Editing Your Manuscript: Self-Publishing

editing your manuscript

In this post, we are going to look at editing your manuscript. When people think of editing, they tend to have flashbacks to their 4th-grade grammar class when they were parsing sentences and ensuring the spelling and punctuation was correct. We have moved up to the big leagues now.

Editing your manuscript has gotten a lot more complicated. For one thing, there are different types of editing. Whether you hire an editor (recommended), have a smart friend help, or do it yourself, you will need to be familiar with the various types. Because of everything involved in editing your manuscript, I will be giving you a broad overview of the process. Even if you are self-publishing, you can (and should) hire an editor to do any of these tasks that you are uncomfortable doing. If it is cost prohibitive, and it can be, consider which part of editing your manuscript can be best done by a professional and then just hire that one out.

Manuscript Critique

Before you get into the task of editing your manuscript, you will want to have someone take a big picture look at what you’ve written. In traditional publishing, a professional editor will do this. As a self-published writer, you have the option of paying for a professional manuscript critique. If you wish to save money on this task in favor of paying for another professional editing service down the road, you can enlist the help of a critique partner or a friend.  Ask someone (or two), who you know will be very honest with you, to read through your project. They should be familiar with the genre in which you are writing, and have a good understanding of your goal for the manuscript. They will tell you what parts they liked and what didn’t seem to work.

Be Honest when editing your manuscript

It’s essential that at this stage as well as the other stages of editing your manuscript, you look at your work with an honest and ruthless eye. Develop a thick skin and never take any criticism personally. After all, you are still in the process of editing your manuscript. It is only by being honest about any issues present that you can have the best final product.

Imagine that you just had an amazing meal with friends. You are laughing and having a great time. Then you go home feeling like it was a fantastic outing. As you enter your home, you pass a large mirror in the hallway. You notice there is something. It’s a huge particle of spinach, right between your front teeth! You recalled all of the laughter. Everyone had to have seen it. Why didn’t anyone tell you? Wouldn’t you have much rather had someone tell you about the spinach in your teeth right away? And wouldn’t you have taken it out of your teeth immediately?

That’s how you need to look at editing your manuscript. Sure, it would be nice if your work was perfect to begin with, but chances are, it will take a lot of work to get it right. It’s important that when people critique or edit your work, you listen respectfully. That includes not making excuses for your work. If you disagree with them, you don’t need to implement their suggestions, but don’t waste their time by arguing about it. They are giving you their honest feedback. That’s valuable. They are the one risking offending you by pointing out the spinach in your teeth.

Content Editing

Content editing will look at the structure of what you are writing. Think of editing as if you are a sculptor. This is your masterpiece. As a sculptor, you are taking away, adding, or moving large parts of clay (or whatever medium you are sculpting with), to give your sculpture its basic form.

Whether you’ve written a blog post or a book, this is where you start. The first thing you need to think about is the big picture of what you are writing. You need to ask:

  • What is the goal of this piece?
  • And who is your audience?
  • What is the audience expecting and needing?

These questions will save you a lot of time, later.

Let me give you an example

editing your manuscript

As I was writing, “Facing Cancer as a Parent.” I had a chapter on Family Care Conferences. It was a fantastic chapter full of important information. In it I explained why it’s important to gather the family (adults only) together to makes decisions about how to best support a cancer patient (and by extension, their family). It also covered the logistics of these meetings.

When I stepped back and took a big picture look at the book, it didn’t fit. My intended audience was parents who have cancer and want to help their kids through this time. Did the chapter deliver? Sort of… but not really. I needed all of the content to have one aim—helping kids to thrive in spite of their parent having cancer. The information in that chapter would do that indirectly, but for the book to be powerful and do what it promised, everything had to directly impact the reader’s kids. This chapter just didn’t qualify. So I cut it.

How does this save time later on?

By making major structural changes early on you save yourself the hassle of having to do the more detailed editing tasks on this content, later. PLUS, this chapter will be perfect in a future book focused on caregivers and/or patients.

We don’t write words for the sake of a word count. We only want to put out the best. Cutting content creates cutting-edge content! These structural changes create the skeleton of your book’s body. They give it strength and flow.

Line Editing

Editing I is an art, and line editing is the most creative part of the process. This is when you look at your content at the paragraph and sentence level. While editing your manuscript you’re a sculptor detailing your masterpiece.

You are going to:

  • Spice up any blah language
  • Correct issues with sentence structure
  • Clear up any confusing or ambiguous phrasing
  • Improve the pacing of a book
  • Remove repeated phrases or words

Copy Editing

This is editing your manuscript at a very technical and detailed level. It’s often what people think of when they picture editing. In copy editing, you as a sculptor are sanding your masterpiece down to perfection.

You and your software, or your editor, or a brilliant friend, will check:

  • Punctuation
  • Spelling
  • Grammar
  • Consistency in details throughout the manuscript
  • Any glaring factual errors


This happens after you’ve submitted your manuscript and ordered a proof. You can get an electronic copy of the proof as well as a physical proof. Never submit your manuscript for final publication without looking at a physical proof of your book.

I recently ordered a proof of Facing Cancer as a Parent. When I got the copy I was surprised to see inconsistencies in the font size. I have a sneaking suspicion about how this happened. Regardless, it was cause for me to make the necessary changes before it went to print.

What about proofreading my E-book?

That should definitely be done electronically. Read it on a variety of devices and see how your formatting holds up to the changes readers will make. For example:

  • Font size
  • Background color
  • Portrait vs. Landscape view

Make sure you remove any elements that won’t stand up to these things. Bullets are one of these elements. When you put them into an e-reader they can wind up all over the place.

Can’t I just do it by myself?

By the time you get to the editing stage of your project, you will not only have written it, but you will have read it several times. The problem is that your brain now knows what to expect, so it’s difficult to know whether that sentence you feel like you’ve seen 4 times is really repeated that often in your manuscript, or it just feels that way because of how often you’ve read your manuscript. It’s also nearly impossible to see typos and errors because you are, in a sense, blind to them.

About Heather Erickson

I am an author, writer, and speaker and homeschooling mom of 3. Since doctors diagnosed my husband, Dan with stage IV lung cancer in 2012, I’ve focused my writing and speaking on helping cancer patients and their families advocate for themselves and live life to the fullest, in spite of their illness. My goal is to help people face cancer with grace.

My books The Memory Maker’s Journal and Facing Cancer as a Friend: How to Support Someone Who Has Cancer, are available at Amazon.com.

I also blog about living with cancer at, Facing Cancer with Grace.


Have any questions or comments? I would love to hear from you! By commenting, you agree to the terms of my privacy policy.

8 comments on “Editing Your Manuscript: Self-Publishing

Hi Heather.
This is another really excellent post.

Because my books were all with traditional publishers, manuscript critique wasn’t done by an editor but rather, as I wrote, by a half dozen reviewers who had full time jobs in my field and were paid a little bit to read and answer questions about my work as I wrote. I then got their review comments back in a single document from the publisher. They were anonymous, but it was always fairly easy to figure out who was who, partly by what they wrote and partly because reviewers, when it comes to traditional publishers, are selected because they have purchasing responsibility and the publisher is hoping to get some big sales of the book. The nice thing at manuscript critique stage was it was always up to me whether I made changes a reviewer suggested or not.
During the writing, I worked with an editor who served primarily as a line editor. I was the content specialist but he’d certainly tell me if something felt a bit off.
A copy editor stepped in at the end. If your book has an index, the copy editor also checks the work of the indexer which is very helpful.
I’m remembering each of these people as I write about the roles you’ve described. Each had an extremely valuable role to play. If I were to write another book and self-publish it, I’d definitely pay for whatever editing services I felt I needed. In the race to the finish that writers experience, it just makes sense to have another professional to whom you can pass the baton when you’re flagging or have gone blind to the work.

Hi Karen, A professional editor is definitely worth the money. You have a doctor care for your health and a mechanic fixes your car. Why not get an editor to ensure your book is in top shape? Thank you for sharing how you work with an editor throughout the traditional publishing process. This is where traditional publishing really is better than self-publishing. It shows in the quality of the product. Thankfully, as you say, self-published authors can always purchase editing services. Have a fantastic week!

Great information. I belong to a local writing group. We meet every two weeks and critique ten pages of each other’s writing. I’ve learned so much through the process. I’m amazed at how many different types of editing there are. Many people like to correct grammar. I think that’s the easiest. I appreciate when people tell me what they thought of my piece.

Hi Nancy. That was what was so helpful about the way you, and others gave me feedback on Facing Cancer as a Parent. I was in a wonderful critique group for fiction but had to take a break due to scheduling conflicts. I really miss the regular feedback from people who not only know what they are talking about but who also aren’t afraid to tell you the cold hard truth. 🙂

Ah yes, the dreaded editing. I actually enjoy rewriting quite a bit. I find that reading it in some other format (other than the one it was written in) helps find errors that may otherwise be missed. And reading it aloud.

But, yes, you definitely need different eyes on it. That’s so vital.

Another author has a blog post somewhere on how to strip out all of the document’s formatting to reformat and clean it up for digital publication. I think she only resorted to that after proofreading her ebook, though.

Hi Liz. I love getting my book in a physical proof, and then going through it with a red pen. I see so many things that can be fixed or tweaked that way. The hard thing is to know when it’s good enough. I had my book looking spectacular and then as I was about to hit “publish,” I saw a missing comma on the dedication page. I heard of a man (I don’t recall who, but he was famous). Whenever he purchased a brand new car, he would take a tire iron to it. One good whack and the car was no longer perfect. After that, he could stop obsessing about the little dings and scratches that would inevitably appear. At some point you have to say, “that comma (or typo or any other mistake) is my tire iron. Now I can stop obsessing.” Have a wonderful week!

Editing on physical objects always gives me much more excitement. Though most of us are literally involved in the computer to reduce time. Computer is a great tool for editing and I don’t dare to deny it. But a manuscript is always the classic of writing and editing process. It helps our brain to develop some muscle for writing skill. What you said here in this post is quite impressive. I appreciate your great endeavor. Thanks a lot Heather Erickson!

Thank you, Sophia. I love a combination of both. I start with the computer and move on to using paper so nothing (hopefully) falls through the gaps. I’m always in awe of the writers from past generations who would sit down in front of a typewriter and get the whole story down from start to finish. Amazing! Have a great day. 🙂

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