Updated: Jul 2, 2020
Self-editing your manuscript saves you time and money on professional editing.
One of our requirements for taking on medium to heavy editing projects, is for an author to have their work self-edited at least once. I ask authors to do this as a time and money saver, but also as a sanity saver for myself. Having to fix minor errors (like adding an "e" at the end of "tast" or removing an entra "e" from "tastee") can quickly become frustrating for an editor. Performing a simple self-edit can help eliminate some of these frustrations. However, many authors are sincerely confused about what it means to self-edit their own work. Many times, they are excited to hit the "The End" button and just don't want to go back and read it over. I get that. It is what editors are for, but just keep in mind that it will cost you more to have an editor do it (because it takes more time and numerous cups of coffee) than if you did it yourself. To help you get through your own self-editing task, I have put together a simple 5-step guide.
Step 1: Give Yourself, and Your Manuscript, a Break: As I mentioned before, finishing a book can be very relieving and exciting. However, this is not the time to start shopping around for a professional editor. Allow the book to sit untouched for a few days or a few weeks. I would suggest at least a month.
Step 2: Try Not to Obsess Over the Minor Details: It can be tempting to obsess over minor details after a book has been finished. "Should I add this scene?" "Maybe I should tweak this character a bit." Now is not the time to be obsessing. During the break, don't make any changes to the manuscript. Let it sit. Write your obsessions on paper. You'll be surprised to find that by the time you revisit the manuscript, those scenes will no longer matter much. If they still do matter, however, then add or take-away during the self-editing stage.
Step 3: Revisit the Manuscript With Fresh Eyes and a Rested Mind: After your resting period, revisit your manuscript by reading it out aloud to yourself, or by using the "Read Aloud" feature in Microsoft Word. This is a good time to revisit your punctuation (pauses, stops, and separations) and spot minor spelling errors. An editor can help you polish up the grammar portion and major spelling errors or misused words. It is also a good time to listen for repetitions and overuse of specific words and phrases. Also check the flow of your dialogue (if you have any) and scenes. Reading your manuscript out aloud cannot be understated when it comes to its effectiveness as a self-editing (and professional editing) tool.
Step 4: Pass It On To Someone Else (Family, Friends, Work Colleagues): After you have read through your manuscript, ask friends and family to give it a go too. Often times, because an author is so close to the story, they will tend to miss things that others won't hesitate to point out. Take their feedback in stride and make changes where you deem it necessary. Self-editing is one of the few areas where I believe more eyes can make the pot of soup better.
Step 5: Run One Last Spell-Check (Using Spell-Check Software): There are a range of authoring and grammar tools available these days (many for free), that there is really no excuse for a manuscript to be riddled with spelling errors. Microsoft Word has a spell-check tool. I utilize it for everyday documents. I also use Grammarly, which is another great editing tool. Do your research and find what works best for your needs. But, be careful. Not all flagged errors are usually correct. I have had Grammarly and Word flag words and grammar that I have had to ignore because I knew better.
All in all, your manuscript deserves all the time and attention you can dedicate to it. After all, you put in the late nights and odd hours to make it happen, so why not take a few extra days making sure that having it perfected (by a professional) does not cost you more than you need to pay for it. I hope you find this guide useful in your next self-editing adventure. I wish you the best of luck, and congratulations on finishing your first draft!