How to edit your novel?

June 20, 2017

Or how I made mistakes and ended up editing my first novel myself.

When I finished the first draft of, The Ending is Everything, it was a cause for celebration that lead to a sobering and humbling first read through. Read my previous post from November for the results. That experience resulted in me realizing without a shadow of a doubt that I needed an editor. A professional. Someone to point out the repetitive words, the constant duplication of ideas, the telling, not showing, the foreshadowing and everything else an editor can help out with.

So, when I arrived at my third or fourth draft in March (it was probably my fifth or sixth, I had gone over the document so many times, see here for my first checklist), I set out to find an editor.  Being an independent author (one without representation), I had to find an editor who would work for a decent price and understood what I was trying to do. This was far more challenging than I anticipated.

The first step was finding someone who would complete the process for a relatively low price. My book ended up being seventy-eight thousand words. Most editors (without copyediting) landed somewhere around $.04 cents per word. That is a total of $3,120.00. Cheap by industry standards. Not for me.  With copyediting, it was $.06 to $.08 cents per word. Almost doubling the price.

Now, there are two types (sometimes three in my mind) of editing being offered. The Structure (development) edit and the language edit, which sometimes includes copyediting.

The Structure edit: Plot, Themes, Characterisation, Point of View, Voice, Pace, Dialogue, and Flow.

The Language edit: Proofread, Typos, Grammar, Trim sentences, Repetition, Indicate large issues.

Copyediting: All of the Language edit, Custom style sheet,  dots all the I’s and crosses all the T’s.

Now, in the traditional publishing world, all of this is done by multiple professionals with a particular emphasis.  In the self-published, independent world, you have to find them yourself. So, I did, or at least I thought I did.

In April, I began to work with an editor. We agreed on a language edit, for a decent price. I sent him a sample chapter for an example of what he would accomplish. It was what I was looking for. Word choice. Sentence suggestions. Grammar. He suggested there is no need to italicize the immediate inner thoughts of the character in a first person novel. I agreed. Then I sent him the complete novel. I asked him to send me the first chapter back as soon as he finished it. Because I knew that the first chapter is a strange one. It occurs during a drunken party. So my thought was to break it up in quick scenes, that represented the blacked out view of the narrator. What I got back was not what I wanted, and more importantly, the changes I agreed with were ones I would’ve caught after a few more read-throughs of my own. We discussed these issues, and I realized during these discussions that if we did this for every chapter, the book would be released in 2024 and would no longer take place in the future, but the now.

To sum up a long introduction, I decided to part ways with the editor. I understood the deposit would be gone but felt, after what I saw, I could do the work myself.

So, I began to work on a plan to edit the book.

Step One: Automate grammar and typos. I ran the novel through Grammarly (I purchased the program) to find the basic grammar errors. After that, I uploaded the document to which gave me a breakdown of my inconsistencies. hyphenations (blue-light vs blue light), spelling variations (gray vs grey) and common typos.

Step Two: The info dumps. I have a whole chapter that is a “flashback” chapter. It makes sense in the context of the novel that the character would flashback to his childhood, but it’s still an info dump.  I had to decide to keep this chapter or spread out the information throughout the novel. I decided to keep it but discern some of the information at other points in the book, so the chapter isn’t so long. This was a choice I made, based on the character telling/writing the story.

Step Three: Omit needless words. This was difficult. You can delete fifty percent of the words in the novel, and it will still tell the story. Or even ninety percent, and call it a poem. But, you go too far, and you lose the voice of the storyteller. I spent days working on this. There is no right or wrong way to do this. Look for adjectives, they are the usual culprits (-ly ending words) and can be deleted.

Step Four: Show vs. Tell. Not necessarily in scenes, but in words. She was cold vs. she shivered. Find the lazy writing.

Step Five: Speaker tags. Limit to she said, she asked, she replied. That’s it. Use action instead of speaker tags to break up and pace dialogue.

Step Six: Loose body parts. Her eyes fell to the floor. Yuck.

Step Seven: Passive voice. Really difficult to ascertain and change. Overuse of the words “was” and “were” are great indicators.

Step Eight: Create a style sheet. Acronyms, Abbreviations, Numbers, Dates, Names, Spellings. How are you going to display these words in the final novel consistently? For example: in my novel, the freeway numbers in Southern California are significant. Interstate 15 vs. Interstate Fifteen. I used the number as 15 in the book. Except in dialogue where everything is spelled out. This is entirely up to the individual, just be consistent.

Step Nine: Copyediting again. Go through word for word. Sentence by sentence. Paragraph by paragraph. Look for those hidden extra words. I found multiple times I had extra words. More than one then or than mix up. It’s tedious and difficult to do as an avid reader. Your mind sometimes fixes these mistakes for you, without your knowledge. The only advice I can give is slow down. Take your time.

Step Ten:  Book things. The little things in a novel that you may not notice. “The earth is flat,” She said. May look right, but it’s not. “The earth is flat,” she said.

Even after all this. After months of dedicated reading and re-reading. Changing and changing back. I still see things, that I may or may not change. Again, this is where the style of the first-person novel and the feeling I am trying to evoke may mean I keep words and sentences I would change in a third-person story. The immediacy and loose writing style is something I am working to maintain. So, when a reader picks up this book, it feels like reading a journal of the events. Like a found footage movie. It needs to look a certain way to evoke the realism. I attempted to find that balance. Not sure I succeeded, but the final product will be produced the way I intended.

A quick caveat: This is my first novel. I am, in no way, an expert. This is only my experience working on my book. If you have any other suggestions or links, please let me know. I am always looking for ways to learn more.


Some helpful links for self-editing:

Grammar Girl:



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