How to Self-Edit Fiction

 In Blog, Self-editing Series, Writing Tips

Self-editing fiction is a process that, when done correctly, goes a long way toward improving a writer’s chances of securing that elusive agent. Over the next couple of months, I’ll be going over the procedures I follow before even considering submitting my work.

My methods are not the only way to do it, but they work best for me. I’ll go through each step of the routine in detail and offer insights into the tools I use to get it done. I hope you’ll share some of your self-editing tips along the way. I’d love to discover new ways to improve.

So let’s get started with a discussion of why self-editing is so important, what it is (and isn’t), and how you can use it to improve your writing.


what went wrong?

It’s done. That novel you’ve poured your soul into for the last two (or twenty) years. You clear your schedule to prepare for the onslaught of agent and publisher phone calls. Consider a courtesy call to the post office to make sure they’re prepared to handle the additional volume. Browse the Internet for a new vacation home.

After all, the book’s sure to be a hit. Your beta readers loved it. Mom said it was fabulous. Your friends gushed over it. If you heard it once, you heard it a dozen times: “I couldn’t wait to finish it.”

And nothing happens. The crickets chirp. The birds sing. Your in-box fills with rejection notices. How could this happen?

Could be any of a number of reasons, but understand this: you’ve got one shot at an agent, publisher, or reader. It doesn’t matter how good the story is (with a few rare exceptions), if the writing’s poor, no one’s going to make it past the first page or paragraph or sentence.

Time is too valuable. A reader wants to be hooked immediately, and if the writing’s a distraction, it won’t happen. Planning to self-publish? Better make sure your name’s associated with good writing or you’ll lose any hope of growing a loyal reader base. Going traditional? Agents and publishers are flooded with submissions, so they’re looking for any reason to toss your manuscript aside and move on to the next one in the slush pile.


self-editing tilts the odds in your favor

So how does proper self-editing improve the odds? First, let’s talk about what self-editing is not. It’s not a replacement for a professional edit. It’s not simply basic proofreading to check for punctuation and spelling errors, though that’s certainly part of the process. It’s not a final, quick skim through your manuscript before you fire it off to an eagerly awaiting world.

Self-editing is an in-depth critical look at your writing for the purpose of detecting any issue that would deter from the story. Your written words exist for one reason only: to draw the reader into the world you’ve created. Anything hindering that goal weakens your story.

I won’t be covering the bigger aspects of the story such as character arcs or inciting moments. Instead, we’ll focus on things from the chapter level. Whether you choose to edit as you write or wait until your novel’s done, you’ll benefit from the process.

Below is a list of items I’ll be covering. Want to make sure you don’t miss any? Be sure and sign up to receive email updates.

the self-editing series

  • Weak words

  • Conflict

  • Using the senses

  • Pronouns

  • Dialogue tags & action beats

  • Showing/telling words

  • All about chapters

  • Technology to simplify the process

  • Read it aloud

  • Proper formatting

Got something you’d like to see added? Leave a comment and let me know.

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