How to Edit a Book for Publishing: Tips & Best Practices

Congratulations on finishing your first draft! Now, you are ready to take on the next phase of getting published: editing. As a writer, you should have a basic idea about how to edit a book. Even if you plan to hire a professional editor later on, it’s recommended to edit your book yourself before sharing it with anyone to save time and service costs.

In essence, mastering the art of book editing can significantly enhance your writing journey, so much so that you’ll wish you had learned this skill much sooner.

So, let’s get started! In this article, you will learn the common writing mistakes you should correct while editing as well as how to approach the process efficiently. While we do focus more on fiction for the purposes of this article, many of our tips also work great for non-fiction books.

Man looking at a piece of paper with a pencil in his hand, reading about how to edit a book

Why You Should Edit Your Book

You might be wondering why you need to self-edit your book in the first place, especially if you’re not planning to self-publish. Well, there are several good reasons to do so, such as:

  1. You’re submitting your book to an agent: Generally speaking, submitting a clean, edited manuscript increases your chances of landing a publishing deal.
  2. You’re self-publishing your book: Most self-published authors edit their own work, even if they’re planning to hire a professional editor. They do this to cut down on editing costs, which can increase if the book is unpolished or requires a lot of work.
  3. You do not want to hire a professional editor: Not all authors have the budget to get their manuscript edited by a top-rated professional.

Useful Advice Before You Start Editing

As you transition from the writing to the editing phase, you will notice that you need a different approach for editing compared to writing. To make this change easier on yourself, you can set the stage for the editing process using the tips below:

  1. Get into the editing mindset. Your thought process while writing will be completely different from your thought process while editing. When you write, you focus on letting your creativity flow and getting your ideas down on the page. However, when you edit, you have to look at your manuscript objectively and analyze your writing as if somebody else had written it.
  2. Understand your target audience. Who will be reading your book? Knowing your target audience will significantly influence your editing approach. Depending on the chosen demographic, you will find yourself adjusting the book’s tone, style, themes, and messages to cater to your readers effectively and create a book that resonates with them.
  3. Make peace with the fact that you might remove entire chapters if necessary. Sometimes, your favorite scenes might not contribute much to the plot. If a scene or chapter doesn’t serve a purpose in your book, then don’t keep it against your better judgment.
  4. Try breaking down chapters into manageable sections. If you feel intimidated by a long chapter full of text, then break it up so you can work through it systematically.
  5. Set timers for finishing certain parts, especially when editing long or detail-heavy scenes, to avoid procrastinating or running into a block. This strategy can be especially effective if you enjoy the challenge of meeting deadlines.
  6. Reward yourself for each part that you finish editing. Doing so will boost your motivation to keep going until you finish editing the entire manuscript. For example, you can play a game, go shopping, or eat your favorite snacks! You deserve a prize for your efforts.
  7. Take breaks in between editing sessions. Going through the entire book at once may give you fatigue or even lead to burnout. To bypass these feelings, make sure to split your work across several sessions. It may take longer, but it’s worth it.
A woman writing in a notebook with an open laptop in front of her and several stacks of books around her

Mistakes to Look Out For While Editing

Experienced and beginner authors alike tend to look past certain mistakes as they write their books. Sadly, these mistakes are common among authors and can hugely impact the quality of your book if left unchecked.

Below you will find the most common mistakes to look out for while self-editing your book:

1. Plot or Story-Related Mistakes

Some authors, especially beginners, may fall into certain traps when they’re outlining their manuscripts. Some of them include:

  1. Pacing issues: Sometimes, a scene jumps from one action to another. Other times, it may drag on for pages without anything really happening. You can fix pacing issues by focusing on plot progression, exploring characters’ emotions, and cutting out unnecessary details that don’t serve your story.
  2. Overuse of dialogue: Adding too much dialogue may make your book look like a screenplay. Instead, try to inject some character actions or descriptions in between dialogue exchanges, like a character dusting off a table whilst talking.
  3. Redundant details: Some writers like to add lots of descriptions and explanations throughout a scene. To avoid a densely packed chapter, try to disperse only necessary information throughout a scene.
  4. Factual inaccuracies: Most genres have room for creative liberties, but you still have to double-check your facts. For example, medical inaccuracies can easily discredit a book that contains diagnoses or treatments of a disease.
  5. Info dumps: Have you ever opened a book only to find five pages of background information? Many authors do this in worldbuilding-heavy genres, like fantasy. Sadly, all of this exposition only bores readers rather than informs them about the world the characters live in. So, it’s best to trim or remove such chapters or scenes if they’re unnecessary.

Since plot-based mistakes might be difficult to point out on your own, it’s highly recommended to seek feedback from beta readers. Their input can greatly assist in identifying and rectifying such issues.

2. Mistakes Specific to Non-Fiction

In addition to the mistakes found in fiction books, non-fiction books may contain other specific types of errors that you should be aware of, such as:

  1. Inconsistent style guide: Using a style guide means using specific grammar styles (like which words to capitalize in a title) and, more importantly, reference formats. For example, APA in-text citation uses the author’s last name followed by the date they published their work. When choosing a style, you must stick to it throughout the book.
  2. Purely informational tone: Even the most formal textbooks can benefit from a few changes in the text’s tone to keep readers interested. Try varying the tone from formal to conversational or emotional, for example, so your book sounds less like a monotonous lecture and more like a captivating good read.
  3. Too little or too much information: When it comes to non-fiction books, you must balance the amount of information you present to readers. Too little information will leave them confused, and too much will overwhelm them or even force them to give up on reading. You can use headings, infographics, and even stories to break up text and avoid overwhelming readers with too much information at once.
  4. Use transition words: When moving from topic to topic, try adding transition words like “therefore” and “by extension” to smoothen the reading experience. This becomes more important if the new topic depends on the old one, and this is where relationship words like “consequently” and “thus” come into play.

3. Style & Word Choice

Your writing style and word choice will impact how your audience reads your book, so it’s important to correct any style-specific mistakes when polishing a good story. While you’re doing line-editing, keep a lookout for any of these errors:

  1. Telling instead of showing: This advice is common, but what does it actually look like in practice? Take this sentence, for example: “She felt embarrassed.” Now, read this one: “She tried to fight her growing blush.” In the second sentence, you’re showing the signs of embarrassment and giving readers the chance to infer the emotion themselves.
  2. Redundant words, phrases, or sentences: Consider this sentence: “I peeled the apples with the apple peeler.” The phrase “with the apple peeler.” is unnecessary as readers can probably infer the information from the context.
  3. Inconsistencies in style or tone: Let’s compare this sentence: “‘No way am I going to give up my money that easily,’ I shouted.” with this one: “‘I implore you!’ I stumbled to the ground, cowering away from the scowling thief. ‘I-I haven’t any coins!’”
    The first one takes on an informal style and a strong tone that shows confidence. Meanwhile, the second uses more complicated language while going for an anxious and desperate tone. Inconsistencies in style or tone can be jarring to readers and take them out of the story. To avoid this, it’s important to establish a consistent style and tone for your writing and to make sure that your characters’ voices are consistent with their personalities and the overall tone of the story.
  4. Crutch words: Crutch words are those that authors use too often in their books, like “and,” “suddenly,” or even uncommon words like “glance.” It’s easy to tell if you have crutch words as they will pop up frequently in your book. Try changing them to other words with similar meanings or removing them entirely.
  5. Overuse of adverbs and/or adjectives: Using descriptive words can be a double-edged sword. Take this sentence: “His gelled, combed hair awkwardly fell just above his painfully swollen eye.” Too many descriptions! Yes, the adjectives and adverbs do paint more vivid pictures of the scene, but imagine reading sentence after sentence like this one. It will get boring to read very quickly. Instead, Go for shorter descriptions in general and fewer adjectives and adverbs if you can.
  6. Fancy words for simple actions: This happens most often with dialogue tags, which are verbs that describe how a character spoke a line of dialogue. Unless the character did something essential to move the plot forward while speaking, there is little need to use dialogue tags like “exclaimed,” “whimpered,” “mumbled,” etc. If you don’t want to repeat “said” too many times, then describe what the character is doing while speaking, or how they’re speaking.
  7. Overuse of passive voice: Actions become less impactful when the passive voice is used. Meanwhile, the active voice increases the impact of an action, increasing its effect on the characters and plot. (See what we did there?)
self-editing a book

4. Grammar & Spelling

When it comes to writing, you will find that even native speakers make grammar or spelling errors in their books. Therefore, it’s important to read through your book very thoroughly to correct grammar mistakes, such as:

  1. Long or unclear sentences: Adult and young readers alike prefer shorter sentences for two reasons: the human attention span is becoming relatively shorter over time, and long sentences often lead to confusion or an overload of information. To address this, consider shortening or breaking down sentences that exceed 25 words.”
  2. Complicated grammar structures: Adding too many interjections—like this one—phrases, lists, or anything that uses fancy punctuation rules (brackets included) may complicate your sentence unnecessarily. (See? That sentence was difficult to read.)
  3. Inconsistent dialect: Ensure that your writing uses a consistent dialect throughout. Avoid mixing different dialects, such as using “color” and “colour” interchangeably. Try to unify your dialect unless your characters come from regions that use different ones.

5. Book Formatting

Finally, your manuscript’s formatting will transform your book from an untidy mess of text to a comfortable good read. There are two important points to note here:

  1. Manuscript formatting errors: Fixing formatting errors, like wrong font sizes or paragraph spacing, makes it more likely for publishers to accept your manuscript. Plus, a well-formatted book looks clean, professional, and comfortable to read.
  2. Overuse of text formatting: Try not to add too much bolding and italics if you can. If you bold every other word in a sentence, then the effect loses its impact. The same goes for other types of text formatting, like underlining and strikethrough.

How to Edit a Book in 9 Steps

Now that you know the most common mistakes made by writers, it’s time to start reviewing your own manuscript for such errors and correcting them right away. But you might be asking yourself, ‘Where should I start?’ or ‘Is there a specific guide to editing the book myself?’ The answer is yes! And it’s much simpler than you might expect. By following these 10 steps (one of which is optional), you will be on the first step on the road to self-publishing. Let’s get started.

1. Take a Break from Your Book

Yes, taking a break from your book right after writing “The End” will in fact make the editing process much more efficient because breaks help you refresh your mind. The key to a good break is time; try to stay away from your book and unwind for four to six weeks, as recommended by many authors, and you will be back with a clear head, ready to tackle this big task.

Each author unwinds in different ways, so try to figure out what helps you relax. Some authors like to pursue different hobbies, others take on household chores, while others prefer to meditate or journal. Whatever you do, make sure not to think about your book if you can.

2. Skim through the Entire Manuscript

After you’ve de-stressed for a sufficient amount of time, you might return to your book feeling uncertain about where to begin. The answer is simple: read the entire book from start to finish.

The rationale behind this approach is that you will find that you have gained a fresh perspective as a result of your break. This will enable you to quickly establish your editing goals (which we will discuss in the next step) and easily identify errors in your manuscript.

3. Pinpoint the Problems with Your Plot

Let’s face it, most writers will end up finding a problem or two with their plot while reading the first draft of their book. Seasoned writers will tell you that plot holes resemble weeds that grow even in the most well-kept gardens.

So, how can you identify plot issues in your story? Ask yourself these questions: do the stakes in the story hold enough weight to capture readers’ interest? Do the characters’ motivations and actions match their personalities? Is the conflict designed to challenge the main characters in an organic way that doesn’t feel forced?

When you answer these questions, you will start noticing more subtle mistakes and inconsistencies within the plot. All in all, this step illustrates how important it is to start the writing process by outlining your book first.

4. Adjust, Add, or Remove Chapters/Scenes

If there are any problems with your plot, the next step is resolving them. Some plot issues may require just a few adjustments here and there; other times you may need to rearrange, add, and remove entire chapters.

One example of chapters that should be trimmed is info dump chapters. These are pages that explain background information such as how your universe works, why characters do certain things, how a crime was committed, etc. While a few of your readers might like these chapters, most of them will skip long paragraphs of information if they aren’t engaging enough.

editing a book on a laptop

5. Line-Edit Paragraph by Paragraph

Next, you will leave the developmental editing stage and move on to line editing. This is where you read each paragraph again, paying close attention to your choice of words and sentence structure. If a sentence is too long or if the vocabulary doesn’t match the tone, shorten the sentence and swap the phrases with better ones.

You can read more about the different types of editing if you intend to hire a professional editor as well.

6. Start Reading Each Chapter Out Loud

Once you’re done line-editing a chapter, read it out loud to make sure that each paragraph flows well. Not only will this help you detect potential issues for further editing, but it will also help you find typos and grammar mistakes easily. If you use book writing software, you can highlight these mistakes to change later, or you can fix them on the spot and continue reading.

7. Proofread Your Book Twice

Now that you’ve recited your book out loud, it’s time for the final type of editing: proofreading. This is where you look for typos, grammar mistakes, and other language errors that readers tend to spot right away. The first round of proofreading erases most of these mistakes, then the second round ensures that none remain in the manuscript. If it helps, you can use spell-checkers like Grammarly to make things easier.

8. Get Someone Else to Read Your Book

Congratulations! You have finished self-editing your book. Now, it’s time to find or hire some beta readers to read your book and give you their honest feedback. You can ask a friend or family member to do so as well; just make sure you choose a person who will give you constructive criticism without sugarcoating or exaggerating their advice.

9. Repeat the Process Until Your Book Is Polished

Armed with the new feedback you received from the beta readers, go back to the first step of this guide and begin the second round of self-editing. Try to work with all the constructive feedback you’ve received. Most of the time, your beta readers’ suggestions will improve your book. If you don’t make any major changes to your plot or chapter arrangement, then you don’t have to get second opinions from your beta readers.

(Optional Step) Submitting Your Manuscript to a Professional Editor or an Agent

Editing is a grueling process, especially if it’s your first time. However, the feeling of finishing a manuscript is indescribable. Should you choose to, you could also send it to a professional editor.

That’s not to say that you wasted your time editing the manuscript yourself! But still, sometimes you may need a different editorial perspective on your book, especially if you’re writing about something you’re not familiar with or outside your comfort zone. Also, hiring an editor may open doors for new connections in the publishing industry if that’s something you’re looking for.

crumbled papers in the editing process

Final Thoughts

Book editing is a crucial step in the writing process that requires patience and a critical eye. You may be wondering how long it will take to edit your book, and the answer is that it depends on its length and your schedule. The truth is that it will probably take quite some time even if you know what you’re doing. But with the right mindset and enough patience, you can get this big task done and finally publish your book.

So, take your time and invest lots of effort in editing, just as you did in writing! After all, thorough editing will enhance your book’s overall quality and will transform your raw manuscript into a polished and captivating book that readers will love.


Read More

The Different Types of Editing Explained (With Examples)

6 Common Editing and Proofreading Mistakes

What Is a Literary Agent and How to Get One: A Comprehensive Guide

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