How to edit a book

How to Edit a Book: 7 Steps For Becoming a Ferocious Self-Editor

8 Jul 2021 Nonfiction

So you want to get published?

To give yourself the best chance, you need to learn how to edit your manuscript so a publisher will want to turn it into a book.

Whether you want to self-publish or land a traditional publishing deal (where they take all the financial risk and pay you, rather than the other way around), your manuscript must be the best it can be.

With self-publishing, anyone can get anything printed or turned into an ebook.

It doesn’t even have to be good. If you have the money, someone will print whatever you submit. Or you can create an ebook by simply uploading your manuscript to Amazon and other online stores.

But you’re not likely to impress readers if your book is full of typos or lacks proper formatting.

Admittedly, the odds of landing a traditional publishing contract are slim.

So you must separate yourself from the competition by ensuring your manuscript is the best you can imagine.

Yes, a traditional publisher will have its own editors and proofreaders. But to get that far, your manuscript has to be better than about a thousand other submissions.

And if you’re self-publishing, the way to stand out is by ferociously editing your manuscript until it’s as crisp and clean as possible and you’re happy with every word.

There’s little worse than a self-published book that looks like one.

Learning to Ferociously Self-Edit

self-edit

Whether you’re going to hire an editor, or be assigned one by a traditional publisher, your responsibility is to get your book manuscript to the highest level it can be before you pass it on.

Never settle for, “That’s the best I can do; now fix it for me.”

Why?

Because sadly, if you attempt the traditional publishing route, you could pour your whole life into a manuscript and get just five minutes of an editor’s time before your book is rejected.

Sounds unfair, doesn’t it?

But as one who has been on both sides of the desk for more than half a century, let me tell you there are reasons for it:

Why Agents and Publishers Reject Some Manuscripts After Just Two Pages

Professionals can tell within a page or two how much editing would be required to make a manuscript publishable; if it would take a lot of work in every sentence, the labor cost alone would disqualify it.

They’ll consider:

  • Does the writer grab readers by the throat from the get-go?
  • Have too many characters been introduced too quickly?
  • Does the writer understand point of view?
  • Are the setting and tone compelling?
  • Is there too much throat clearing (explanation below)?
  • Is the story subtle and evocative, or is it on-the-nose (also clarified below)?

Yes, an agent or acquisitions editor often determines all this with a read of the first two to three pages.

If you’re thinking, But they didn’t even get to the good stuff, put the good stuff earlier in your manuscript.

So today, I want to zero in on tight writing and self-editing.

Author Francine Prose says:

For any writer, the ability to look at a sentence and see what’s superfluous, what can be altered, revised, expanded, or especially cut, is essential. It’s satisfying to see that sentence shrink, snap into place, and ultimately emerge in a more polished form: clear, economical, sharp.

Seven Steps to Self-Editing Your Book Manuscript

Click here to download your copy of the ultimate self-editing checklist.

Step 1. First, Separate Writing From Revising

I start every writing day by first conducting a heavy edit and rewrite of what I wrote the day before. Don’t try to edit as you write. That’s likely to slow you to a crawl.

Why?

Because rough draft writing is vastly different from revising. The latter accommodates our perfectionist tendencies. Writing needs to be done with our perfectionist caps off.

Step 2. Read Through Your Manuscript

For best results, read it out loud.

Have a notebook (or blank document) open to make notes as you spot pacing or character development issues, or even easily fixable issues like character names that are too similar.

Step 3. Start With the Big Picture

The editing process begins with big picture edits: major changes, like moving scenes, removing characters, or even changing the plot.

As you begin to self-edit:

  • Make sure you’ve introduced your main character early.
  • Ensure the reader understands what motivates your characters (including the villain)—both internally and externally, their goals, strengths, and weaknesses.
  • Remove scenes (or even chapters) that don’t move the story along.
  • Fix issues with the plot of your story, like gaps or inconsistencies. If you’re a Pantser, pay particular attention to the logic of your plot.
  • Be sure the structure of your story works.
  • Ensure you’ve established character empathy for your hero and supporting cast. You even want some degree of reader empathy for your villain.
  • Ensure your hero’s growth (character arc) is clear.
  • Rework any scenes that seem rushed—and trim scenes that drag.
  • Remember that conflict is the engine of fiction—both internal and external conflict.
  • Make sure each scene is told from a single point of view. Failing is a mistake made by too many beginning writers. You can switch between points of view (multiple main characters), but never within the same scene.
  • Conduct further research if necessary to strengthen your plot or make your novel more believable.

Step 4. Hone Each Scene

At this stage of editing a manuscript, you should be confident that each scene develops your story or reveals character.

As you refine each scene:

  • Avoid throat-clearing—a literary term for a story or chapter that finally begins after a page or two of scene setting and background. Get on with it.
  • Avoid too much stage direction. You don’t need to tell every action of every character in each scene, what they’re doing with each hand, etc.
  • Avoid cliches. This doesn’t just apply to words and phrases. There are also clichéd situations, like starting your story with the main character waking to an alarm clock; having a character describe herself while looking in a full-length mirror; having future love interests literally bump into each other upon first meeting, etc.
  • Use specifics. They add the ring of truth (even to fiction). Not tree, but oak. Not bird, but magpie.
  • Avoid telling what’s not happening, like “He didn’t respond,” “She didn’t say anything,” or “The crowded room never got quiet.” If you don’t say these things happened, the reader will assume they didn’t.
  • Give the reader credit. Example: “They walked through the open door and sat down across from each other in chairs.” If they walked in and sat, we can assume the door was open, the direction was down, and—unless told otherwise—there were chairs. Instead, try: “They walked in and sat across from each other.”
  • Resist the urge to explain. Marian was mad. She pounded the table. “George, you’re going to drive me crazy,” she said, angrily. We don’t need to be told Marian was mad, or that she spoke angrily. It’s clear how she feels from her pounding the table and from the words she chooses.
  • Show, don’t tell. As above, don’t tell us “Marian was mad.” Show us through her actions.
  • Cut on-the-nose writing—a Hollywood term for writing that mirrors real life but fails to propel the story. Don’t distract the reader with minutia; stick to what matters.
    Avoid passive voice. Eliminate as many state-of-being verbs as possible to make your writing more powerful.
  • Make sure your dialogue provides information, advances the plot, or reveals character. If it doesn’t, cut it.

Step 5. Root Out Weasel or Crutch Words

Words and phrases you overuse weaken your sentences and distract readers. You might already be aware of some of yours.

For instance, maybe you describe eyes as sparkling more than once, or you use really or very a lot. Watch out for these as you self-edit your book.

As you root out such words:

  • Choose the normal word over the obtuse. When you’re tempted to show off your vocabulary or a fancy turn of phrase, think reader-first and keep your content king. Don’t intrude. Get out of the way of your message.
  • Avoid the words up and down…unless they’re really needed. They can be cut from sentences like “He rigged [up] the device” and “She sat [down] on the couch.”
  • Usually, delete the word that. Use it only for clarity. “I told Joe that he needed to come home” is stronger as “I told Joe he needed to come home.”
  • Avoid hedging verbs like smiled slightly, almost laughed, frowned a bit, etc.
  • Refrain from using literally when you mean figuratively. “My eyes literally fell out of my head.” There’s a story I’d like to read.
  • Avoid mannerisms of attribution. People say things; they don’t wheeze, gasp, sigh, laugh, grunt, snort, reply, retort, exclaim, or declare them. Such descriptors distract from the dialogue.
  • Where appropriate, drop the attribution and use actions instead. Jim sighed. “I just can’t take any more.” This doesn’t need a he said at the end: we know it’s Jim speaking from the action preceding the dialogue.

Step 6. Conduct a Final Run-Through

The final revision stage checks every word to be sure it’s as strong as possible. Also watch for typos or grammatical errors. Writing and editing tools like ProWritingAid can help.

When you copy edit:

  • Avoid mannerisms of punctuation, typestyles, and sizes. “He…was…DEAD!” doesn’t make a character any more dramatically expired than “He was dead.”
  • Use adjectives sparingly. Good writing is a thing of strong nouns and verbs, not adjectives. Novelist and editor Sol Stein says one plus one equals one-half (1+1=1/2), meaning the power of your words is diminished by not picking just the better one. “He proved a scrappy, active fighter,” is more powerful if you settle on the stronger of those two adjectives. Where possible, use a strong verb in place of an adjective plus a weaker verb.
  • Omit needless words. This should be the hallmark of every writer.
  • Avoid subtle redundancies. “She nodded her head in agreement.” Those last four words could be deleted. What else would she nod but her head? And when she nods, we need not be told she’s in agreement.
  • Read your book aloud to spot sentences that are confusing, too long, or poorly constructed.
  • Look for typos, grammatical errors, and inconsistencies. You may want to keep a running list of how you spell specific words (e.g. ebook, eBook, or e-book).
  • Fix punctuation errors.
  • Remove double spaces at the ends of sentences: yes, you might’ve learned to use them in school, but the modern standard is a single space between sentences.

Step 7. Conduct a Final Proofread

self-edit

During this step, you’re simply checking for things like spelling mistakes, stray punctuation, or misformatted dialogue.

It can be tricky to spot your own mistakes,so you might want to ask someone to help.
Proofreading is particularly vital if you’re self-publishing. You may not notice your mistakes, but readers will.

Your Assignment

I’ve added a downloadable self-editing checklist below to help you master these seven steps. The more boxes you can check for your manuscript, the leaner, meaner, and more ready it will be for submission to an agent or publisher.

Click here to download your copy of the ultimate self-editing checklist.

232 thoughts on “How to Edit a Book: 7 Steps For Becoming a Ferocious Self-Editor

  1. Another great post Jerry. As much as I’d like to say I hold to all 21 of these, I can not – in good conscience – lie. However, I do feel confident in saying 6, 7, 11, and 17 are my strong suits. The other 17 are constant works in progress. Thanks for the list!

  2. Thank you, Jerry! This is exciting; once I finish hanging the flesh on the bare bones of my story and get to polishing, this is going to be so helpful. God bless!

  3. Thanks to this post my manuscript will take another two years to complete. But at least it will be a better work because of it. Thanks Jerry!

  4. Just when I thought at last I have only flowers left, I read this and see where I have to pull up those “pretty weeds.” Thanks again, back to more weeding!

  5. I see myself in many of the mistakes of these tips. This will be a big help.
    Normally I hate cliche in all things. I do see some of my manuscript having cliche to go work on though. One cliche I wonder about is “he took the steps two at a time” I read it in about six or seven books back to back recently. In punctuation I use italics for character’s thoughts.
    Since I’m considering my first page more lately I find I’m introducing too many characters too fast. Lots to work on. Thank you for taking this time with us and your advice.

  6. Excellent! Daunting task but taken a line at a time, followed by paragraphs and chapters, I can do this. Thank you, Jerry.

  7. Thanks, Sharlene. Good catch on the steps two at a time. Yes, that’s becoming hackneyed, isn’t it? So is this response from someone who’s distraught: “Yes, no, I don’t know.” I’ve seen that dozens of times.

    As for the italics for thoughts, that used to be the rule. But as I say, the general market is moving away from it, as they believe the choice of words makes it obvious, and the inspirational market seems to be slowly following suit. As long as you’re consistent, the publisher can fix it the way they want it.

  8. It’s always good to know where our strengths and weaknesses lie, Zachary.

  9. Thank you, Jerry for sending the link and editing tips. I now have it added to my folder with my other ‘writing helps’. I will be using it for sure. As a writer I welcome all that can help me improve my writing skills.

  10. Magi, I just downloaded it to my downloads in my C drive, opened it, and moved the file into a folder I have created marked ‘writing tips and helps’ where I keep a lot of articles and info. on writing like Jerry’s tips and others found on the internet. Hope this helps you some. :)

  11. The application of this list to the first pages from the webinar showed me more in one hour than anything I’ve seen before. Great to learn from the guy that’s been there and is willing to share. Thank you very much for the opportunity.

  12. I attended your talk at the International Christian Retailers Show in Atlanta. I misplaced my list, I am so grateful to have it where I can save it. I am writing non-fiction but I am going to use the search option in Word to weed out that, and other words. I have plenty first hand accounts to clean up as well. Any other specific ideas for non-fiction?

  13. I don’t know how I missed it, but this is the most useful article I have ever read! After reading this, I opened my manuscript and immediately saw an error. It’s opened my eyes for sure.
    Thank you for sharing your knowledge, Jerry!
    “Whatsoever ye do, do heartily, as to the Lord and not unto men”
    Reagan

  14. Thank you so much for this, Jerry. I intend to use these tips to edit my non-fiction into something that grabs the reader like fiction does!

  15. This is gold words there Jerry. As I’ve had other published authors read A Dream of Dragons, they pointed out a lot of what you’ve presented in this article. I like the idea of the checklist so I have a handy reference for the sequels. The biggest complaint I got and the hardest to overcome was “Don’t overwrite!”

  16. I just can’t believe I have missed this right here. God is dealing with me. Every time I send an e-mail to the seminar or tweet, I make all kinds of grammar mistakes…some that I usually don’t do :) That teaches me tolerance….
    I got this page back from one of my students….just because I try to read everything so fast and didn’t pause long enough to realize the whole content of the page…well, I got it now. Thanks

  17. Hey Jerry, I have a question, and I tought I’d ask it here since you mentioned the subject above. I am a completely amature writer, and I’m still fourteen. But God’s gifted me with an ability and a passion for writing.
    So anyway, in the book I’m writing, I’ve been trying to follow the model you used in the Left Behind: The Kids series, which I loved. And above, in the article, you talked about mantaining a single point of view. That’s what I wanted to ask about. I’m just not sure what that means in a novel.
    Does that mean I can’t get into many of my charecters’ heads in a single scene? Or is it okay to be an omniscient narrator? And what if there is no lead charecter in that scene, is it a problem to have no point of view? Or would that be considered having multiple point of views?
    I’d so appreciate a return from you!
    Thanks!

  18. Excellent question, Rodrigo. I’m writing today, but I want to give this the time it deserves, so let me get to it at the end of the day. Back to you then. Thanks for your patience.

  19. Okay, thanks for your patience, Rodrigo. Here we go.

    First, thanks for your kind comments about the Left Behind: The Kids series.

    Second, be careful of your spelling, especially where your spell check doesn’t apply: amateur, maintaining, characters, points of view

    Now, to your specific questions:

    In my current adult novel, I have a single POV character for the entire story. That means one guy serves as my camera. I’m writing in the third-person limited viewpoint, so Zeke Thorppe is the person my reader sees and hears the story through. I say he does this and he does that and he sees this and he hears that.

    To reveal anything about any other character, I can’t say his wife Alexis was mad at him, I can only say, “Alexis said, ‘I can’t believe you, Zeke. Why did you do that?’ ‘What do you mean?’ he said, ‘What did I do?'”

    That way, the reader knows she’s mad, but because we’re seeing this from inside Zeke’s head, I can’t say unequivocally, “Alexis was angry,” the way I could say, “Zeke was angry.” Though I wouldn’t say that anyway, because that’s telling, and I’d rather show it by describing an action to prove it.

    Yes, every scene needs a perspective character, and only one, and the best novels have only one throughout.

    If you had no lead character, the author/narrator would be omniscient, which is no longer acceptable.

    Multiple viewpoint characters is an acceptable option but complicated and should be used only for huge sagas when absolutely necessary, and in those cases you want to make the switch between those POV characters crystal clear to the reader every time.

    Hope that’s helpful.

  20. Thanks for clearing that up, Jerry. I need to go and fix a few things in my book now.
    I have plans for my series, and I know I’ll need someone to guide me through this, a mentor. I want to write a good book, I really do. But without some help, it’s tough to handle it on my own.
    Anyway, thanks again!

  21. I should caution you, Rodrigo, that starting your writing career with a book is like starting your education at 5 years old in graduate school. A book is where you arrive, not where you start.

    I would advise you to start small, hone your craft, polish your skills, and learn the myriad individual elements that go into this discipline by trying your hand at flash fiction, then short stories, then longer fiction, and eventually a novel.

    Google the elements of a novel and assess where you are on things like you queried me about: point of view, then go on to setting, description, plotting, scenes, tension, suspense, character arc, story arc, conflict, dialogue, research (and those are just a few).

    Then move into the business side: learning the marketing aspects, querying, writing a proposal, sample chapters, revision self-editing, accountability partners, writers critique groups, writers conferences, working with an editor, acquiring an agent, etc..

    Do you read books on writing?

    Subscribe to writer magazines?

    How widely read are you in your genre?

    Are you aware the odds against anyone being published–fiction or nonfiction? (1,000 to 1)

    Do you know that more than 95 percent of all books published sell fewer than 500 copies in their lifetime?

    Be assured I’m not trying to discourage you. Rather just trying to tell you that this is no hobby, no trivial pursuit, and that while you may have heard of a young person publishing and selling a book, such stories are as rare as those of youngster who become Ph.D.s or M.D.s

    And if all those stats don’t scare you off but rather make you think, ‘I’ll be the one in a thousand,” then dive in, because you’re the age I was when I talked the sports editor of a daily paper in Chicago into making me a paid stringer, two years before I was old enough to drive, and I’ve been a professional writer for more than 50 years.

  22. Jerry, this blog on self-editing gave me immediate help. I am developing a 5 part / 30 segment Bible Study on Revelation based on the actions of the seven spirits throughout the book. Needless to say, this is a study unlike any other on the Revelation requiring clear and concise instruction. Your blog is helping me tighten, delete, and relocate with less chaos. Thank you.

  23. In addition to saving this for my own reference, I have a young friend who’s been asked to submit an op-ed on the current presidential election to a major newspaper. She first submitted it to me for my opinion (not editing). Nevertheless, I cut it from 847 to a suggested 820 words. Now that they’ve asked her to reduce it to 600, I’m excited to be able to share this article with her.
    When The Hiding Place (by Corrie ten Boom,but edited by John and Elizabeth Sherrill) was published, it met with great acclaim. I can’t remember the source now, but I recall John Sherrill saying that he and Elizabeth edited that manuscript 100 times. 100. I can attest that each time I review a manuscript, yet another needed edit appears, and I find myself asking, “How did I miss that on the last pass?”

  24. Well, The Hiding Place was not edited by John and Tibby Sherrill–it was written by them based on their interviews of Corrie. That makes John’s editing anecdote even more poignant, doesn’t it?

  25. Excellent tips, Jerry! I follow several well known authors with platforms, yet your tips are the tangible ones that stick. Thank you for sharing your expertise in this area and for giving advice I can run with.

  26. Thank you, The last 3 lessons have been very helpful. The writing tight, manuscript critique clip was extremely helpful. I am encouraged.

  27. Thank you, Thank you, Thank you, he repeated enthusiastically- anxiously clutching to his breast the very document he needed which would finally enable him to rid himself of the habit and desire to insert extraneous and unnecessary words and phrases into his convoluted sentences….Or……Thanks Jerry!

  28. Ha! Now that’s perfect! (Although you do need a comma after ‘Thanks’. :) (Okay, and only three dots in an ellipsis, if we’re going to be picky–which we are.)

  29. Finally, a ha-ha moment. I got it! I woke up early, before 2 AM, actually my big cat wakes me up around this hour every night, and I was thinking about the editing –the sample editing– and I remember you saying that you would continue reading. There was action about that text, someone running from a gang at night.

    I also remembered that I heard about writing by hand and becoming more creative. I tried that many years ago and it didn’t work for me (I don’t even have the patience to do that), but yesterday something happened. So I picked up that page about some crazy building in Japan and copy the first paragraph by hand. The idea startled me at once and I thought “What is this? some kind of dissertation about a building?” and I told myself, “Okay, just cut everything and leave only one sentence of this description and bring it to internal dialogue”.

    So I got another page and began to copy only one sentence and started on the internal dialogue/monologue and I said ‘this is not good’. There’s something wrong with the whole thing (I’ve been sensing this for ten years. No kidding. You don’t just write and rewrite and nothing happens except that you end up with more and more subplots without having something major that is not working in your story…that much I knew) and all of a sudden I remember something else: “ask questions”.

    Okay, I asked and realized something very simple yet profound about editing: I didn’t need the monologue, I didn’t need the dialogue, I didn’t need a scene, I need to get rid of that building description, or save it and spread one sentence here another there within several chapters to give a sense of the environment in 2040, bc if I was to create the dialogue or monologue, now I would have further away the plot from the action.

    If you are struggling with the same kind of blindness I am talking about, the one that you don’t know you have it…then perhaps writing by hand will help you and to quote Jerry “ask questions” it sounds simple but this is what I’ve learned: I can hear things, I can appreciate books about writing but until I STUDY those books and until I have conviction to act upon what I am learning, nothing in my story world will change.

    So the good news is that the whole thing about that building is gone and I started on chapter two, it must have been somewhat interesting because my big cat went to sleep , and by his cheer size, he kept me out of the sofa, so I was glad to spend the night toying with sequence of chapters. Also learned that I don’t need a software to do that, perhaps all of you knew that, but I didn’t, and here it is: saving each chapter separately, then you can move them around easily and you don’t have to have tens of copies of chapters without knowing which one is the most updated. You just erase all the others. Sounds silly? It worked for me :) Oops, ten thousand more chapter to go :)

  30. I am having to write everything out manually (from these free lessons) to save for my records, as my printer ink is so expensive, and we are cutting corners. Maybe that will actually help me retain the information better, but it’s time-consuming.

  31. A good way to save ink is to cut and paste to a word processor, save on a thumb drive and then take the thumb drive to Kinkos or you preferred copy place. Ink on special printers can run off really quick, this way it will cost only about 5 cents (the maximum you would pay would be 10 cents) per page and you still keep your ink for situations you can’t run to a copy shop, or you could keep all the lessons with titles on your word processor, that is what I do with exception of some of Jerry’s lessons that I need to consult as I write. Hope this will work for you. :)

  32. Helps to have a checklist so nothing gets forgotten. Is omniscience the only POV that allows interior dialog? If so, what other way could it be handled?

  33. All POVS allow inner dialogue of the POV character. But yes, omniscient would be the only one that allows inner dialogue of all characters, which is one reason it’s so out of favor now.

    The secret to knowing what other than your POV character is thinking is to have the character say so. Or perhaps prove it by his actions. That’s the fun of being the writer. Have a character say one thing and do another, so your perspective character, and the reader, figures it out.

  34. I agree with Gini. Thank you so much for sharing your knowledge. It may take me awhile to eliminate the extra words.

  35. Thank you, Mr. Jenkins, for your 21 secrets. I like to think I’m a careful writer, but I can always use a checklist to remind me. By the way, your use of the word “obtuse” in secret #3, is a mistake I’ve made most of my writing life. “Abstruse” is the one you want, if you mean the opposite of “normal”. Thanks again!

  36. Except that my point is that using either of those is the mistake. That’s WHY we want to use the simple word. :) When we go for the abstruse, we tend to get it wrong anyway.

    Appreciate your kind comments, Dane.

  37. I write in Spanish, so in the beginning I thought that most of these tips wouldn’t apply to my manuscript, but I was completely wrong. They were amazing, thank you so much.
    Greetings from Latin America.

  38. That’s great to hear, Sam! I always wondered how our stuff would translate. :)

  39. Great article. I learned many of those tips at a recent seminar. However, “Avoid similar character names. In fact, avoid even the same first initials,” is something I haven’t heard before. Thank you.

  40. Thanks Jerry for this helpful article. Regarding using strong verbs, I read the other day that it’s helpful to use the thesaurus on every verb, especially on shorter pieces. Yes, it’s a lot of work, but the right verb more accurately describes what happened without extra words. What do you think about that advice?

    Sorry Elizabeth….didn’t mean to post this under your post.

  41. Oh, no, in nearly a half century at this game, that goes against everything I’ve ever been taught or teach myself. The rules for verb usage is simple: avoid state of being verbs and go for active voice. But to consult a thesaurus for creative alternatives would show to every reader, which is the opposite of what you want. You want readers to forget they’re reading, not be impressed by the writing or the writer, and be entirely focused on the content.

    Examples:

    Not: There was a man standing on the train platform.

    But: A man stood on the train platform.

    Not: She was worried about how it would sound.

    But: She worried about how it would sound.

  42. I love having the examples to go with each point, especially on the “Avoid Mannerisms of Attribution.” That helps a ton. Thank you!

  43. To bring consummate clarity to a complex process is brilliance achieved. Thank you for your generosity Jerry.

  44. I applied these rules to manuscript, and 25% of it evaporated. Without losing any story! Made it a lot leaner and meaner. I used the extra space to add a subplot that filled in a gap. Thanks!

  45. I love it when something can be cut and made precise. As a poet, I search for strong nouns and verbs. I hone them s close as I can for exactness. I love this article cause it stresses what I know works. It’s a wonderful to see my own opinions written down word for word. Thanks.

  46. Amazingly awesome! (what other kind of awesome is there?) I am literally (literally?) smiling profusely (adjectival maniac) and clapping my hands (what else claps?), “get it?” (quotation marking maniac) Of course I’m kidding, I couldn’t resist poking a little fun. This is key stuff to have now as I am just now taking your advice to just getting past the frozen stage (header, page numbers, etc.) just so I can begin to put all this stuff in my head on paper. Thanks Jerry

  47. Jerry, gonna have to say that if I were an editor, I’d kick your remark out in a heartbeat lol!! But Jerry, I really wanted to say that im so sad about the loss of Tim. What a team you guys made. When I had my own printing company and delivered my own orders around the Atlanta area, I listened to every Left Behind audiobook available at the time. You will be a major part of my credits when I cross over to the fiction side of writing.

  48. Most of these I am familiar with. I have edited other people’s material and it always helps me more than them. We learn by doing. I been doing forever. And I will be a lifetime learner indefinitely. Life is never boring that way. Writing is a gift, one that needs no gift wrapping, only a willingness to listen, learn and apply. Thanks.

  49. Self-editing is a mental game on a game board called a manuscript. It requires a strategy and you have supplied it. Following your rules will make us winning writers.

  50. I like these. They are like old friends that are new again. I love to apply what I have learned. I find when I do that it reinforces what I have learned. Repetition is how I learn, so it is a blessing to see these again. Thanks.

  51. Unfortunately. lol

    No but seriously, it’s hard going back and re-reading what I’ve written; I have a hard time being objective, and then wondering if I’m cutting too much, or not enough, or if I’ve gotten a sentence precisely right. Fortunately, I have an editor friend who agreed to look over a couple of things for me, which I REALLY appreciate! :D

  52. My greatest writing fear is of blind spots. When I’m writing something I know perfectly well what I mean to say. After leaving the piece alone for a day or two though, I can go back to it I see gaping holes in the text that are absolutely ridiculous. I always wonder, “how could I have missed these the first time around?” This happens on a weekly basis. How do you overcome a writing blind-spot when you can’t see it?

  53. Ha! Be careful about referring to any writer as normal. It’s a bit jarring in the morning. But I guess it’s OK if we keep it among ourselves. :)

    Here I am at 5:30 a.m. Pacific, and what am I doing?

  54. @Lady Tam– you have a great point and Jerry, if you don’t mind me asking your opinion, can anyone ever edit TOO much? I think that as long as the reader knows or at least has a sense of what’s taking place, less is more. “Omit needless words” (and actions.”

  55. Sure, Dustin. While all writing is rewriting, the essence of being an author is knowing when you have gone from making your work better and simply making it different. Trust your gut. You are the surrogate reader at this stage.

  56. Thank you, Jerry. I agree that there’s a difference in making your WIP better, or simply different. A big difference, I think.

  57. I want to become a book editor and I’m 15, do you have any tips on how to become an editor for a company.

  58. Most editors start at a publishing company on the ground floor, maybe as an intern, or doing clerical work, or perhaps as a first-reader of manuscripts. Competition is fierce, so you might need a degree in English, Literature, or something similar. Many companies will also have you work on a few pages of a test manuscript to see what skills you bring to the table.

    In the current economy, a lot of editors are being laid off so publishers can save money on salaries and benefits and work space. They then hire the same people (or other companies’ layoffs) and pay them on a freelance basis.

  59. I have read many of these tips before, probably in your blogs :-) but it’s great having them all available in one post. I am in the revision process of my first novel, so this post is just what I needed. Thank you!

  60. I am laughing at this list because not only is it funny but it is true, but I am positive that this is in my draft itself. I have not gone back to look at it yet because I am letting it rest, but I am positive that I have done at least 2 of these. I will definitely use this list.

  61. I’ve done most of this already, but it is good to reconfirm and remind myself as I move forward and write the rest. It would have been helpful to have read this at the very beginning though! I have paid an independent editor to go over my work so it will be the best it can be when I submit it.

  62. Excellent advice. Nice to have this together in one place. Thanks.

    Somewhere you mentioned Sol Stein. I found him early in my writing career (1995?). He claimed he could cut 1/3 (?) of the fat out of a manuscript in “good” shape already.

  63. When I began writing, I was guilty of changing the POV. After I learned that I found I would repeat myself. Then I worked on that area. I do enjoy going over my work and paring it down, but being a poet has helped. I want to say more with less. One of my favorite things to do is grab someone’s attention to begin with. To jump in without a lot of fluff. Maybe I’m getting closer? Sure hope so. Thanks for a great checklist. You can bet I will wear it out.

  64. Yep, Anne, one step at a time. One word that could have been deleted above was “down,” but now I’m getting picky. :)

  65. And he can. A real master. I think he edited two of the top 50 novels in America in the last century.

  66. Wow, these are great! Honestly though, I think I’m guilty of all of them. There’s A LOT I need to learn!…

  67. Seems an impossibility, but anything that is worth reader’s time, needs the discipline of weeding out what is good only to my eyes.
    A good teacher will not abandon, nor will he allow a student with problems to just get by. Your encouragement to present what is worth editors’ time, shows the blessings of a good teacher. I have much to do – ongoing weeding – self editing.

  68. Reading this list again, I realized I have two characters with names that begin with ja, both males. Should have picked up on it earlier but I can change it easily. The characters are such distinct individuals to me, and we have spent so much time together, the similarity of names wasn’t obvious.

  69. You’re not alone, Heather. In fact I based the list on all the things I see in beginners’ work.

  70. I write PBs for ages 4-8, but I still get so much out of your instruction. Thanks again, Jerry!

  71. Thanks for this checklist! Going to apply as many of these self-editing hints as possible to the first page of my WIP-

  72. I’m posting this list over my desk. Every scene will be checked against it. Thanks, Jerry, for that free, 21-lesson course on writing!

  73. Thank you for sharing your knowledge, Jerry. I have been applying these tips to my work and will continue to do so. I’m not anywhere near perfection with these yet, but I’m not planning to ever give up on making my writing the best it can be.

  74. Thanks for the checklist, I refresh myself with it before sitting down for a writing session. It’s helped a great deal and my writing must be improving, because I’ll read something that sounded great several months ago but now appears grossly amateurish.

  75. Thanks, Jamie. As you probably know, I’m fond of saying “All writing is rewriting.”

    You’re sure not alone. I’ve been at this game since I was 14 years and am clearer every day that perfection is a mirage. Producing readable writing is flat hard work.

  76. Thank you Jerry, this is great! What do you think about the Grammarly Premium editing tool?

  77. How do you know when to or not use an introduction page in a memoir? I noticed that in-As Good as She Imagined (Roxanna Green with Jerry B. Jenkins)-it has one. But in Ann Voskamp’s newest offering, The Broken Way-she gets right into Chapter One.

    I’m stumped.

    Also, is the introduction considered the first chapter/officially?

  78. I love how willing you are to encourage new readers! Your wisdom inspires.

    My mom went to Moody. Always tells me you were a great teacher. She always has her “Jerry” story ready when I talk about wtiting!

    I find your tips much like Stephen King’s. (Another guy who sold a few books once!) His book on writing helped me so much. A good one people should check out! He has a part on two word sentences to stress what you are saying about being concise. “Rocks explode.” “Mountains float.” “Plums defy!”

    Thanks again for the time you take to train up new writers!!

  79. I am editing my first book for the second time and it is frustrating to know i have to check all these things again. I am sure is a mess since i have some problems in using big words and explinations due to English being my second language but i’ll do it. I’ll check all over again! Thanks for the list Mr Jenkins

  80. Think reader-first. Clarity trumps all. If your memoir needs an Intro, include one. If it doesn’t, don’t.

    And no, that’s the problem with Introductions. Readers tend to skip them. If you ARE going to use one, try not labeling it so they think it’s the first chapter and don’t skip it. Then they’re pleasantly surprised when they find chapter one and realize you’re already off and running. (Sometimes the publisher won’t let you get away with not labeling it, a la As Good As She Imagined.)

  81. Jerry,
    I am writing a biblically-based novel on the life of Daniel.
    As you know, Daniel and his three friends received new names after their exile
    to Babylon. The Bible’s Book of Daniel identifies the main character as Daniel
    throughout the Book, although he is referred to by other characters as
    Belteshazzar, his new name. However, the other three friends of Daniel are
    identified in the Bible by their new names after the first chapter. In my
    novel, after the name changes, I will have all exchanges between these main
    characters and others use the new names. But, should I use the original names
    of Daniel and the other three in their private exchanges and when attributing
    statements, e.g., “Daniel said” or “Mishael asked?” I am concerned about
    abruptly changing main character names a quarter of the way through the novel.
    Yet, alternating between double names of four characters depending on the
    setting seems awkward. I’m not sure how to best handle this so as not to
    confuse the readers. Any thoughts or recommendations? Thank you for your kind assistance.

    Terry
    Thompson

    501-617-5559

  82. Always think reader-first. What would make it work best for the reader? I think I would cover the name changes but stick with the originals. Then if someone in the new context, who would know them only by their new names, uses the new name, your perspective character treatment would have to cover that:

    “…said, referring to Daniel by his new name.”

    Can you make that work?

  83. You’ve praised and suggested elsewhere using Shrunk & White’s The Elements of Style.
    I’m wondering if you’ve ever read Steven Pinker’s strong criticisms of it in his book The Sense of Style and, if so, what you think of his opinions. I don’t quite know what to think.

  84. Jerry, thanks. Many of your suggestions apply to non-fiction also. Do you have a list that focuses on non-fiction? If not, could you refer me to one?

  85. Truth and time walk hand in hand. There’s a reason it’s been selling for decades and that most writing teachers swear by it. There’s always a critic who tries to make a name for himself by criticizing anything successful or popular.

  86. “Oops! I’m, guilty of mannerisms of attributions,” she said sheepishly. I will be avoiding that in the future. Thanks for the great hints Jerry
    .

  87. These tips are always good to keep in mind, even if we’ve been told more than once. It’s way too easy to proofread and still miss some of these faux pas!

  88. Hey, Jerry – I’m a 12 year-old girl who’s finished her first novel (about 105,000 words!), but now I’m in the process of editing. I want to get it published, but I’m afraid that editors and publishers won’t take me seriously. Do you have any more editing, writing, or just general tips for a beginner like me?

  89. Great list. I’ve easily known about half of these, but it always helps to be refreshed and half them in a concise format as a list.

  90. Thanks for this, but would you mind clarifying numbers 7 and 19? Thank you! I teach Creative Writing in a middle school, and these points are going to help my students a lot (not to mention my own writing:).

  91. What are your thoughts on beta readers? Are they necessary during the editing process?

  92. I believe that people are afraid to use the word ‘that’ and leave it out when it should have been left in, and reading the sentence jolts my brain! (Quote marks only used because I can’t use italics, I’m not insulting your intelligence ????)

  93. Hi Antonio. Consider joining an editors association. There are also some great groups out there (e.g., Facebook has the Editors’ Association of Earth) where you can talk to other editors and learn more about the profession. Good luck.

  94. This gives me great insight. I’ll be printing this off and studying it as I continue in my work. Thank you so much, Mr. Jenkins, for sharing this advice, and for all you do for writers!

  95. I agree with this whole list except for 3. The English language is rich, with so many unique words. What’s the point of having such a rich vocabulary if have to just confine ourselves to ‘normal’ words? Yes, I agree that sometimes authors can overdo it. But I also find it to be a fallacy to think that we can’t get creative and occasionally use an obscure word. Goodness forbid people break out a dictionary and learn something new to increase their vocabulary!

  96. AH THANK YOU SO MUCH. I have been doing every possible think to avoid editing my novel because it feels like I am making it worse. This is already making a huge difference and I have only started editing two minutes ago. Thank you for this amazing blog post! It is much appreciated.

  97. “14. Maintain a single Point of View (POV) for every scene.”

    Does that mean we should have only one PoV throughout the BOOK or that there could be different PoVs, provided each PoV match only one SCENE?

    Also, that is a terrific list.

  98. I have to disagree with two or three things in #18. People do reply, exclaim and declare. For exclaim you could say something like He/she said sharply, but then you’re breaking the rule of strong verb vs adverb. since reply, exclaim, and declare are ways of saying something just like whisper, shout, and mumble it wouldn’t make sense to use the extra words in “He/she said in exclamation” when “He/she Exclaimed” is correct by definition (the same applies to replied and probably declared as well).

  99. I really Like this list. I cringed at how many times I used a useless “That” in my manuscript. I might also do #13 to much, I’m not sure though as I do this mainly with facial expression instead of saying something like “he was mad” i might say, “he scowled” or “his brow furrowed and jaw tight”.

    I have to disagree with a few things in #18 though. People do reply, retort, exclaim and declare. For exclaim you could say something like He/she said sharply, but then you’re breaking the rule of strong verb vs adverb. since exclaim, and declare are ways of saying something just like whisper, shout, and mumble it wouldn’t make sense to use the extra words in “He/she said in exclamation” when “He/she Exclaimed” is correct by definition (the same applies to declared as well). As for reply and retort, well, you do reply to things. Usually if not every time, “He/she replied” could be excluded, so too could “He/she Said” but that doesn’t mean it’s wrong to use (Same goes for Retort).

    In short, like you said,
    You DON’T: Wheeze words, Gasp words, Sigh Words, Laugh words, Grunt words, or Snort words
    You DO however: Exclaim words, and Declare words.
    You also: Reply with words and Retort with words. (Ie. “He replied” and “He retorted”)
    These are even how the dictionary uses them.

    (Trying to post this again (Annoying spam filter))

  100. I would disagree against a lot of this. I’m no editor but when I read a book I like to have the extra words. I am autistic and I cant always assume that the unwritten. If someone blurts or says something it is a very different atmosphere and helps me understand the theme as it comes out. By simplifying every single emotion it can make it harder for the reader to understand the context and scenario which I strongly welcome

  101. Massively agree. If you are making a book for children then yes make it short but I like learning new vocabulary through books, it’s one of the reasons I got back into reading. Also, if everyone always uses the same words…how boring! Maybe include the words and people will read it and think wow something different, I like!

  102. If the dialogue is strong then you shouldn’t need ‘blurted’ or ‘shouted’ or words like that. They are fine in moderation, but authors have a habit of overusing them. In more extreme cases authors can descend into Tom Swifty dialogue (there are whole websites dedicated to this, and are worth checking out for a laugh: https://www.merriam-webster.com/words-at-play/tom-swifties-puns-that-turn-adverbs-into-punchlines). I do understand that ASD and similar needs can make it much harder though. It’s important to strike a balance.

  103. It means for every scene. Many excellent books have been written over the years with multiple viewpoints, but very rarely does the viewpoint switch place within the same scene. More often than not an author will commit a whole chapter to one viewpoint and then switch to another for the next chapter.

    Switching point of views rapidly (e.g. within the same scene) can get confusing very quickly. Most novels are written in the third person limited viewpoint, where the author only knows the inner thoughts and feelings of a single character. Third person omniscient (where the author/reader know the thoughts and feelings of all characters) is more unusual. The only book I can think of off the top of my head that uses it is Anna Karenina, which is a stunning novel, but the viewpoint doesn’t switch places at random. Tolstoy makes it very clear who is speaking, and viewpoint doesn’t switch within a single scene.

    Multiple viewpoint novels are fairly common, such as the Song of Ice and Fire Trilogy by George R R Martin. I think of these as pseudo-first person omniscient. Martin has a handful of characters whose viewpoints we read from, and we get whole chapters with them.

    The point is, choose your viewpoint characters and let readers spend time with them. Don’t switch between viewpoints randomly. Writing that goes something like:

    Despite everything he’s done, Sarah thought, he’s a good man really. James look at her. The thoughts rattled in his mind. She really is beautiful. I should never have let her down.

    is confusing and tedious to read.

  104. Hi Antonio! I interned for Manuscript-Magic last summer, a full-service editorial company in NY, and really learned a lot! All of their editors have worked for major houses, such as HarperCollins or Scholastic, so you can definitely make some great connections if they have an opening! http://www.manuscript-magic.com

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