Self-publishing skills: Editing

This is the second in a series of blog posts about the skills you need to become a self-published writer. Make sure you subscribe to or follow the blog to get all the latest updates, tips and articles.

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In last post, I said it’s best not to edit as you write. So, we should probably look at what editing means.

After you’ve written the story, put it aside for some time. The length of that time is entirely up to you, but it should be as long as you can stand it.

The longer you leave it alone, the easier it will be to spot all the things you’re not happy with, that don’t make sense and that you think could be improved.

It’s important to remember that, if you’re like me, you’ll think it all needs improving. It doesn’t! You’ve written a story! A whole story! Be proud of yourself and give yourself the reward you deserve: have a drink, go to an aquarium, sing loudly from the bathroom window … whatever you do, praise yourself.

And it’s important to remember that, because this skill is going to require some thick skin.

Editing is the process of getting the very best from your manuscript. This will include horrendous things such as:

  • Killing off characters.
  • Getting rid of scenes or chapters.
  • Changing well-loved and well-researched details.
  • Cutting out the waffle.

As you reread your manuscript with fresher eyes, you’ll be amazed at the amount you can cut. You’ll see the repetitive words and phrases you use, the unnamed and unhelpful cast of characters and the unnecessary levels of detail. (I mean, really, do we need to know there were six types of lettuce on his plate?)

At this stage, editing has nothing to do with spelling, punctuation or grammar. Leave that alone! (Alright, if you see an obvious spelling mistake, you can fix it, but don’t go hunting for them just yet.) Instead, we need to be looking at big picture stuff: story telling.

Your first round of editing will be to get the story as tight as possible. As interesting as possible. As dramatic as possible. At every beat in the story, as yourself two questions:

  • Why have I included this?
  • How can I up the drama?

If there is no reason to have included that sentence, that detail, that character – what is it still doing in your manuscript? I understand it’s hard to press it, but the delete key really is your friend!

There is, of course, a fine line between keeping the plot moving and providing detail needed to make your world believable. Novels not set in the real world, in particular, need to be good at blending description and plot together.

So, you’ve trimmed, shaved and cut as much as you dare out of your novel. That’s it then?

Well, now you might be ready for your first level of professional editing. If you haven’t used a manuscript critique or developmental edit, now would be the perfect time for a copyedit or a line edit.

Remember all the little details like spelling and punctuation I told you to leave alone? Now is the time to get those sorted. You might think that your language is pretty good, your spelling and punctuation are spot on and your understanding of grammar is good enough that you don’t need to worry about this stage.


Professional editing is about so much more than that. A fresh pair of eyes is the opportunity not just to clear up those details, but also a chance for you to see how your story reads to someone who hasn’t been living it.

There might be a plot hole that is obvious to an outside observer but you hadn’t noticed because you were concentrating on other details. Maybe there’s a word you use over and over without realising, or a sentence construction that is repetitive and gets boring. There’s so much to professional editing, and you can explore more about that on this blog and throughout my website.

Now that your manuscript has been edited, by you and by an editorial professional, it’ll soon be time to look at the exciting stuff! Check back soon for the continuation of this series on self-publishing skills.

Edited and proofread by Jennifer Stevens

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Published by Nick Taylor | Editor & Proofreader

Editor, proofreader and writer. Available for hire!

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