Tips from an Editor: 10 Tips for Self-Editing (and why you should never just self-edit)

This week, I got the pleasure of receiving a guest post submission from author, editor, and college professor, Rebekah Dodson–who also happens to edit for A Novel Connection. She’s going to explain why it’s important to self-edit, but why you should also not only rely on it.


Rebekah Dodson, M.A., Ed.D(c)


Why Self Edit?


Congrats, you’ve finished your novel! After celebrating this amazing step, what should you do next? And why should you even bother to look at it again? Authors should always self-edit, and here’s why:


Saves money: if you are self-publishing, it’s no joke how expensive professional editors can be. Developing a strong self-edited manuscript to send to an editor can not only save money, but time, too.


Develops plot and character: Even though our characters may seem perfect, and our setting is well written and descriptive, that doesn’t mean the reader will see it the same. Self-editing helps develop a boring, hum-drum opening scene into a dynamic hook that captures, no steals, the reader into never letting your book go. According to The Writer:


“A tip on starting strong: Ensure that your first pages establish a scene, create conflict or generate a mystery – possibly all three. This is why so many literary agents and editors detest prologues. A prologue is all backstory, and backstory typically doesn’t deliver these elements. Position the reader in the present, the immediate narrative moment. Make it crackle with tension and vividness.”


The Writer also recommends self-editing to avoid those show vs. tell “info dumps” as editors call them. This can drag the story out painfully and doesn’t help the reader “see” the information in their head. 


Develops detail: This is my personal weakness. Sometimes I’ll be self-editing and run across a word like said, good, bad, wrong, right – I could have developed these much more into dynamic descriptive words like screamed, enjoyed, disliked, celebrated. Self-editing will not only help with this kind of detail, but also making scenes stand out more to the reader. When I revised my novel Postcards from Paris, I noticed I had barely described the streets of Paris, the land markers, the people, the culture. Self-editing helped me make this novel more vibrant and richer in that international experience.


Correct common grammar errors: Self editing helps writers catches glaring homonym and other grammar mistakes an editor might miss (and yes, we miss things!). The one I hate most is hand/hang. I always type hang when I meant hand. How embarrassing when my editor nor I catch that! If you want to brush up on your grammar skills, I totally recommend any of the guides from Grammar Girl. You can find her here on Amazon.


Strengthens your brain: the next novel you write, your brain will work in your favor and automatically help you correct those words you over or under use, as well as develop detail to a finer degree. Brain power!


Make your novel even better: not only does self-editing help you catch the basics, it also improves scene, character, dialogue, and sentences!


Make Your Novel a Bestseller


When self-editing, some points to take into consideration that your readers will appreciate especially:


Start Strong! If the opening scene makes you snooze, your reader will, too.


Watch your Show vs. Tell! A killer for most authors. Don’t “info dump” when you can spread the information through scenery and dialogue. Readers want a movie in their head: don’t say “she loved him” when “she felt her heart would beat out of her chest when she saw him” works even better.


Avoid stage directions! Readers do not need a play-by-play of a morning routine or driving a car. What are some ways around this? Drop me in the comments what you do to put some action in your story.


Improving Your Dialogue and Sentences


I love dialogue. My editor always complains about my character, Guillaume Lanval from my Curse of Lanval series and his witty banter that often gets carried away. He is a cad who can’t shut his mouth, it’s true. But seriously, Gill didn’t become so mouthy this one pass of a manuscript. His dialogue and the sentence that framed this character took many revisions. Here are some tips to improving dialogue and sentences throughout your manuscript:


The use of “said”: 9 out of 10 times you can use said, however, use a better word whenever possible. In one of my recent edits I have 457 instances of “said.” (!!!) I cut it down to 43 by using words like screamed, yelled, interrupted, sighed, laughed, etc, and basically using actions instead of even dialogue tags altogether! Remember that brain strengthening thing I said earlier? Now my brain won’t let me use said, and I had higher reviews on the books with virtually no instance of the word said. It works, people! Oh, and here’s more options for improving dialogue from Now Novel.


Avoiding adverbs: A character can scowl instead of frowning deeply. Use a thesaurus if you need help. Remember sometimes adverbs are needed but examine these closely.  


Using active voice vs. passive: The key here is to use noun + verb. When the verb follows the noun, it’s almost always active. For example, search and destroy “was” phrases and avoid sentneces like “the cookie was stolen from the jar” and instead make this sentence active by writing “She stole the cookie from the cookie jar.” Notice she and stole appear right next to each other. This puts the reader in the seat of the section.


Final Tips


Okay, you’re done self-editing and your eyes are absolutely bleeding (seriously, after 30 books, I’ve been there). What do you do now? Sorry – reading more is crucial at this stage. In fact, here’s two tips to get that self-edited manuscript editor-ready:


Read out loud: Trust me, it’s boring to look at a manuscript for the 10th time. Reading out loud will help you catch errors your eyes skipped. Jodi Brandon, with over 20 years’ experience as a publishing consultant and editor, suggests, “Reading aloud provides another way to make sure your manuscript is ready for the next stage of the publishing process. I would even suggest reading the paragraph backward, starting with the last sentence, to catch any lingering errors.” (Read more about Jodi’s suggestions here.) The latter can be tricky, but you’d be surprised how many errors you can correct!


Use a reading/editing partner: Authors call them alphas (the one person who reads it first) and betas (a series of people who read it second). I call them angels of mercy I can’t live without.


If nothing else, share your work in progress with some (very) close friends who can give you feedback as you write. This will help with embarrassing plot holes or undeveloped characters later.


A Note on Editors


After self-editing, always hire a professional editor. Don’t skip this important step before publishing! Here’s a breakdown of what trained editors can do (and yes, they are in order from most to least expensive):


  • Developmental editors: help develop character and scenery consistency. Ever had a character hold a coffee cup and never set it down? That’s what they fix.
  • Copy (or line) editors: highlight and improve grammar and sentence errors, improve dialogue, and correct other (tiny) errors.
  • Proofreaders: reads final manuscript before publication to catch any errors editors may have missed.


By improving your self-edit, when you are ready for the professional edit, you can skip the developmental (IF you have a strong story to start with) and save money by just having a copy editor or even proofreader correct very minor mistakes. That being said, don’t fool your editor. We’ve been doing this a long time, and we know when you really need a developmental edit instead. The best thing you can do, honestly, is just ask: “What would you recommend?” The professionals always know best.


What are you waiting for? Go back to that manuscript, blow off the dust, and get to improving dialogue, scene, and characters. When you’re done come back and see me, or any of the other affordable, professional editors on the market, and let us make that final self-edited piece really shine. You’ll thank me later.



More Resources on Self-Editing:


The top 10 golden rules of self-editing. (2019). The Writer. Retrieved from:


10 Simple Ways to Edit Your Own Book. (2019). The Writer Life. Retrieved from:


Brandon, J. (2016). Self Editing and Why it is So Important. Blog post. Retrieved from:




About the author: Rebekah is a recipient of Master’s in English from Southern New Hampshire University, where she concentrated on editing, publishing, and creative fiction writing. Currently she works as an editor with 10 years’ experience in nonfiction, fiction, and journalism. She is published author with 30 books and short stories on the market, and current editor for two publishing companies. Find out more about Rebekah (including a link to her editing services) at www.rebekahdodson.com.

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