Writing a book is no easy feat. Publishing a book is even harder. It doesn’t matter whether you publish traditionally or independently, a lot of work goes into making sure your book is the best it can be before it hits the shelves.
Once you’ve got that first draft written, there’s still plenty of work to be done. There are alpha readers, critique partners, beta readers, and editors! You might work with an agent or a publicist. But even though it takes a village to raise a book, YOU are still the most important person in this process.
Especially when it comes to editing.
Editors are fantastic. They catch issues you wouldn’t even think of. They help polish your story into its best form. But before your book goes off to your editor, it needs a thorough self-edit from your story’s expert. That’s you.
But if you’re paying your editor, why bother to do a self-edit? Can’t you just ship off your first draft and hope for the best?
No, and here’s why.
Only You Know the World and the Characters
Sidney Sheldon once said, “A blank piece of paper is God’s way of telling us how hard it is to be God.”
You created this book from scratch. You molded your plot from a few vague ideas into a structured story. You breathed life into a world that didn’t exist before. You birthed and raised each of your characters into individuals with defining, dynamic personalities.
If you send your story to your editor, they might find an area that needs more description. Maybe it’s world-building. Maybe it’s a characterization issue. However, they can’t write this for you. They don’t know your story the way you do.
A self-edit focusing on major developmental problems will ensure that your world has been thoroughly explained, your characters behave consistently, and your plot follows the path you want it to take.
When you self-edit, pay attention to how much is clearly stated versus how much your writer’s mind is filling in. In this stage, it’s better to over-describe rather than under-describe. Your editor can help you subtract unnecessary exposition, but they can’t fill in the blanks for you.
You Can Clarify Meaning
Editors aren’t mind-readers. And sometimes—okay, all the time—our first drafts have moments or wordings that aren’t clear. Maybe we’ve forgotten a word and put in a vague description as a placeholder. Perhaps you used a word with several meanings, and the scene doesn’t make it clear which one you mean. You might have used body language like “raised an eyebrow,” but it’s not clear whether your character is expressing curiosity or disdain.
When you self-edit, look for words or phrases that are vague. Again, it’s better to over-explain here, and your editor can help you make it more succinct. But they must be able to know exactly what you are trying to say.
An Editor Meets You Where You Are
It might seem like editors have magic powers. I know I’ve felt that way before! But the truth of the matter is, they aren’t your fairy godmother.
If you have a shirt that is stained and ripped to shreds, you might be able to get some of the stains out. You might even make it wearable again. But you aren’t going to turn that old shirt into something worthy of the cover of Vogue.
If you give your editor a very rough first draft, or even a poorly edited second draft, they can only improve it so much. At the most, they’ll make it readable. But they can’t turn a sloppy manuscript into a bestseller. They’ll spend all their time correcting your prose to help it make sense.
It’s your job to deliver the best possible version of your book to your editor. Your manuscript should read well, make sense, and be free of as many errors as possible. Then your editor can work on finding issues with pacing, inconsistencies, and improving your wording. In other words, the manuscript you send to your editor should be “pretty good” to read, so that your editor can make it amazing.
This might seem daunting. It can be quite the undertaking. But good editing software like ProWritingAid can help you with more than just spelling and grammar. Programs like these will help you eliminate passive voice, clarify your meaning, and pack a punch with your verbs.
Once you’ve done a thorough self-edit (or two or three), you can send your masterpiece to your editor, and they’ll send back your magnum opus.
You Can Save Money
Who doesn’t like saving money? I know I do. A good editor is worth paying good money for. But I’ll let you in on a little secret. Depending on your editor, a polished manuscript might save you money.
Editors determine their rates in several ways. Some charge by word or by page. Others give you an estimate based on how much work your piece will be. This is why many editors ask for a sample of a couple thousand words. Editors often have a price range for their work. I don’t know about you, but I want to pay the lower end. I’m a starving artist, after all!
If your manuscript is sloppy with many issues, it will be more work for your editor to clean up. They might charge you a higher rate because it will take them longer than a book that has been self-edited.
Save your money for what really matters. A polished manuscript ensures that you get the most bang for your buck from your editor and proofreader.
Editors Want a Self-Edited Manuscript
Editors want to ensure your book is the best it can be. They want you to edit your own work thoroughly and carefully for all the reasons listed above and then some.
Allow yourself adequate time to edit your novel. I always recommend taking at least two weeks off before completing your first round of edits. After that, I like to take a week between each of my major passthroughs.
You can’t rush quality. Self-edit your book so you can publish something you’re truly proud of.
Krystal N. Craiker is the Writing Pirate, an indie author and freelance writer who sails the seven internet seas, breaking tropes and bending genres. She has a background in anthropology and education, which bring fresh perspectives to new adult genre fiction. When she’s not daydreaming about her next book or article, you can find her cooking gourmet gluten-free cuisine, laughing at memes, and playing board games. Krystal lives in Dallas, Texas with her husband Michael and two dogs, Darwin and Franklin. Check out her website and follow her on Instagram.