A lot of first-time authors make the mistake of editing their book to death, never progressing far enough to finish their book and getting to the publishing phase.
Others think they can toss a messy draft at an editor and expect them to fix everything. There’s a happy medium between making your draft good enough for an editor—and trusting when it’s time for your editor to step in and take over.
With that in mind, in this article, we help you navigate the process of getting your book edited—both by you and your editor—so you can get published faster.
Before we get into our seven tips for getting your book through the editing phase, let’s take a look at what an editor does – and why it’s crucial you have one.
What exactly does a book editor do?
A book editor is someone who reads through your book several times, correcting for grammar, punctuation, structure, content, and more, depending on the type of editor you hire.
Essentially, a book editor is there to help your book become the finalized version with the outcome being what you intended.
Because let’s face it, no matter how hard we try, we can’t always get the book right by ourselves. We know all of the content, the message, the theme, and we’re far too close to the work to understand how an outsider will perceive it.
An editor works as that outsider as well as someone who views it with a critical eye. They can help you alter the book so your intended purpose is fulfilled by its end.
What type of edit does your book need?
Not everyone will need the same type of edit because everyone has varying levels of skill.
For example, someone who has a great mind for structure but lacks in the technical skills of writing will benefit more from a line edit versus a developmental edit.
That being said, here at Self-Publishing School, we highly recommend all writers of all skill levels get a full edit, which often includes copy, line editing, and developmental edits.
Here’s a table detailing each type of edit and what they entail.
Type of Edit
What it Means
In this type of edit, the editor will correct sentence structure, inconsistencies, tense, spelling and grammar, as well as some content feedback.
This is what most people think of when they think "editor." This type is when your punctuation, word choice, dialogue structure, and more is corrected.
This is where the editor organizes the structure, moves pieces around, and suggests changes based on how the information comes across in its order.
This type of edit is when the editor pays close attention to how each chapter builds on the previous, as well as comments and feedback on the content itself.
#1 – Edit Quickly
If you make the mistake of editing extensively, especially while you’re still actively writing, you potentially set yourself up for a major headache, which can delay publishing your book.
Look at the example of Scott Allan. Before he joined Self-Publishing School, he spent two years working on a voluminous self-help tome.
His first draft clocked in at an impressive 90,000 words. He spent months perfecting each word. In the blink of an eye, six more months had elapsed, and he had not only sucked himself into the drain of editing, he hadn’t written anything new since he became stuck in self-edit mode.
For one year, he wrote (and rewrote!) the book three times. Why, you might wonder? In his words, “I suppose I didn’t know any better, first of all. That was before I learned the expression ‘Done is better than perfect.’
I was under the impression that it wasn’t done until it was perfect.” Months later, he found an expensive editor to take on his book, but the author couldn’t stop tweaking the material.
Tweaking lead to rewriting…and the book which had been so carefully drafted, then rewritten, then tweaked, never saw the light of day. The book was never actually published.
Allan says, “Painful lesson learned: Unpublished books don’t make money!”
Eventually, the author went on to write Pathways to Mastery and publish it on Amazon. Using the lessons learned during his first failed self-publishing attempt, the author spent just eight months writing and only two months editing this time.
Since writing Pathways to Mastery, Allan has gone on to write and publish three more books, with a significant reduction in writing and editing time for each successive book.
His latest book was in the editing phase for only three weeks.
Letting go of perfectionism is one of the hardest things to do. It sounds doable in theory, but in practice? It’s a challenge.
Many writers strive for perfection—the perfect grammar, spelling, and choice of words. Especially when the story we’re putting out there is our first book, or about an intensely personal topic, it ups the ante significantly. We’ve been there, and we get it.
Here’s what you need to remember: Nothing in life is perfect. No person, book, nor writer.
You can spend forever and your book still won’t be 100% “perfect.” The editing phase can be rough because of the personal investment and attachment we have to our books.
Key Takeaway: Instead of striving for the mythical unicorn of book perfection, strive for a reality-based “as good as this book can be.”
#3 – Do a Quick First Revision
Before you give your book to your editor, you want to do a read-through to catch any glaring errors.
Say this with me: rip off the Band-Aid.
Make your first revision fast. Here’s the best way to make that change of phase from writing to editing: when you’re done with your first draft, circle back and do a quick-and-dirty first revision.
This involves a rapid read of the book, just to get a feel of what you’ve written. Brace yourself. This phase might just be the most painful part of the editorial process. This is because it’s the first time you’re looking at your book with a critical eye and reviewing the results of your first draft.
You need to make sure your book makes sense and that it doesn’t miss any words that would confuse a reader to the point that they don’t understand what you’re trying to say.
This will reduce the back-and-forth hand-offs between you and your editor and will shorten to overall editing phase.
If you notice any major problems, like plot holes or missing information, make a note of them but save these bigger edits for the next round of revisions.
Your mental game needs to be strong here. You’re going to think, “I really suck. I hate writing, I hate my book, and I’d rather watch Netflix than ever look at this crap again.”
The Buddha once said: “All things must pass.” Namaste, my friend. You’ll get through this phase and eventually love yourself (and your writing!) again.
Key Takeaway: Give your book the chance it deserves. Right now, it’s just you alone with your book. Make this first revision quick.
#4 – Read Your First Pass Out Loud
During your first pass, it’s necessary to read your book out loud to yourself. Your ear processes words in a way that your eyes may not so this gives you sense of pacing, chapter structure, and tone.
While you’re reading out loud, try to read through the eyes of a reader.
Imagine what your ideal reader looks like and how they’d feel reading this. Visualize their experience with your book.
During this read-through, don’t stop to make large corrections. Just use a red pen or highlighter to take notes of the obvious mistakes. Simply mark or circle these errors to come back to later.
Put yourself on the clock when you do this. Time yourself for ten-twenty minutes per chapter and keep reading the whole draft through to completion.
Key Takeaway: Reading out loud during your first pass can help with tone and pacing. Do this quickly, with a timer.
#5 – Delve Deeper With a Second Pass
Your next step is to go back to the beginning of the book and do a second pass. Your second revision should delve deeper. As you read, stay alert to passages that have “holes” or sections of the book which need to be filled out more.
Think of the analogy of building a home: First the frame goes up, then you build the walls. Keep adding to your book until your story and message is clear. Some of us have a tendency to change our voice from one paragraph to the next.
Tone shift is something that a strong editor will pick up on, but to the extent you can make things consistent, you should. As this point, your book should be more polished.
This is also the stage in which you should focus on making your book stronger by getting rid of weak verbs and replacing them with stronger verbs, like in this video of a live-edit below:
Your book still isn’t perfect (remember we cautioned against perfect!) but at this stage, you should have a working manuscript which should be close to publishable.
Key Takeaway: Your second pass should fill in the gaps in your story or chapters, and keep tone consistent.
#6 – Hand Over the Reins to an Editor
One of the hardest parts of the editorial relationship is handing over your passion project to a complete stranger.
You may be thinking, “What? I’m giving it to a complete stranger who doesn’t know me—and doesn’t understand the blood, sweat, and tears that went into this—just so they can mark it up and tell me about all the things I did wrong?!”
There’s a reason the editor-writer relationship can feel fraught. It’s because while your book is deeply personal to you, whereas for the editor, it’s just another day at the office.
Your editor’s job is to care about the flow of the book, the grammar, spelling, and in some cases, content.
They will take your draft and elevate it to a readable manuscript. Try not to take it personally or push back at their criticism.
Your editor will shape your draft into a “good” book to publish. Notice the deliberate choice of words—we didn’t say perfect!
A “good” book is enjoyable, useful, readable and publishable.
Key Takeaway: Don’t take your editor’s constructive criticism personally. You have the same end goal: a good book!
#7 – Impersonate a Certain Disney Princess
Time to just Let it Go. Send your draft off to your editor and celebrate. Put up your feet and queue up your Netflix binge.
You’ve certainly earned it! By the time you’re done with your own revisions and have added and subtracted material, your editorial return time shouldn’t take more than a week—or two, max.
Key Takeaway: Just get your draft into the hands of your editor! Let them worry now. You’ve done the heavy lifting. It’s easy to get bogged down in perfection, and it’s tempting to hold on tightly to your work.
It can be a natural reaction to pouring your heart and soul into your dreams. But the quicker you can move your first draft through to the editing phase, the sooner you’ll achieve your dream of a published book.
Chandler is the host of the Self Publishing School podcast & the author of 6 bestselling books including his most recent book titled “Published.”. He’s also the founder & CEO of Self-Publishing School, the #1 online resource for writing your first book. Self Publishing School made the INC 5000 in 2018 (#2,699) as one of the 5,000 fastest-growing private companies in the US. Through his books, podcast, training videos, and Self-Publishing School, he’s helped thousands of people on their journey to writing their first book.