What is self-editing?
“I didn’t expect to see anything about self-editing on a professional editor’s website. Aren’t you doing yourself out of work??!”
Not really, but thanks for worrying! Self-editing is a vital stage of writing a book, fiction or non-fiction, before you even think about sending it to an editor. It isn’t a substitute for getting an editor to look at your manuscript – that remains the best method of ensuring your book is the best it can be – but it is important. Proper self-editing can save you money in editing fees (a thoroughly self-edited book is likely to be in much better shape than a rough draft, thus requiring less time and work by an editor). It can help to ensure your book is closest to your vision of what you want it to be and, because you will have identified and corrected errors in your own work, you will become a better writer, hopefully avoiding making the same mistakes in subsequent work.
Isn’t that the same as writing?
No, not at all. Self-editing requires a completely different mindset from writing. When you are self-editing, you have to look at your book as a reader will, rather than as its author (this is what an editor does – an editor works for you, but acts on behalf of the reader). This means that you have to be able to distance yourself from your writing and look at your book much more objectively than you did when you were still writing it. Many of the books, classes and podcasts on writing don’t make enough of this distinction, leaving authors trying to self-edit while they’re still in writing mode. This often means getting tied up in horrible knots and, worst case, crashing to a halt, discouraged, and never finishing your book.
Sounds important. So, where can I find out how to self-edit?
For a long time, Self-editing for fiction writers by Ronnie Browne and Dave King was the only book that ever mentioned self-editing as a discipline distinct from writing. That is rather long in the tooth now (although still a good read), predating Amazon and the whole self-publishing boom by some years, and in the nearly thirty years since it was first printed, tastes in modern fiction have changed slightly. In the absence of a modern and comprehensive manual on the subject, I wrote my own. It’s called Self-editing for self-publishers. What it does, uniquely, is breaks the self-editing process down into three distinct stages, mirroring the process that takes place in a traditional publishers. It prefaces this with some good advice on how to prepare yourself for the self-editing process, and in the appendices contains more great advice on other questions that arise after the self-editing process has finished, like how to write a synopsis, how to use beta readers, what to look for when hiring an editor, and so on.
Anything else I need to know?
Well, here’s a deal. Come to me for any kind of edit afterwards, I’ll ask you a question about the book, answer correctly, and I’ll knock the cost of your book plus another 5% of the fee, off the price of your edit. How’s that?!