Last week, we talked about the types of edits that can be acquired when you’re ready for an editor. But what if you can’t afford an editor or just want to make sure the edit will take less time so you don’t have to pay as much? As an editor, I always encourage people to get an editor before publishing, particularly self-publishing, but I also understand that not everyone has the money to do that. So what can you do if you’re in that situation? You can self-edit.
Basics of Self-Editing
To begin with, let me say this. Self-editing means nothing if you don’t have a clue how to do it. This is why I recommend that authors find an editor who can help them in this area. Why? Because frankly, most authors can’t do both. There’s no shame in that. They’re not bad writers because of it, certainly. I’ve helped out plenty of people who had great ideas and even an okay execution of the idea, but they didn’t know how to edit it so that it would truly come to life. So, chances are pretty high that you may not have any idea how to edit, even if you know your way around writing a story well enough.
If you’re in that situation, again, there’s no reason for embarrassment. It’s a normal situation to be in. You should, however, take the time to learn about editing. I know it takes time and that time is often in short supply for all of us, but self-editing means you are going to be your own editor, and whether or not readers can really enjoy the story depends entirely upon not just how well you write but also how well you can edit.
This post can’t possibly cover everything you need to know about self-editing. There’s simply far too much to cover, and you’re not going to be able to learn it all overnight. You should approach this with the basic understanding that self-editing is your doing the same things an editor would do. Since that requires a lot of knowledge, the rest of the post will be going over resources you can use to learn how to be a better self-editor. You have to learn and practice editing the same way you had to learn and practice writing. The two are related but separate competencies, and they require very different mindsets and knowledge bases.
- Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King: This one is a really good book to start with if you have no self-editing experience. It’s at the top of the list because it’s more modern than book two on the list but still covers a good mix of basic and advanced topics. It’s well-organized and moves from simple to complex.
- Strunk and White’s Elements of Style by Strunk and White: You should read this if you read nothing else. It’s a bit drier than Browne and King’s book listed above, but it’s just as relevant, and you’ll learn a lot, particularly about the grammar and style portions of editing that every editor should know. I recommend it to both authors and to those asking me for editing advice. For all its dryness, the book is still indispensable, and once you’ve read through it once, you can continue to use it as a reference while editing.
- Revision and Self-Editing by James Scott Bell: This comes from a bit more of a writing perspective based on the pieces I’ve looked through for reference. I’m reading through it in its entirety now, and it’s packed with useful examples, information, and pieces of advice from editors and authors who have experience in the field. Bell also has a pretty good sense of humor, in my opinion, and it comes out in the way he says things or the selections he chooses for examples. This one’s definitely not a terribly difficult read either.
- Woe is I: A Grammarphobe’s Guide to Better English in Plain English by Patricia T. O’Conner: I haven’t personally read this one, but it’s a national best-seller recommended by editors for people looking to self-edit. It focuses more on the sentence-level edit, something every book benefits from but often doesn’t get. Welcome to the world where you agonize over every page, paragraph, sentence, and word in your book. Fun stuff, right? In all seriousness though, this book is well-known for being a humorous, fun approach to teaching you what you need to know about grammar and sentence-level edits.
- Editing Mastery: How to Edit Writing to Perfection by Shani Raja: This is an online course with Udemy written by an ex-Wall Street Journal editor. I’ve gone through almost half the course, and it’s been one of the most valuable resources I’ve ever come across. It’ll teach you how to do a deep edit like some of the world’s top editors do. The course example and practice assignment focuses mainly on non-fiction, but I’ve found that the principles are fairly easy to apply to fiction of any sort as well.
I hope the resources I’ve provided help you out in your self-editing journey. It’s not an easy area to master, frankly, but the resources above have been some of the most useful ones I’ve come across in my time both freelance editing and self-editing. Whatever you choose to do, I wish you best of luck with your piece!