dismissive about things that seem out of place in your book.

A few simple steps that one can follow to kickstart the process of self-editing are:

  • An effective way to enhance the process of self-editing is by switching the font you have used to Comic Sans, this font is known to be easier on the eyes, especially for people with dyslexia.
  • Another way is to read your manuscript aloud or having a text-to-speech software read it out to you. This helps catch errors that you might not notice otherwise. There are various free online tools available for this purpose such as NaturalReader and Zabaware Text To Speech Reader.

The process of editing is a full circle in itself which begins and ends with paying a great deal of attention to details with regard to proofreading and the formatting of your manuscript. Search for troubling words, remove or replace your crutch words, remove all double spaces at the end of sentences, and search for problematic punctuation. Once this is in place you must consider the style guide you have decided to use for your manuscript.

The three most popular style guides are the Oxford style guide, the Economist style guide, and the Chicago manual of style.

  • The Oxford Style Guide is the university style guide and is essentially meant for use and reference for University publications. It is one of the most prevalent style guides for the usage of UK English.
  • The Economist Style Guide is the language framework used for the British newspaper, the Economists. Although it has been adopted by various writers, this style guide is primarily intensively used in Journalism.
  • The Chicago Manual of Style is one of the most used style guides for American English. This style guide was published by the University of Chicago Press and is significantly used for fiction and non-fiction publications in the USA and elsewhere.

Although these are the most common style guides, you can also choose from various others such as the American Medical Association (AMA), American Psychological Association (APA), Associated Press Style Book (AP), Council of Science Editors (CSE), etc.

Once the basics of editing are in place, the next part of editing involves following a step-by-step process. This process covers detailed editing starting from structural editing, plot editing, conflict and theme editing, copy editing, scene-by-scene editing to proofreading.

Structural Edit

Structural editing is the first and foremost step to polishing the content of your manuscript. It involves going over your manuscript to find any inconsistencies in the broad overview of your story. This type of editing, for both fiction and non-fiction, encompasses uniformity in:

  • The point of view of the characters – A character cannot have a change of heart or a stern opinion without there being a build-up. It is essential for a writer to ensure that there is consistency in the overall structure of each of their character’s personalities.
  • Tense – In the flow of writing, very often writers tend to oscillate between the present and the past tense. A structural edit helps assess and remove any dissonance in tense.
  • Plot and sub-plots – As the name suggests, this type of book editing focuses on aligning the plots and sub-plots of your manuscript to ensure the sequence of events (whether presented chronologically or in a random fashion) work in harmony to build-up to the final resolution of your story.
  • Dialogue –  The goal is to add or remove individual elements depending on how they add value to the overall narrative. Although for the genre of fiction, a writer can manipulate both the addition and subtraction of certain dialogues. The same cannot hold true for non-fiction, the writer cannot add dialogues made out of their own volition. However, they can choose to maintain certain dialogues or omit them with respect to how much value they are contributing to moving the story forward.

In non-fiction, editing the content consists of mostly technical objective material, hence while editing, one needs to focus on ensuring the jargons are not misused, and all references and facts are right.

Plot Editing

The highlight of plot editing is to check upon the intensity of crucial plots in the story and make an appraisal of how they are contributing to either driving up the tension in the narrative or how they are building up to a resolution. Although plot editing is briefly covered in structural edit in terms of maintaining consistency within the plot, the point of plot editing as a separate subset of editing your manuscript is to ensure that the story does not become predictable. The two questions you must ask yourself while carrying out plot editing are:

  • Is this plot driving the story forward?
  • Is this plot building an element of surprise?

In fiction, plot editing focuses on keeping the audience engaged and the story interesting, thereby the focus is more on how the story is presented.

In non-fiction, this type of editing is used to bring organization and clarity to the story being presented and involves fact-checking of the details mentioned throughout the various plots that form the story.

Conflict and Theme Editing

This type of editing focuses on the overarching theme of the book and how synchronised conflict and continuity in between chapters strengthens the backbone of the story. The aim here is to make sure that each and every conflict and the overall theme of the story complement the book as a whole, and contribute to keeping the reader engaged.

In fiction, this can help take out any dissonance in the backstory of the characters, especially characters that are added to serve a specific purpose in a particular part of the story. This can be dealt with creating mental maps for both the storyline and the backstory of the characters (at the center of the story or at the periphery).

In non-fiction, conflict and theme editing helps clear out any inconsistencies in the reenactment of the characters and their story. Building a timeline of the events in chronological order helps in maintaining the validity of the story and builds a reference point for the writer when self-editing their manuscript.

Copy Editing

In this type of editing, the focus is on checking for mistakes, inconsistencies, and repetition in the language of your book. This is a technical process as you have to give extreme attention to detail. Selecting a style guide helps in smoothing out the process of copyediting. You can also use free online tools that browse through your manuscript and correct any errors related to the copy of your book. For example, 1Checker and After the deadline.

Editing Scene-by-Scene

As the name suggests, this type of editing focuses heavily on checking the validity of your story by overviewing how one scene corresponds to the other. It is defined by the transition and positioning of conflict and respite in the story. To begin with, in this type of editing, go over the three-act structure of your story, i.e., setup, conflict, and resolution to ensure that it is in sync with the sequence of events within the story.

For fiction writers, this process involves actively editing the three-act structure to make the story more engaging, whereas for nonfiction writers, this process is more about keeping a check on the chronology of events and arranging them in a way that adds to the build of the resolution of the story.

Although an extensive exercise, editing scene-by-scene can be made easy by listening to your manuscript. Most latest computers have a feature available that enables one to hear out their manuscript. Mac users can go into system preferences to choose a system voice and speaking rate for the selected text. PC users can utilize the Narrator feature available in the system’s Ease of Access Center.

Dialogue Editing

While carrying out dialogue editing, it is extremely important to question how each dialogue is adding value to not just the story but the character saying it. Keep an eye out for insignificant and repetitive dialogues that may appear normal but do not add much to the scene. Although dialogue tags (such ‘he said’ and ‘she said’) may get repetitive, it is important to keep in mind that these are meant to be functional rather than decorative. Sometimes adding words such as ‘he bellowed’ or ‘she roared’ can get distracting for the reader and takes away the focus from the actual conversation.

It is important that the words that come out of the character’s mouth should seem effortless and should always be in sync with how someone like a particular character would talk in reality.


A term you might be familiar with, proofreading involves overviewing the manuscript to weed out any additional typographical errors, irregularities in the fonts used, incorrect lines, words, or page spacing. This is the final stage that polishes your manuscript to become a book. There are various free online tools available for proofreading including Ginger and Web Spell-checker.   

Since receiving feedback is a major aid in the editing process, you can reach out to online communities such as Absolute Write Water Cooler and Critique Circle to get an objective insight into your manuscript. Beta readers help in gaining insight that is objective and constructive in nature. As readers, they provide valuable feedback that directly aids in making your manuscript more interesting and engaging.

It is just a myth that the process of editing is limited to the genre of fiction. These steps of how to edit a book are valid for fiction and non-fiction genres as well as poetry, as they address the process of polishing your manuscript at an extremely fundamental level and ensure that the final product is ready for publication.

A writer can always reach out to a professional even after carrying out self-editing to bring about more confidence in your manuscript. Although an extensive process, editing your manuscript can be made easy by making a checklist of all the steps and by utilizing online tools available for editing purposes. It is crucial that a writer makes the most of this process on how to edit a book to enable the best version of their story to come out in the final draft of their book. After all, editing must be invested in with the same zeal and effort with which a writer invests in writing for a successful book to be born.

2 Responses

  1. Renu Rakhe says:

    Want to publish a book of only 5000 words in Hindi ( fiction).

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