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.


To make sure you don’t miss any more of our editing and writing tips, head over to our Facebook page and give it a like.


6 thoughts on “Self-Editing Your Novel: The First Steps

  1. Jon Stephens says:

    These are great tips for those looking to edit their own works. I especially appreciate the importance of stepping away from the manuscript for a while. Even a few days isn’t enough to properly distance yourself.

    Liked by 1 person

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