Self-editing your Novel: A Step-by-Step guide to self-editing

Finishing your well written book is a major accomplishment. But what comes next? It is time to edit. This can mean one of two things. Sending your book off to a professional, who can organize, tighten, and clean up your story until it shines, or you can self-edit. That means taking it upon yourself to objectively read your work and find ways to improve it. That could be anything from fixing plot holes and inconsistencies to incorrect homophones or missing commas. It may seem like a daunting task, perhaps as big as writing your book in the first place. But if you follow my steps and use these tricks to self-editing, you’ll find the process a lot more manageable.

In this article:

  1. What self-editing entails
  2. To self-edit or not to self-edit
  3. Steps to successful self-editing
  4. Tips and tricks

What Self-Editing Entails

Self-editing requires reading your story from beginning to end several times. It starts with improving the big picture then narrows in focus for each subsequent read-through. Editing the big picture requires looking at the plot as a whole, the characters and their arcs, the setting, the pace, and the tone. Big-picture edits will ensure your story is both engaging and cohesive. Next comes the scene-by-scene edit. This requires similar questions to your big-picture edit but on a smaller scale. That means looking at each chapter to ensure each scene has purpose and the narration and dialogue flow. Scene-by-scene edits ensure each moment will both interest the reader and impact your plot. The third stage of self-editing is reading sentence by sentence, searching for grammatical errors, misspelled words, and typos. Recognizing flaws in your writing can be a tricky endeavour, but it is key to self-editing and, when done correctly, can greatly improve your work. 

To Self-Edit or Not to Self-Edit

Keeping an objective perspective about your story can be challenging. So, why would you self-edit? Every book needs editing. Even famous, bestselling authors go back and read their work. Self-editing helps improve your writing. Only when you know where your writing is weak can you improve upon it. Self-editing can also save authors from embarrassment over silly mistakes made during the creative process, when our minds are less focused on getting everything factually or grammatically correct. Taking the time to look back on your work will both improve that story and help you with future projects. 

Of course, self-editing is not without downsides. When you edit your own work, you’re more prone to miss mistakes because your mind inherently knows what you meant to say and can therefore skip over an error more easily. It can also be challenging to know when you’re done editing. Writers seek perfection in their writing and want others to enjoy their stories to the utmost. That’s why over-editing can occur. It can help to get an outside perspective, even if you choose to self-edit. 

Other ways of obtaining an objective perspective are beta readers and professional editors. And if you choose to self-edit your book, I recommend hiring a proofreader, so at least one other set of eyes has combed your final product for remaining errors and typos. And if you’re in need of a proofreader, our skilled proofreaders at HotGhostWriter are ready to help! Check out our proofreading services at

Steps to Successful Self-Editing

1. Do a big-picture pass 

Consider character development, plot arc, pacing, perspective, and accuracy. This is when you want to make sure the story works as a whole.

Ask yourself: 

  • Have I successfully tied up any loose ends? 
  • Are my characters complex, engaging, and relatable? 
  • Do they grow throughout the story? 
  • Did I include enough sensory elements that readers will know my world? 
  • Does the narrative flow? 
  • Do any points seem slow or irrelevant? 
  • What about any that were glossed over too quickly? 
  • Is the tone consistent? 
  • Have I maintained the same perspective and tense throughout? 

2. Take a closer look

During your second pass, edit scene by scene, removing unnecessary dialogue, making sure each scene has purpose, and identifying each chapter arc. Ask yourself:

  • Does the scene have a beginning, middle, and end?
  • Did it move the story forward in some way?
  • Is there any unnecessary dialogue?
  • Did I tell the reader what I want them to know or demonstrate it through actions, emotions, and context? 

3. Go line by line

In your third pass, check for grammar, spelling, and punctuation. This includes changing passive voice to active, varying sentence structure, and identifying crutch words, words you use often without intending to. The sentence-by-sentence edit is where you look for:

  • Repetitive language
  • Misplaced modifiers
  • Dangling participles
  • Incorrect homophones
  • Awkward phrasing
  • Crutch words
  • Passive voice
  • Incorrect punctuation

These three phases of self-editing will make your book more professional in the reader’s eye, and taking the time to refine your story and fix errors will give your readers a more enjoyable experience. 

Tips and Tricks

These tips will help your self-edit be as effective as possible:

  • Learn the conventions of Chicago Manual of Style, the commonly used publishing guide for fiction, or whatever style guide you prefer.
  • Take a break after writing. It may be tempting to edit your story right after completion. You have the momentum and the enthusiasm. But if you put some time between when you write and when you edit, you’re more likely to catch errors you might have overlooked. 
  • Read your story aloud. This will force you to slow down and consider each word, which often accentuates missing or unintended words.
  • Listen to your story. Have your computer or another person read the story back to you. Sometimes our ears will catch errors our eyes cannot.
  • Print it out. While scrolling on a computer and making adjustments to the document is tempting, finding corrections on paper can actually be a more effective way of finding mistakes. 
  • Search for trouble words. Use the find and replace tool to search for easily misused homophones (like there, their, and they’re) or words that could be mistyped (such as titled and tilted). Our eyes often skip over these errors, but by using the search capability, you can easily catch those mistakes you might have overlooked otherwise. 
  • Recognize your commonly used words and replace them with synonyms or remove them when they’re unnecessary. 
  • Avoid cliches. Replace common phrases that lack impact (such as “she melted into him” or “she took his breath away”) with new, fresh language.
  • Cut repetition. It’s easy to forget which words you just used when writing, and there are only so many synonyms for words like “table,” but where possible, try to vary your vocabulary and avoid saying the same thing twice. 
  • Search for extra spaces and trouble punctuation. Use search and replace to find double spaces if you’re in the habit of adding two spaces after a period. Maybe you forget that a comma goes between dialogue and the dialogue tag. Try searching for a period, quotation mark, then “said” and replace the period with a comma. When you know your common errors in spacing and punctuation, search them universally and deal with them all at once so you don’t have to keep it on your mind as you read line by line. 
  • Use spell check. This can’t replace the editing process and should only be used as a last step, but it never hurts to use spell check to find any typos you might have missed. That being said, it is wise to check each suggestion and make sure you agree with spell check’s assessment. You don’t want your character named Chuny to suddenly become Chewy because spell check suggested it. 

The Value of Self-Editing 

Self-editing is necessary for improving your art, and it presents your work in the best light. Of course, it’s never wrong to seek professional help (even if just for a proofread). Self-editing makes your story more appealing, but it can also be a rewarding experience and an opportunity for growth. 

Struggling to spot where your book could use some help? Need a final pair of eyes before you send your story off into the world? HGW can help! With our staff of experienced ghostwriters and editors, we can meet any of your publishing needs while preparing your book for success. Visit us at

Amanda Kruse

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