Self-Editing Your Novel: The Final Steps

It’s editing time again, with this being our last post on how to self-edit your novel. Now you’ve completed our other three sets of tips, it’s time to look at polishing your manuscript off. You’ve made all the big changes, so stay with us to do those little adjustments that’ll make it shine.

find and replace

Take a look at your chapter headings. Are they just numbers, or do they have names, or both? Either way, they need to be consistent. Choose whether you want to use the actual numbers (1, 2, 3) or whether you want to write them out (one, two, three). And how are you capitalising the words in your chapter titles? Are they all in lower case, or does every word start with a capital letter? Whatever you choose, make sure this style stays the same throughout.

Consistency in spelling is also something you want to be aware of, especially in hyphenated words. If you’ve put a hyphen in book-wise at the start of your novel but not in bookwise towards the end, you need to pick one version and change all of the others to match. Do the same with capital letters too. If the Aura has a capital A in some places, make sure it does all the way through.

As writers, we all know which words we have constant difficulty with spelling (for me, it’s broccoli). No matter how many times you look this word up in the dictionary you can never remember how to spell it. Similarly, there might be some words that you type in the wrong order. If you know of any of these, it’s very easy to fix them. Put your cursor at the top of the document and do a find and replace (F5). If it were me, I’d be replacing brocolli with broccoli. This saves a lot of time and gets rid of any obvious errors.

We’ve already spoken about punctuation in a different blog post, but there’s one more bit we’d like to go over. Did you know that in the UK single quotations are used for speech, whereas in America double quotations are used? Some publishers do vary from this, but in general you’ll find it to be true. If you have a specific publisher in mind that you want to submit to, check which they use then change yours accordingly.

At this point, it’s a good idea to have a read through the manuscript and make any changes to spelling and grammar. Doubly make sure that there are no spelling errors or typos, and if a sentence doesn’t quite flow right rearrange it so it does. Can be tedious, but you need to be 100% focussed to make sure you miss as few mistakes as possible.


We’ve now reached the end of our self-editing month, so hopefully you have a well-polished manuscript sitting in front of you. There will inevitably still be mistakes in there, as it’s very hard to spot all of them in your own work. At this point we’d advise you to get someone else to look at it, whether that be a family friend or a professional copyeditor, as long as it’s someone who knows what they’re doing. Hopefully you’ve found these posts really useful, and thanks for following us through them right to the end of January.

Happy editing!

Writing Prompt Tuesday

Have you ever wondered how a dog would see your home? How it would smell to him and what he thinks of that big, loud machine that makes your clothes wet? No? Well now’s your chance to have a think about it. Happy writing!



Self-Editing Your Novel: Convincing Characters

Over the past two weeks we’ve been posting tips on how to self-edit your novel. If you haven’t completed those steps yet, you can find the first ones here and the second here. For those of you who’ve managed to keep up, here’s our third post with more steps for you to follow.

John Seely image

When writing your novel (especially during writing challenges such as NaNoWriMo) it’s really easy to fall out of character. On those days when your heart just wasn’t in it, you might find that your narrator’s voice changed a little to match your mood. This is completely normal and is bound to happen to everyone at some point, and it’s easy enough to fix too. Whenever you read a section where your voice is slipping out of character, highlight it. Then, when you’re in the mood to write, tweak those sections a bit so they’re more consistent with your usual narration.

Now, does everything you’ve written make sense? Or have you put something nonsensical in to move the story forwards? If possible, make these plot devices believable within the world of your story. If you can’t, it’s not the end of the world, but it may make your readers question it later on. A great example of this is in Star Wars, where to destroy the Death Star it must be hit in a very specific spot. Fans ridicule this a lot, but without this slightly unrealistic weak spot the story wouldn’t have been so exciting.

Similarly, look at your character’s emotions and reactions. Is it really believable that Amelia would work with the man who killed her mother? Yes, it works well to move the story on, but it’s very unrealistic. Find a way around things like this, making sure that your character reacts in a way that makes sense.

When you’ve done that, it’s time for the less pleasant of editing duties. You need to start cutting bits out of your novel. Read through your novel, looking at each scene individually. Are there scenes that exist purely to push up the word count? Every scene you’ve written must have a purpose. It must either:

  • Develop a character
  • Move the story forwards, or
  • Give important information.

If you have sections that don’t do any of these three things, get rid of them. There’s no point in scenes that have no purpose. Don’t just think in terms of this book though. If you’re writing a series, as long as a scene is important for one of the books leave it in.


And that’s it for today. These steps might feel small to you, and it may even feel at first like there’s not much to do, but this bit of editing will take up a lot of time. Keep at it, and if you start getting bored or frustrated leave it for an hour then come back to it with fresh eyes. Don’t forget to join us again next Friday for our last few tips on self-editing your novel, but until then, happy editing!

Self-Editing Your Novel: Stunning Simplicity

Last week we posted the first steps you should take in self-editing your novel, from changing inconsistencies to finding plot holes. If you haven’t yet taken these steps, you can find the post here, then come back to us when you’re done. For those of you that have completed the steps from last week, this post will guide you through what to do next. Today’s steps may seem small and unimportant at first, but it’s these small changes that could make the difference between getting accepted or rejected from an agent. Are you ready? Get out your red pens, it’s time to edit.

red pens

Take a look at your punctuation. Have you got a really wide variety of it in your work? If you have, highlight every one that isn’t a full stop, comma or question mark. For these highlighted ones, reread the sentences they’re a part of and try to decide if they are essential. Chances are, they could happily be replaced by a full stop or comma. This sounds like a really unimportant thing to be doing, but a lot of readers don’t like to be drawn away from the story because of ill-placed exclamation marks. It’s distracting for them, and when over-used it has a lot less of an impact than when it’s used effectively. In my editing experience, I find that the semi-colon is a writer’s biggest punctuation mistake. Most of the time, semi-colons can be replaced by commas or full stops. And of course, it’s always worth remembering that a lot of publishing companies don’t like using them either.

Dialogue tags are another thing that writers get very creative and excited with, but often to too great an extent. Dialogue tags are the words you use to describe how someone says something, like shouted and cried. About 85% of the time said works perfectly well. This means that if you’ve got another dialogue tag every couple of pages you need to get rid of a few. Asked is used quite a lot, and you probably won’t need to change it, but for everything else, stop and decide if it can be changed. Did Amelia really shout at her mum, or did she just raise her voice a little bit? Play out the scene in your head to help you decide. If you use words like shouted too much, when your character is actually shouting it won’t have much of an impact on your readers.

Now look at all of your descriptions of people, objects and places. Are they just huge blocks of text that cram everything in? Most readers tend to skim over bits like this so they can get back to the action of the story. This means they might miss out on important pieces of information. This is very easy to counteract though. Only put information that is completely necessary into these descriptions, just the essentials. Then, everything else you want your reader to know, drop in small pieces of it every now and then through speech or narration. For example:

‘Who are you?’ asked Amelia, dragging her eyes away from the man’s neon striped tie to look into his midnight blue eyes.

 This way, your reader gets a complete picture without having to digest it all at once. Just make sure you’re not doing this in every other sentence.

On the contrary, maybe you’ve under-described things instead. Do you ever mention what colour your protagonist’s hair is? It’s easy enough to find yourself not putting information like this in, because you know the characters and places so well that you forget others don’t. That’s fine while you’re writing, but now you’re editing it’s time to make sure that nothing important has been left out. Write down a list of things that should be described and tick them off every time you come across them in your manuscript. You can add in the bits you’ve missed at the end.

Now you’ve got all of the descriptions in the manuscript it’s time for the last step of today’s post. Make them perfect. Adjectives work best in threes or less, so if you’re describing something put a maximum of three adjectives before it. Any more and it won’t flow well when read. Also, bear in mind that alliteration, when used well, can be a powerful tool. Sounds and rhythms aren’t just for poetry, so make sure your descriptions roll off the tongue nicely too.


Hopefully, after finishing these steps, you’ll have a simple yet engaging manuscript that’s ready for next week’s editing steps. It might take a while to make these changes, so don’t panic if they take more than a week. Take your time then come back for the next steps when you’re ready. Until then, happy editing!

Self-Editing Your Novel: The First Steps

It’s the start of a new year, which means it’s time to get your novel up to the best possible standard ready to send out into the world. Towards the end of 2015 we gave you a few tips on how to find a literary agent that suits your needs. Keeping the agent you found in mind, it’s time to work on your finished manuscript to make it perfect. Follow us for the rest of January to hear our weekly self-editing tips, starting with the first steps we’re taking today.


Firstly, you need to pull your novel out of the drawer it’s been left in and read it. It should be at least a month since you finished writing the manuscript: any less and it will be too fresh in your mind for you to be able to read through it objectively. You need to be looking at it new, as if you’re reading it from the first time. You are your own critic here, so get ready to read.

Have a notebook and pen next to you for this first read through. Every time a character or a place is described, write down what the description is. In your notebook, have a fresh page for each new character or place so you can keep your thoughts and notes organised. You’ll also need to write the page number next to each description so you can go back and find it later on.

Make a note of each plot point as it happens. This way you can easily keep track of what’s happening to who, when it happens and what the direct consequences are. These don’t have to be the big plot points, they can be as small as ‘the protagonist starts to trust the antagonist’ – anything that changes or sways the story or a character.

Whilst reading, try to keep an eye out for anything that doesn’t make sense. Don’t think about grammar and sentence structure here, but instead look at the story as a whole. This first reading that you do is to improve the actual story, not the writing. If you see a small plot hole, fix it. If you find that your character talks about the mystical cube of destruction before actually finding out about it, fix it.

When you’ve come to the end of this read, put the manuscript down and look through your notes. Check for any inconsistencies then go back and change them. Make sure scars and fringes haven’t swapped sides mid-battle, and make sure eye colours haven’t changed over time. And most importantly, make sure that everything in your list of plot points makes sense. If your protagonist puts their coat down in a lift and we don’t see them pick it up again, how are they wearing it in the forest two chapters later?


So that’s it, the first step towards self-editing your novel. For some of you (particularly those that meticulously plan before writing), these steps may have only revealed one or two minor mistakes. If this is you, don’t worry. It just means that you’re ready for the next step of self-editing we’re going to take next week. For those of you who have unearthed a fair few problems, just relax. Make a cuppa and sort through your notes and corrections one at a time, then come back to us next Friday ready to tackle the next set of instructions. You may find this tedious or even boring, but it’s an essential step towards publication.


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