Every writer needs to learn to self-edit. This doesn’t mean you don’t need an editor, but it will help you get more for your editing dollar because your editor can focus on the big issues instead of the small ones.

What do you look for?

Make sure you have your quotation marks in the right places. Don’t forget them at the end of the dialogue. Make sure they are all the same. If you use straight quotes, make them all straight. If you use curly quotes, make them all curly. Whatever you use, be consistent.

While we’re talking about dialogue, watch your punctuation.
“I don’t know what to do,” she said.
is different than
“I don’t know what to do.” She frowned.

Can you tell the difference? The attribution in the first sentence tells the reader the character said that line. In the second, it isn’t an attribution, it’s an action. Because of that, you need a period at the end of the dialogue and you need to capitalize ‘she.’

How many ands do you have in one sentence? It can be very tempting to fit everything into one sentence, but you need to learn to read it objectively and know when to break it up. Reading loooong sentences can feel like you’re running out of breath when you read… keep those sentences varied in length and tight.

Speaking of tight… some words don’t need to be there. The two biggest culprits are very and that. Very is easy… you don’t need to use it… ever… unless it is in dialogue and your character would use that word. That can be a bit trickier. It can be insidious. It pops up all over the place, rather like dandelions in a lawn. There are a few times when it truly is warranted, but not as often as it would make you believe.

There are more things you need to learn when it comes to self-editing, of course, but this will get you started. We’ll probably add more on another post.

Before You Send it to the Editor

You’ve finished your masterpiece and now you’re ready to send it out to the first editor you can find, right? Wrong. There is still a lot you can do to make sure your manuscript is ready for the editor. By following these suggestions, you’ll get the most for your editing buck.


Did I just say rewrite? Yes, I did. No book is ready for publication as a first draft. First drafts are just that…the first version of the manuscript. This is where you maniacally put all your words down in a flurry, just trying to get your story told. First drafts are known by many different names. Rough draft, shitty draft, and crap are just a few I’ve run across. First drafts are first drafts for a reason: they give the author the chance to just get everything down on paper (or the computer). Now is when you revise, refine, and rewrite.

Get rid of excess words. Look at the scenes–are they really working? Maybe it would work better if this happened instead of that. Did you forget any crucial parts of the story? Do the words flow? Can you say this sentence better? You get the idea. Sharpen your story to a fine point. It is impossible to get all the details in place correctly with a dull point, to borrow a drawing analogy.

Structure Analysis

Now that you’ve identified any gaping holes in the hull of your story, check your structure. It doesn’t matter if you outline your story or write it on the fly…you still need a structure. Structure is the skeleton that supports your story. Can you build a house without a framework? No. And you can’t write a story without a structure. Sure, it’s possible that the structure automatically flows from you as you write. But it’s still important to check that everything is in it’s place.

Readers expect stories to move and develop in a certain way. Structure helps you do just that. If you find holes, fill them in now.


If you’re not sure how to do this, there are lots of books on the market on self-editing. Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, Second Edition: How to Edit Yourself Into Print springs to mind, or Line by Line: How to Edit Your Own Writing. These are skills every writer should work on. Editors, agents and small presses really appreciate receiving a manuscript that has been cleaned up to the best of the writer’s ability.

I’ve heard the analogy that errors on the page is like handing it to someone with snot smeared on it. While it isn’t my favorite image, it holds true. Writers should learn their craft, and this includes the mundane tasks. Grammar, punctuation, and spelling are still important. Yes, the editor will fix any you missed, but if you’re working to eliminate them before you send it to the editor, you’ve got more eyes looking for errors. Believe me, the more eyes you have looking for errors, the better.

Get Opinions

Don’t be afraid to let others read your book. If you know a few people who read a lot, use them as beta readers. Ask for their feedback. What is working, what isn’t? Ask them about your characterization, plot, and flow. Incorporate their suggestions.

What this means is you need to get a bit of a thick skin. Not every critic will phrase their suggestions nicely. Write down the suggestions and think about them. Look at your manuscript… are they right? Is your main character shallow and two dimensional? Is there a major plot point missing that leaves readers lost and confused? Could you clarify the link between this action and that reaction? Be open-minded and honest with yourself.

At the same time, if most of your readers say a certain point is fine and only one is insisting that certain point is stupid, think about it long enough to consider who is right. If you need to go with the consensus, fine. Don’t let one person bring you down. No book will be the perfect read for everyone.

Now that you’ve got your manuscript polished as much as you can, it is time to send it to your editor. They will hone that shine until you need sunglasses to read your book.