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The DIY Guide To Self-editing Your Manuscript

Finishing a book is not an easy feat. It takes time, tears, sweat and a lot of cursing, and sighing to finally complete a story. So when you finish your story, sit back, take a deep breath and celebrate this moment because the actual headache is about to begin.

Before sending your manuscript to the beta readers and a literary agent, make sure you have smoothed out most of the creases in the story. Self-editing is not just skimming over the text and right-clicking on the blue and red squiggly lines to correct them, it entails much more. Here are some self-editing techniques you can incorporate to give your beta readers a better reading experience of the beautiful story you have woven.

Take A Breather

After finishing your book, put it out of your sight and, if possible, out of your mind, but not for long though. This is necessary because when you go back to editing your manuscript, you will not read it as your own work, but as someone else’s. You will look at it from a different perspective, having said goodbyes to your characters and that story in particular.

Decide Your Comfort Zone

Some writers are comfortable editing on computers and laptops, while some prefer to use pen and paper. Therefore, it is important for you to decide whether you will use the ‘delete’ button or strike through the mistakes with a marker.

Get Rid Of Plot Holes And Continuity Errors

While reading your manuscript, keep a lookout for plot holes and other continuity errors. Although there should not be major plot holes, small ones might exist, so check if the plot points flow logically and you have neatly tied the loose ends.

There might be continuity errors such as in one scene you have described a character’s hair as brown and a few chapters later, their hair colour changes to blonde.

Make sure that the point of view doesn’t shift suddenly. For instance, you start writing in the third person point of view but then shift to first in a few lines and go back to the previous one.

Spellings? Check

If you’re editing on your laptop or computer, then turn on the spellcheck. While the device will point out obvious ones, we need to be careful and not depend wholly on this feature because sometimes it asks us to correct the ones that are apparently right.

The Big G

While writing, we don’t really give a thought about the sentence construction, so most of the time it so happens that we think of writing something, say a line in two or more different ways and end up merging them all. So “Ross wanted wished to have a popcorn ice cream” results from writers thinking something and writing something else. You have to pick those out and edit them as you proceed.

Make sure to correct subject-verb agreement errors. Keep an eye out for the use of passive voice, because we tend to write in that voice unknowingly. Writing in an active voice will help readers to get into the character’s mind better.

Sometimes you may miss out on inserting punctuation or two. You might miss out on inserting quotation marks and overlooking such an error might confuse your early reviewers.

Limit the use of adverbs and adopt the Show, don’t tell method. Replace weak verbs with stronger ones.

You can use some extra help by using editing tools like AutoCrit, Hemingway Editor and ProWritingAid.


Make sure your vocabulary fits the time in which your story is set. For instance, if you are writing a story that takes place in the early 1900s, then make sure you use words and descriptions that will fit the timeline. Make sure the facts you are using are correct. Do thorough research before blending facts with fiction.


While weaving a story, writers sometimes become oblivious to the pace. It might seem to start slow and then all of a sudden it picks up the pace and then ends abruptly. Keep an eye on that. A rhythmic pace will keep the readers engaged.

Additions And Subtractions

Obviously, you might read a scene and think, “What was I thinking when I wrote this?” and delete the particular scene, or you might read the opening chapter and feel that it won’t hook the readers and start rewriting it, or you might get a sudden idea to include a little something to make a fluid transition between two scenes.

As you read, make sure the dialogues you have used serve their purpose and check if you have used appropriate dialogue tags and action tags.

Weed Out Weak And Repetitive Words

While writing, it might not be possible to keep track of how often we use a particular word. While editing, these words stand out. Try to edit and replace these words or omit them if possible. Replace weak words such as ‘really’, ‘completely’, ‘maybe’ with an alternative or delete them. You can use software like Word Count for tracking the usage of certain words.

Read Aloud

Although we have gotten into the habit of reading in our minds, if you read aloud, you can pick out more errors. You can ask someone to read it aloud for you, or you can do it yourself and there are, of course, software like Balabolka, Natural Reader and WordTalk to make that task easier.


Last but not least, make sure that you have formatted the manuscript correctly before you send it off to a literary agent. If you are uncertain, then follow the standard manuscript format.

Once you have checked off all the steps in the list, you are good to go.


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