How to edit a book yourself

Embarking on the journey of self-publishing can be as thrilling as it is daunting, particularly when it comes to polishing your manuscript. Editing isn’t just a box to check off. It’s an essential step that breathes life into your pages and ensures you present readers with the clearest, most engaging version of your story—even if “story” means delectable recipes or striking photographs.

Whether penning a novel or curating visuals for a photo book, editing is the unsung hero in transforming good content into exceptional content. It’s especially pivotal for self-published authors who are responsible for delivering quality without traditional publishing support systems.

Sure, it’s ideal to enlist a colleague or hire a professional editor to review your manuscript objectively, but what if that’s not an option? Even if “writer” isn’t how you’d describe yourself (looking at you comic creators and culinary maestros), you have what it takes to fine-tune your masterpiece. After all, no one knows its nuances quite like you do.

Pro tip: Complete a thorough edit of your text before you add it to your book layouts, then do another final proofread after designing your pages. Errors can easily pop up while copying and pasting, so always review your book pages before you publish.

A simple guide to structured editing

Editing is both an art and a science; it takes having creative finesse while utilizing a systematic workflow. This simplified approach to structured editing breaks down the process into three components: broad structural edits, detailed line edits, and finely tuned copy edits.

Broad structural edits

Broad structural edits are the first and perhaps most crucial step in refining a manuscript, as they address the overarching framework of your work. This stage is less about perfecting sentences and more about examining the skeleton of your narrative to ensure it stands strong.

When considering the overall structure and flow, start by stepping back from the details to view your work as a whole. Ask yourself whether each chapter, section, or paragraph serves a clear purpose and contributes to the overall goal of your piece. 

Does it flow logically? Is there a coherent progression that guides readers effortlessly from one point to another? 

To achieve this seamless journey for your audience, take these tips.

  • Create an outline if you haven’t already. It can be surprisingly revealing.
  • Look for gaps in logic or content that may need additional information.
  • Identify redundancies where trimming could tighten your narrative.
  • Consider pacing and make sure there aren’t sections that lag behind in engagement or relevance.

Your book’s genre can also shape your approach to structural editing. Consider these genre-specific tips to keep your story flowing.

  • Fiction: Pay attention to the story structure and ensure exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution are all present and properly placed. Characters should develop over time while staying consistent with their established traits.
  • Nonfiction: Clarity is king here. Lay out arguments methodically and supporting evidence logically. Headings also play an important role. They must accurately reflect underlying content so readers can follow along without confusion.
  • Comic books and graphic novels: Focus on the synchronization of text and visuals. The dialogue should not merely narrate the visual elements but enhance them, providing depth to the characters and advancing the plot. Ensure that the style, quality, and pacing of both the artwork and the written content remain uniform throughout the novel.
  • Photo books: Visual narrative is key. Ensure that the sequence of photos and text tells a compelling story or conveys the intended theme effectively. You still need a story arc in a visually-driven book because that’s what drives your fans forward.
  • Illustrated books: Keep a close eye on the relationship between copy and illustration. The visuals should enhance the reader’s understanding and enjoyment of the text, not confuse or distract.

For all genres:

  • Be mindful of tone. Does it fit with genre expectations?
  • Check voice consistency throughout, as sudden shifts can jar reader immersion.

Keep in mind that broad structural editing may require significant rewriting and moving things around. However, the return on that work means every element aligns across pages.

Person editing their book on a laptop

Detailed line edits

Once the broad structure of your work is solid, it’s time to zoom in for detailed line edits. This meticulous phase focuses on refining language and enhancing readability at the sentence level.

Read aloud to catch awkward phrases

One effective technique is reading your text aloud. Your ear might catch what your eye has missed. Listen for:

  • Clunky or awkward phrasing that disrupts the flow.
  • Overly complex sentences that may confuse readers.
  • Repetitive word usage within proximity.

Hearing the rhythm and cadence of your words can highlight areas where the prose doesn’t sound natural, prompting a thoughtful revision.

Balance text and visuals in visually driven books

In works like children’s books or graphic novels, balance between text and imagery is key. Each element should complement the other without overwhelming it.

  • Ensure captions accurately reflect images while adding context or narrative value.
  • Check if visual pacing matches textual pacing; do they progress together?
  • Verify visuals are properly referenced within the text when necessary for understanding.

This balance maintains engagement by providing a seamless interplay between what readers see and read.

Improve character development and dialogue

Characters are the lifeblood of any story, so during line edits, take a close look at their development. Check for consistency in each character’s behavior and voice, making sure their dialogue aligns with who they are. 

Scrutinize character interactions to ensure they’re not just filling space but revealing personality or advancing the plot. Even minor characters should have clear motivations and distinct voices that add depth to your narrative.

Edit for narrative coherence in photo books

For photo books or visually-oriented narratives, your text must provide a coherent storyline that enhances understanding and appreciation of the images. Each caption should offer insight without stating what’s obvious from the image alone. 

Aim for complementary information that builds on what you show visually. Ensure there is a logical sequence that readers can easily follow as they move through your book, with transitions between text passages smoothly guiding them from one photograph to another.

Copy edits and consistency

This meticulous process is where we fine-tune writing mechanics to ensure that every detail aligns with best practices and enhances reader engagement. Now, let’s delve into each critical aspect.

Ensure consistency in fonts, headings, and size

In the realm of copy edits, visual consistency is paramount. The uniformity of fonts, headings, and text sizes throughout your document not only lends it a professional sheen but also aids reader comprehension. 

Carefully comb through your manuscript to ensure all typographic elements follow a consistent style. This helps readers navigate your work with ease and clarity.

Create your own style guide for tone and word choice

Professional book editors use style guides to have a systematic, comprehensive way to evaluate each writing project. A style guide consists of writing do’s and don’ts that pertain to the project as a whole (notes on tone, word choice, capitalization, and formatting), as well as a detailed checklist of all the book elements. 

Are chapter headers capitalized consistently? Are commas, quotation marks, and other punctuation in the right place? Research the style guides professionals use to help create your own self-editing checklist: the AP style guide for journalism and marketing and the Chicago Manual for fiction writing. 

Person on a laptop editing a book

Consider layout and design from the reader’s perspective

The layout isn’t just about aesthetics; it profoundly impacts how readers engage with content. Effective layout design guides them naturally from one section to another without confusion or fatigue. When executing copy edits, consider factors on the page like white space balance and element alignment. The goal is to facilitate an enjoyable reading journey from cover to cover.

Replace weak verbs and clichés with active alternatives

During your second round of edits, keep an eye on your verbs. Weak verbs (she says, he went) typically come to mind first when writing, but they often lack the personality of more descriptive verbs (she muttered, he scrambled). Don’t force it, but consider refining your word choice when the scene calls for it. 

Also, look for verbs in passive voice, where the object overshadows the subject (a book was given to her; the dog was told to sit). Passive verbs are not off limits, but you can bring more energy to your writing by using active ones (the neighbor gave her a book; we commanded the dog to sit). 

Proofread for grammar, punctuation, and spelling

Whether you’re self-editing a memoir, novel, poetry book, or art portfolio, proofreading is an essential last step. A solid proofread involves a final read-through to identify grammar, punctuation, spelling errors, and basic typos—all the tiny things that get overlooked during early rounds of editing. 

Proofreading is also your last chance to check your captions, text, and photo layouts for inconsistencies or design errors. Just because your photo book is 80 percent images and 20 percent text doesn’t mean you can skip this step. Nothing exudes “unprofessional” like misspelled words, uneven margins, or sloppy layouts. 

Utilizing feedback and finalizing the edit

As we edge closer to the finish line, incorporating feedback and finalizing your edit are helpful steps to ensure your book is well-rounded and well-polished.

Find and incorporate feedback

Receiving constructive criticism can be invaluable. Here’s how to do it.

  • Reach out to friends, colleagues, or beta readers for diverse opinions on your draft.
  • Recruit the help of a professional editor or proofreader for a final polish.
  • Use AI tools as additional resources for unbiased analysis. Try tools like Squibler, Manuscripts, or Marlowe to help you fine-tune your text.

Incorporate this collective insight into your manuscript with discernment, enhancing its overall quality while staying true to your vision.

Do a final read-through and print a proof copy

If staring at a computer screen is part of your writing process, give your eyes a break and switch things up by editing your book directly on the printed page. 

Request a proof copy of your book and take to editing with your first concept in hand. The tactile process of reviewing a printed version offers unique advantages. 

Editing a physical copy of your book makes it easier to catch typos, spelling mistakes, inconsistent verb tenses, and run-on sentences. You might find opportunities to try a different font size or style, too, since that can make the work feel fresh to your eyes. 

Marking edits with a brightly colored pen never hurts, so you can keep your place and locate changes later. This final read-through is crucial for catching any stragglers that evaded earlier edits. 

Additional editing tips and strategies

As you refine your editing approach, additional strategies can enhance the quality and efficiency of your work. Here are some further tips to consider throughout the editing process.

Take regular breaks

Careful self-editing often takes longer than expected, so notice when you need a break. Stepping away from the text for a bit of time not only gives your eyes a chance to rest but also helps you mentally reset so you can come back with renewed energy and a fresh perspective. It can be difficult and emotional to edit and scrutinize your book this way, so be patient with yourself. 

Be clear and direct 

Writing is usually best when it’s simple and straightforward. Read through your text for ambiguous phrases, idioms, or confusing sentences. And unless you’re writing for a specific, highly technical audience, avoid using jargon that your readers might not understand. 

Edit visual elements, too

For works like comics and photo books where visuals are paramount, there are a few more things to do.

  • Focus on how text complements imagery; ensure captions add value without distracting.
  • Consider the pacing of visual elements as part of the narrative flow. Each image should progress logically into the next.
  • Use tools like Lightroom to edit and elevate the appearance of your photos.

Leverage digital tools

Digital tools like Grammarly and Hemingway Editor offer valuable support alongside meticulous human review. Grammar checkers, style analyzers, and consistency trackers can streamline editing tasks.

These tools serve as an adjunct to improve manuscript quality but cannot replace the nuanced understanding a human editor brings to complex editorial decisions.

Use genre conventions

Genre conventions guide reader expectations, and editors must understand these norms. Start by researching genre-specific tropes to help tailor content effectively toward your intended audience.

By aligning your editing strategy with these established standards, you not only meet but potentially exceed reader expectations, crafting engaging narratives within any given literary framework.

Take your time

Don’t rush the editing process. It takes time to polish your writing and make it the best it can be. Make sure you’re taking enough of a break between edits to let your brain rest. Incorporate feedback from friends, family, and beta readers. And, above all, print proofs until you are thrilled with the final result.

Person editing a book with a printout and computer

Last word on enduring the self-editing process

The self-editing process is both a marathon and a masterclass in patience and persistence. As you journey through the meticulous task of refining your book, remember that each revision brings you one step closer to realizing your vision for your work. It’s an act of dedication to yourself as a creator, the craft, and ultimately, the audience who will enter the worlds you create. 

Should this path become overwhelming or if fresh eyes could serve your story well, consider enlisting the expertise of a professional editor whose guidance can elevate your manuscript even further. Their objective insight can be invaluable, transforming what was once just a draft into something ready to leave its mark upon shelves and hearts alike.


For creators ready to see their hard work come to fruition, Blurb offers a suite of self-publishing services tailored to bring your book into the world. With user-friendly design tools, high-quality print formats, expert assistance at every step, and widespread distribution options, Blurb empowers you to publish confidently. Ready to upload your book to print? Use our free PDF Uploader to publish quickly.


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