6 Tips to Help You Self-Edit Your Book
Editing is a part of writing your book. Novice writers sometimes think their first draft is the finished book, but experienced writers know their first draft is the starting point. Editing is vital, and your book will not reach a high-quality level without intentional editing.
A word for those who like editing
If you enjoy crafting the perfect sentence and spending an hour honing one paragraph, hold back this tendency until you’re past the first drafts. This is not the time for you to be a wordsmith. This is the time to get your ideas out of your head and collect your thoughts.
Commit to a no-editing rule as you write your first draft, and you’ll be amazed at how fast the word count rises and at the inspiration you encounter as you force yourself to keep writing. And remember, there are two kinds of writers. Those who write poor first drafts, and liars.
Once your draft is finished, give yourself deadlines to complete the editing. For the perfectionist, book writing can be difficult because there is always one more area to tweak. Remember that once you have worked hard on your book, the goal is to get your book into the hands of your readers.
A word for those who hate editing
If you dislike editing your own work and prefer to move on to your next project, reframe your thinking. Rather than being a chore to trudge through, editing will make your book better.
When done well, editing will take your book from mediocre to professional quality.
Keep in mind that your first draft will not be the quality you want it to be. Writing a book is difficult (if it weren’t, many more writers would be selling millions of copies), so do not deceive yourself that your first draft will be perfect.
Remember that projects divided into sections are much easier to tackle, so create an editing plan that works for you. For example, first review your major points (e.g., chapters) to see how they fit together, and then look through one chapter at a time to review how your ideas are flowing together. Last, read back through each chapter to look for strong word choice and clear sentence structure.
6 tips to keep in mind as you edit
But what should you edit? Now that you’re ready to improve what you’ve written, you may be asking this question. While you’ll need to tend to many areas as you edit, here are six key points to keep in mind as you edit your book.
1. Be sure you’ve focused your book.
Does your book have a clear focus intended for a specific audience? Try writing the point of the book in one paragraph (better yet, in one sentence). If you realize you have several big concepts in that statement, you may need to narrow the book topic.
Once you have a clear focus, next review whether each chapter supports your overall message. If there are sections that don’t relate to your main idea, cut or rewrite them.
2. Check for redundancies.
While repetition is the key to learning, there is a limit to this principle.
Often, when writers are passionate about a topic, they tend to repeat themselves. Read through your book looking for redundancies, and ask someone else to check for unnecessary repetition.
3. Use active language, and avoid passive voice
If you’ve ever read about writing style or taken a grammar class, you’ve learned about the active vs. passive voice rule. This rule is one of the most common you’ll see pop up in writing advice, yet experienced writers and teachers still often remind us about passive voice.
Because writers still struggle with it!
Writing in the passive voice is an easy writing sin to succumb to—sometimes we can’t think of a stronger verb to use, sometimes we’re trying to sound smart, and sometimes we just overlooked the passive verb.
However, writing in the active voice is one of the most powerful techniques to achieve vibrant, clear writing. In a sentence that’s written in the active voice, the subject of the sentence performs an action. In a sentence written in the passive voice the subject receives the action. You can read in more detail on the subject here.
Simply put, the subject should control the action because the subject and the verb are the two pillars of the sentence (without them, you don’t have a sentence), and they should neatly tie to each other. This will make your meaning clear.
Active and passive voice is the difference between these two sentences:
Passive: The ball was kicked by the man.
Active: The man kicked the ball.
And, as a bonus, eliminating passive voice will almost always remove unnecessary words.
4. Eliminate vague words.
Often, first and second (and even subsequent) drafts are packed with vague language and details. Remove them, or substitute in specific words. For example, instead of, “He owned a fair amount of land,” write, “He owned 120 acres of land.” Use precise nouns and verbs whenever possible.
One useful trick is to remove the word thing from your book. Perform a word search in your document, and find a specific noun or verb to substitute for every use of thing. Your readers will thank you for giving them vivid, sparkling language.
5. Let readers know when you “shift gears.”
Another key aspect to review is how you’ve presented information to your reader. Are you letting readers know how your ideas connect? In order to clearly communicate with your audience, transitions are essential.
Compelling speakers understand this.
Often, a speaker may begin a lecture with a general explanation of the principles of their topic. Then, they make sure the audience is tracking with them, and say something like, “So, how does this work?” This is the “shifting gears” moment. Now that they have let the audience know they’re moving to the next point, they can go on to give a real world example or illustration to clarify their discussion.
On a similar note, use transitions to show how your thoughts connect. Does your next sentence introduce a different idea? Use a contrasting transition such as “however” or even “in contrast.”
Are you continuing to discuss the same topic? Use a transition such as “in addition.”
You can use words, phrases, sentences, and even whole paragraphs to transition between thoughts. Numerous resources in print or online will list possible transitions for you. Keep a list like this handy so that you can weave in varied, clear transitions.
6. “Whiteboard” the details.
Imagine this as the point where the speaker in a meeting walks over to the whiteboard and starts outlining the details of a process. While your introduction and initial explanation is the 40,000-foot overview of your subject, the whiteboard is where you get into a thorough explanation.
For each point, do you find you’ve used only generalizations to explain the content? Are there illustrations, stories, or research studies you can add to help readers understand what you’re discussing? Are there areas where you need to take your readers through a step-by-step process? Look for places to add in specific details.
Put editing into practice
Remember that editing is your golden opportunity to shape your book into the valuable resource or story you’ve envisioned all along. Create a plan for editing, starting with the major parts of the book and working down to the details, and commit to following this plan.
Once you’ve self-edited, we recommend submitting your book to a skilled editor. Most successful writers explain that their editors were invaluable in helping them identify weak points they couldn’t see and bring their book to a professional level.
At Lucid Books, our team is ready to partner with you to help turn your idea into a book. Whether you’ve just started writing your book or you’ve completed your manuscript, our team can help you set up your writing for success from the beginning, or edit your manuscript before we publish it.
To get started, all you need to do is click this link, fill out the form, and a member of our t
eam will be in touch with you soon.