How to Edit Your Book (Self-Editing Basics)

Disclaimer: All work, especially books, should be reviewed by a professional editor before publishing. While many know me as an author, I am also a professional editor with a specialized certificate from Cal Berkeley. Let’s face it; we cannot all afford to hire editors for every little blog post and email. Here, I’m just trying to get you through the little things with grace. However, editing is far more than catching typos. While self-editing is often all you need, I cannot stress enough how much every writer needs an editor! So please, when it comes to the book you have poured blood, sweat, and tears into writing, hire a professional.

Even if you are a professional, editing can be tricky business. But self-editing? Gah! Just those two words being in the same sentence can freak people out.

“Don’t do it!”

“Are you crazy?”

“These self-published authors think they can do anything!”

(Well yes, we can do anything, because there is no one to stop us. However, Big 6 editorial teams can miss errors too. We’ve all seen it. There are some downsides to being traditionally published, such as traditionally-published authors do not have the opportunity to fix problems while self-published authors do. This means self-published authors have a level of responsibility that traditionally-published authors don’t.)

At some point before you release a book or publish a blog post, it will need editing. Yes, even if you pay an editor (Please see the companion post, How To Hire An Editor for Your Book.), you still need to review that person’s work. I know that sounds ridiculous, and it sort of is, but you would be amazed at the number of editors I have hired who made layman mistakes. (Example: lamppost is one word, not two.) Also, some editors use comma guns. Too many commas can change the power, or even the meaning, of a sentence. It is not acceptable for an editor to do anything that alters the strength of your work.

Now, I know this makes you wonder if you should hire an editor in the first place. Frankly, if you do not understand the difference between a well-structured sentence and a run-on sentence, you definitely need an editor.


Once you have decided not to hire an editor, or have gotten the edited copy of your work back, you need to review the document. Yep! Remember how I said that as an Indie you can do anything that you want? That means you are fully responsible for the end product, even the parts that involve work for hire.

So how do you edit a book? Here are my tips for proofreading your own work. Keep in mind that your ability to review any text is only as good as your education. I can’t stress enough how important it is to understand the basics. If you don’t know what the most common grammar errors are, you are likely to make them. I highly recommend reading Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips For Better Writing. Also, check out the free grammar lessons and quizzes at English Grammar 101. While no one is perfect, the more armed you come into the battle, the greater your chances for success.

1. Step away from the project!
Clear your head. Forget everything you can about the project so you come in with a fresh mind. This is not only good for finding typos but also for finding holes in your story. The less you remember about your project, the better.

2. Do a key problem search.
Take a look at my Self-Editing Checklist for guidance on how to search for common errors such as though vs. through, further vs. farther, and you and me vs. you and I. Checking for these is time consuming, but boy is it worth it!

3. Two birds, one stone. (Do these simultaneously, and do them at least twice.)
Switch formats. Seeing a document in Word looks different than seeing it in Scrivener. Seeing in on paper is an even greater contrast. Changing formats helps your brain see the project as something new, which keeps you from glossing over the errors that have existed since you began writing.

Hear the text, but do not read it aloud by yourself! You know how once you look at something for a long time you read it as you think you wrote it and not as you actually did? If you read it aloud, you will recreate those errors audibly. Instead, make your computer do the work. Listening while reading along is a great way to find the pesky stuff, such as transposed words, repetitive word use, sentence structure errors, and accidents such as using though instead of through.

If you are a Mac user, select some text (about a paragraph at a time is good) and click Opt + Esc. Resist the urge to have the computer speak quickly. Using medium speed is slow enough for your brain to register any errors. If the computer reads too quickly, your brain may not process the error. (You can adjust the speed in the Preferences.)

Repeat this method until you no longer find errors.

4. Have someone else read it.
Hand your work over to someone for a final pass. Even if you do not know any grammar geniuses, have someone read it with a fresh set of eyes. Your test reader may not know the difference between lay and lie, but one last pass can’t hurt, right? You might be surprised by what you missed.

Happy editing!