Book editing 101: How to edit your book

Writing that first draft of your book can feel like it takes forever, so by the time you’ve finished it, you may want to just hand over your book for editing to someone else and not think about how to best prepare it for a professional editor. But, like tidying the house before the cleaner comes, there are a few things every writer needs to know and do before they let a professional begin editing their book. We’ll outline each of those and how to do them if you haven’t already, and we also will provide you with your own handy cheat sheet for editing your book, for free!

Assess the length of your book

One of the first steps is to make sure the length of your book is within the length of your book’s competition in the market. If your manuscript is over 120,000 words, you should definitely be looking at where your book can be edited down. Most books fall between 70,000 words and 100,00 words. Of course, we don’t recommend writing a book with these word limits in mind! This is why book editing is such a fine art and why it’s important to set aside time for a serious self-edit of your book (see below).

Step away

Before you begin any book edit it’s important to take time away from your book. You need emotional and mental distance before you can assess your writing with fresh eyes. We recommend taking at least two weeks and using this time to immerse yourself in other hobbies, and to refuel your creativity by enjoying other types of art.

Do your own serious book edit

This won’t replace a professional editor’s job, but it’s important you review your manuscript to catch typos and check you are happy with your ideas, plot, characters, pacing and scene. Ask yourself, ‘Is this character or scene necessary? Does it further the plot?’, ‘Does the plot have a suitable ending and all subplots resolved?’, and ‘Are the characters’ motivations believable?’ Work through your book methodically answering these types of questions. This is also a time you can keep an eye out for repetitive words and phrases. Don’t forget to download our free resource at the end of this article that contains a great list of questions for you to ask as you edit!

Do a basic spelling and grammar check

Microsoft Word or Grammarly can help you here – you don’t need to worry about picking up everything, but the manuscript shouldn’t be littered with errors. You should aim to have it as clean as possible.

Read your book aloud as you edit

Reading aloud slows your reading speed, helping you to catch errors and check pacing and tone. Yes, this may take you a while, but it is worth it! If you’re worried about losing your voice, you may want to use a free text-to-speech reader such as Natural Reader, Balabolka, or WordTalk.

Give it to someone else to read

Choose a small group of trusted friends and family to read your book. Choose them based on their ability to give good feedback – you don’t just want encouragement and gold stickers! Neither do you want ‘I don’t like it’ without a reason why. If you can’t find anyone you know, we suggest joining an online writing community such as Scribophile where you can share your work with other writers and receive good feedback.

Learn when to let go of your book editing

While you may want to continue tweaking, editing or cutting your book, you will need to eventually stop and hand over your book to a professional editor. When the author is continually tweaking until the last minute before print, it’s every publisher’s nightmare! If you’re a writer and perfectionist, learn to let go. An editor will help you figure out if your tweaking is actually improving the manuscript, or if it’s tweaking for tweaking’s sake.

Know what level of book edit you need (or at least the types of edits there are)

The Institute of Professional Editors, Australia’s peak professional organisation of editors, lists three types of editing:

  1. Substantive (sometimes called structural or content editing). This type of editing looks at the structure and overall content flow of the book. If yours is a fiction book, the edit will focus on elements like plot, character development, setting, and the order of major plot points.
  2. Copyediting. This level of editing looks at grammatical and spelling errors, language usage (was ‘cool’ actually used as slang in 1810 when your character spoke it?), consistency, blocking (can a character hold her boyfriend’s hand if she’s already holding a coffee and a bag of groceries?), and sentence and paragraph flow.
  3. Proofreading. This level of editing is light and it is usually done just before publishing. Minimal changes are made at this level – it’s used mainly to catch any typos that may have been missed or introduced during the previous editing processes, and to check that the publication adheres to the style guide, and design is consistent (e.g. no widows or orphans, headings are the right level, and to catch errors in the layout). Note: you should never have a proofread only. A proofread will always follow an edit, but never stands alone. It should be done by a different editor than the editor engaged to do the copyedit.

For more information on the difference between editing an proofreading, check out our handy article on this very topic!

You may already know what level of editing you want if you’ve had your manuscript assessed, or perhaps you are confident you don’t want structural work. Impressum recommends always hiring a professional to edit your work rather than undertaking this stage of edit yourself, and we can help you out if you’re looking for an editor for your book!

Adopt the right attitude for working with a professional book editor

If you work with an editor, it’s important to adopt the right attitude and prepare yourself mentally for sharing and improving your work with another person.

Remember book editing is a collaboration

Editors are professionals that work to help the book reach its potential. They are not there to tell you your writing is wrong or bad; they are there to help you communicate your ideas or your story most effectively – they are trained and experienced and their suggestions should be taken seriously. However, you are also the author and will know your work best – if you don’t agree with your editor, respectfully tell them why and together you can come up with a solution that works best for you and for your book.

Respond to feedback in a timely manner

When you receive feedback from an editor, get back to them as quickly as possible. Most editors have multiple projects going at once, and it’s professional as an author to let them know how you are taking on their suggestions.

Remember to trust the book editing process

Trust is key when it comes to successful book editing. This is a tried and tested process, and at Impressum your book will be in safe hands. If you’re a little nervous about handing your book to someone else, that’s absolutely normal! We know you’ve spent many a late night or early morning writing down your dream book baby, and it can feel scary to put it out there. But remember, the editor is on your side here, and you are both trying to publish the best story possible.

See editing your book as an opportunity

Look at the editorial process as an opportunity to learn how to be a better writer. This is someone trained and dedicated to reading and improving stories – and now they have all their energies focused on yours. How wonderful is that? Your editor will not only show you how to improve this story, but hopefully also give you tips and tricks for future writing by pointing out how to improve your weaknesses, and how to use your strengths to your best advantage.

At Impressum, we want you to feel empowered as your manuscript is edited. Do you have a book ready for editing? Then contact us and tell us all about it! We’ll consult you beforehand about our suggested approach, and speak with you about strengths and weaknesses in your manuscript. Perhaps there’s a chapter you’re unsure about? Or maybe you love how it opens and don’t want to cut a scene. This is the time to chat to us about that and get a feel for what to expect, and what you can learn about the process.

And if you feel ready to tackle the first draft and get it ready for a professional editor, download our free handy self-editing checklist (that even doubles as a bookmark) below!

Download your self-editing checklist