How to Edit a Book

How to edit a book…

Want to learn how to edit a book?

What you’ll find in this article:

  • Quick editing tips
  • Different types of editing
  • Self-editing book resource
  • Editing courses
  • Other helpful articles on editing tips
  • What is the difference between revising and editing

Quick tips to get started:

  • Read your story out loud (or try Microsoft Word’s reader or Natural Reader)
  • Set it aside before starting. It gives you a fresh perspective.
  • Know what you’re looking for: plot holes, inconsistencies, awkward phrasing vs. grammar and punctuation issues
  • Get help from editing tools like Grammarly, Ginger, Pro Writing Aid, and WhiteSmoke.
  • Watch for “head hopping” and changes in tense.
how to edit a book

Below, you’ll find a large list of resources to get you started. Know your strengths and weaknesses when it comes to editing your book.

Editing is an important part of polishing your work after you’ve written it. Below, you’ll find an assortment of resources that can help you.

There’s so much to learn.  Sometimes we simply need another set of eyes to go over what we’ve written. You can become snow blind (stop seeing something obvious) to your own work over time. Turn to an expert in matters where you aren’t your strongest.

It’s important to know the difference styles of editing. Do you need a line edit or a copy edit? Maybe it’s a development edit that would help you? What about a proofread?

Keep reading to find books, classes, questions to ask yourself, and more.

person doing edit, questions, what about self-editing? Do I need a book editor?

What about self-editing? Do I need a book editor?

Book Editing Resources: 

Are you the kind of person that likes to devour craft books on writing like me? Here’s a highly recommended book on self-edits. I’ve got this one in my stack of books.

self-editing book for fiction writers

Self Edits for Fiction Writers – click on the image to see this book on Amazon.

A brief description taken from the blurb:  “… Chapters on dialogue, exposition, point of view, interior monologue, and other techniques take you through the same processes an expert editor would go through to perfect your manuscript. Each point is illustrated with examples…”


Another book that you can’t miss is Stein on Writing. It’s a classic and well-loved book. He’s got the know how, experience, and offers it to you clearly in a well-written book that will help you improve your writing game. (click on the cover image to see it on Amazon)

A brief description taken from the blurb: “… Whether you are a newcomer or an accomplished professional, a novelist, story writer, or a writer of nonfiction, you will find this book a wealth of immediately useful guidance not available anywhere else. As Sol Stein, renowned editor, author, and instructor, explains, “This is not a book of theory. It is a book of useable solutions–“

edit wit red pen, says how to edit a book, the editing process

How to edit a book… the editing process

Book Editing Classes:

Always continue to learn. Especially from people who are stronger in areas where you need work.

Liz Pelletier  is the CEO of Entangled Publishing. She knows her stuff. I’m currently going through one of her editing courses, a three pass video seminar on SavvyAuthors. It’s nothing less than amazing. She covers more than you think you need to know. You can learn about her course here: SavvyAuthors.

Angela James from Nice Mommy, Evil Editor has a course that comes highly recommended from some of my writing friends called Before You Hit Send.  I’ve not taken this particular course, but what I can tell you is that Angela James has credentials to back her up. From her “about” section: “…editorial director for first Samhain Publishing and then Harlequin’s Carina Press for a combined 15 years of editorial lead and strategy experience…” She knows what readers and editors want. You can find more about her course here:

Margie Lawson offers both classes and packets. I’m going to recommend the editing lecture packets as an affordable way to get a deep dive into revising and polishing your story. The packets currently run at just under $25 and are self-paced. Great information at a good price point.

Udemy is another resource that I turn to when I want to learn something laser focused. Not every course will have what you want or need, but I’ve found a few that were worth my time and money. Hint: they have sales all the time that offers their courses at a MUCH lower rate. Sign up for their email list and you’ll hear about a savings almost immediately. Another trick: Pop a course in your shopping cart, but don’t complete the buying process. They will often email you to remind you its there and offer a steep discount at the same time.

MasterClass has an amazing list of writing classes. I’ve taken many, but none focused on the aspects of edits. They are more overarching views. Classes I enjoyed: Shonda Rhimes, Dan Brown, RL Stein.

working on laptop, it says, read through for word choice, get fresh eyes on those e books

How’s your word choice?

Book Editing Tips:

Here are some questions to ask yourself…

  • How is your pacing? Does it read too slowly, or speed too quickly not giving your reader enough time to digest what’s happening?
  • What’s at stake? Is there enough to make us care?
  • Have you made it clear what the characters goal is early on?
  • Is there enough conflict in the story?
  • Do all of your characters sound the same? They should be individual and distinguishable.
  • Are we clear on the setting? As you chance scenes, have you grounded the reader so they know the mood of the scene or location?
  • Have you given your reader the best possible ending? Is it satisfying?
  • Are some scenes too wordy? Are you bogging down the prose with too much detail, losing the focus of moving the story forward?

Another website I adore that is helpful when it comes to doing edits and tackling grammar is Grammar Girls Quick and Dirty Tips. This has been a go-to site for me for ages, and is easily one of the most helpful places on the web for writers when you want a quick and decisive answer on a particular piece of grammar.

big edit key on keyboard

book editing…

Editing and Revising

Okay, so what exactly is the difference between editing vs revising? They both sound similar, but each has its own part in polishing your story.

We talked about editing above, but what is revising? Good question! I’m glad you asked. Revising means looking at your structure, not simply your story bits and pieces. The way that you choose your sentences make things flow, but if you’re looking at a plot hole, you’ll want to revise your story (fix the structure) so the entire book reads better. Editing looks more at the sentence to sentence structure, looking at grammar, how things flow…where you expect to see a red pen mark made or track changes in your document. By revising it, you’re looking at changing the container you hold your words in…it will make the overall story better.

More Editing Tips for the New Writer

  • Do you have a high concept? A hook?
  • Is it a dated or trending topic? Have you looked at the style of your language and wording choice?
  • Have you checked to make sure you have enough visceral reactions?
  • Are your descriptions rich and vivid?
  • Are your character relatable?
  • Do your scenes have an action and reaction?
  • Do you know who your audience is? Are you writing to them, or have you abandoned them and gone off on a tangent?
  • Are there boring parts? Rewrite them!
  • Do you overuse certain words?
  • Do you overuse dialogue tags that are unnecessary?
  • Is your story predictable?

These are all things to consider in the revision and editing process. Seems overwhelming, huh? That’a s lot to keep in mind. Don’t panic! You take it one page at a time, one paragraph at a time. How can you smooth awkward sentences and offer a better reading experience? Does the wording flow, or are you getting tripped up? Sometimes a simple rearrangement of words makes a huge difference. Other times, swapping one word for another works better. Does it sound natural when you read it? Look for areas of improvement as you read back through your words.

Backstories can be a Bore.

One place to tackle when you start edits is in the very beginning. New writers tend to think they need to add all the information, every single detail of the character’s life — things that happened before the story started. Hmm. Let’s read that last part again… things that happened before the story started.

The author knows all about their character. You’ve lovingly thought about and built this character and might know so many things about them. You’re enamored, and maybe they’d been through pain and heartache, and you want everybody to know, so you slather the beginning like cream cheese on a bagel.

The thing is, your readers don’t need to know all of that from the word go. You can add bits and pieces through your story, but the story is about NOW. What’s happening in your character’s life at this moment. Not what happened ages ago. They may react to something because of what happened, but it’s history, baby!

Instead of dumping all of those past details in the front of your story, let them come out in small bits in a way that shows characterization. Maybe they’d been in a bad accident years back and are a nervous driver.

An Example of Feathering in Details

Instead of telling everybody on page one about this bad accident years ago, you might have them driving with a friend who notices them braking heavily and often. “Still a little nervous driving?” This does two things. It build curiosity. Why are they nervous driving. Second, it shows a small trait about the character without being overbearing.

Maybe the main character answers, and not in some slow, boring speech about the accident and every detail, but more like this. “Is it obvious? I thought I was getting better. It’s like I imagine the accident happening all over again.”

Boom! There was an accident in the past. She worries about it. Well, there you go, simple, easy, effective. Not boring. Boring is… “Yeah, all those years ago when that big truck slammed into me, and my car went this way, and the ride to the hospital in the ambulance, and my car was totaled, and I was scared…” Blah. See the difference?

More Places to Learn about Editing:

Looking for more tips? Here are a couple of articles with more editing help.

Jerry Jenkins has an editing checklist worth checking out. You’ll find twenty-one helpful ips… don’t miss it. In fact, bookmark it for later!

The Write Life has a list of 25 tips, too. Check their great article out here for more great tips on how to edit a book.

You can find more details about the different types of editing on the Reedsy blog

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