Improve your editing education

Next time you’re in the library or at your local bookstore, check out books on editing that will enhance your editorial acumen. Here are a few great options to consider:

·      The Chicago Manual of Style (you’ll want the newest 16th edition)

·      Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style

·      Editors on Editing by Gerald C. Gross

·      The Copyeditors Handbook by Amy Einsohn

·      The Subversive Copyeditor by Carol Fisher Saller

·      Developmental Editing by Scott Norton

·      Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne

·      The Forest for the Trees by Betsy Lerner

·      On Writing Well by William Zinsser

·      It Was the Best of Sentences, It Was the Worst of Sentences by June Casagrande




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How to Become a Better Self-Editor

(Before Hiring a Professional)

It’s important to begin this article with a special disclaimer: Hiring a professional editor is the smartest choice you can make for your book. If you are indie or self-publishing, you need as many eyes on your book as possible to make sure the writing is polished, the content is sound, and all the typos have been removed. Traditional publishers spend hundred of thousands of dollars each year working with copyeditors and proofreaders to ensure their books are well written and perfectly punctuated. Take a page from their book (pun intended) and hire a pro before publishing your book.

That being said, there are several steps you can take to become a better editor yourself. You can never replace the value of a professional editor, but you can try the five tips below to improve your writing and editing processes.


1. After you write the last word, take a break.

I recommend giving your book a minimum of four weeks from the moment you finish writing to the moment you begin editing. This time off will give your brain a break and give you an opportunity to distance yourself from the work for a fresh perspective. In that month, read one or more books in your genre to inspire you…and also to show you places where your writing needs work. Then, when you go back to edit with fresh eyes, think about what you loved about those books (without copying them, of course!) and how you can improve your project.


2. Start with the big picture.

In the world of traditional publishing, editing usually takes place in the following stages. Try doing the same with your book, going from the big picture to the minute details.

  • Macro/developmental editing: Macro (developmental) editing deals with plot, character development, overarching themes, pacing, and continuity. A macro edit tackles the largest issues to clear the way for future editing.
  • Copyediting: Copyediting concentrates on paragraph- and sentence-level changes. Here, you will look at more technical aspects of your writing and correct problems with word choice, flow, and structure.
  • Proofreading: The last stage of editing is a proofread, in which you will consider things like spelling, punctuation, and general grammar corrections.


3. Use word processing tools.

Spellcheck is an obvious one, though not all of us use spellcheck correctly. Be sure to consider each suggestion rather than blindly accepting changes, as technology is certainly not infallible. Another great tool is the search/replace bar. As you’re editing your book, pay attention to repetition of certain words and phrases. You can search for and replace overused terms to avoid sounding like a broken record.


4. Read the book out loud.

Be your own audio book and read as much as your book out loud as possible. This will help you discover areas that are unclear or poorly worded, and will also allow you to catch some of those writing ticks mentioned in tip #3 above. Reading out loud is especially useful when you’re writing fiction, as it will help you get a real feel for the characters’ internal voices and their dialogue.


5. Get a second opinion.

The most valuable feedback you can get is not your own…it’s from another reader. I won’t lecture too much about hiring a professional (until the next paragraph, of course), but if you’re looking to improve your work for free, reach out to a fellow reader and writer. This can be someone you know through a writing group or a trusted friend who you know can provide constructive criticism. Don’t ask a friend or family member who will only praise you—we learn more from our mistakes than we do from our successes. Find someone who will tell it to you straight, and take their advice to heart while editing.


And last but not least, let’s remember how this article began…with a note to hire a professional editor. Keep in mind that one of the biggest complaints about indie and self-published books is the lack of editing. There are a thousand things a readers could nitpick about a book…don’t let editing be one of them.

For more editing resources, check out the links below, or get some reading material from the books listed in the sidebar!

Two Heads are Better than One: The Value of Editing for the Self-Published Author

From Block of Clay to Finished Product: The Role of the Developmental Editor

Editor Insider: The Best Tips from an Editing Pro

The Freelancer Cheat Sheet: Everything You Need to Know About Freelance Writers and Editors

10 Top Techniques for Perfecting Your Prose So You Can Write Like a Pro

From the Tech Desk: New editing tool helps writers save on publishing costs

The Mediabistro Copy Editing Certificate Program: The Certificate to Get Your Career On Track


Jillian Bergsma Manning is a contributing editor for Independent Publisher. She loves reading and writing but not arithmetic. Follow her on Twitter at @LillianJaine or on her blog at