12 easy tips for editing your book


Hi there, after months of editing and updating here are some tried and tested tips for how to edit your draft book. I found this needed multiple passes, constructive feedback and dispassionate discipline. I also needed to re-learn key parts of grammar to understand what ‘good’ looks like.

1. Get the structure right first with feedback from others, check for consistency.

By this I mean – the plot, characterisation, events, scenes, order of events, plausibility of events, story arc for each character, etc.

Consistency of proper nouns, places, character names, etc. is also a key check. Word spellchecker can assist by highlighting those variants which are yet to be accepted into your dictionary. A Find and Replace can bring things back under control.

2. Screen your own writing for overuse of words and phrases.

I recommend running Wordcounter and the Hemmingway app on chapters of your work and noting the findings.

3. Use a tool to find your crutch words, then edit them to a minimum using better alternatives.

Everyone has a tendency to overuse certain phrases and words. Find out what they are with Wordcounter and other tools. Then use a Find and Replace approach to reduce and vary their frequency. One of my pet foibles is using ‘Well,’ to start a section of speech.

4. Aim to cut out thousands of words by using the test ‘does this word, phrase or sentence add anything?’

As you work through chapter by chapter, anything that reads out loud as clunky or embarrassing needs to be improved. Sometimes whole sections. Cutting text which adds little or nothing is normal and necessary. Make a note of your original word count and target reducing it by at least 8 to 10 percent.

5. Reduce all the following to the bare minimum using a Find & Replace approach.

That, then, with, all, up, down, well, really, completely, very, quite, seem, even, just, almost.

Variations of speech attributions: said, mumbled, roared, crowed, guffawed, huffed etc. They add less than a well-written expression of reaction or better speech text.

In addition, reduce your use of adverbs substantially, so that only those which are essential for the story are left. The Hemmingway app is useful for highlighting and counting adverbs for review.

6. Re-write in passes to improve your own use of language, having read good examples.

Having a benchmark in mind helps to focus the mind. I suggest finding a comparable book in a genre aimed at a similar readership. The aim is not to copy their style, more to tune into ‘good’ or ‘better’ writing. The time away from your work is also helpful in gaining perspective.

7. Use a tool to detect cumbersome structures and simplify them.

I recommend Grammarly, Scribens and Hemmingway in parallel. Yes it can be cumbersome to have three tools open at once. However, for spotting all the issues in a chapter in one pass it is quite powerful. After a while, I found that I dropped Hemmingway having addressed the major style issues.

8. Hire a line and copy editor if you can afford one.

An experienced editor can help spot a lot of things the author will miss. My pet gripes are with ‘orphaned’ words and correctly spelt words used out of context. Word, in particular, is rubbish at spotting them.ย  Again, Grammarly and Scribens can help you to correct most things. However, word and phrase choices are beyond their reach.

9. Copy edit last, once you are happy with what you are saying.

In other words, bear in mind that while you are re-writing your text. There is always another pass that is necessary to spot copy and grammar errors once the text is stable. No matter how amazing the writer, missed commas, etc. will be overlooked in the earlier rounds of re-writing.

10. Use tools to assist your line and copy edits.

While self-editing, your own eyes are great. Word is ok. Grammarly and Scribr are better. I also recommend After the Deadline. There are plenty of other tools out there. They help. I suggest using more than one, because each will have its own strengths and weaknesses depending on how they are programmed.

11. Wait and do a final pass as a ‘distant, disconnected reader’ some months later.

Coming back to a piece of writing after a period of time helps you to see it for what it is. Not what you hoped it would be. If you are embarrassed, you can rectify the situation with a re-edit. If you are impressed, great news – you are nearly ready. After your final copy edit.

12. Be brave enough to go back and re-edit earlier work – it is a learning experience.

Once I’d learnt more about parts of speech and ‘better’ writing, I found it cathartic to go back and re-edit a book from six years earlier. Being a self-published, authorpreneur this was much easier than I expected. It also addressed those fears at the back of my mind.

Hope this helps,

D.M. Jarrett


7 thoughts on “12 easy tips for editing your book

  1. da-AL

    Reblogged this on Happiness Between Tails by da-AL and commented:
    Guest Blog Post: 12 easy tips for editing your book by David Jarrett

    Good writing takes more than merely a great idea. It takes time to edit and re-edit, yet it can vault mediocre writing into stellar writing. Here UK author and blogger David Jarrett shares how he simplifies the process…

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