The Value (and Limits) of Self-Editing: Part 1

I have several indie publishing projects in the works right now. I'm drafting a novel. I'm planning my next e-book for my business audience. And I'm editing the manuscript for my nonfiction book, The Query-Free Freelancer. Today I'd like to talk about that editing work, and more specifically some of the ups and downs of self-editing.

My Editing Process

I need to make it clear up front that while I think self-editing is important, I do not consider it enough in most cases. For short information product types of e-books, okay, I'm fine with that. They're a different beast than a full nonfiction book or any kind of fiction.

For those full nonfiction books and fiction writing, here's my personal choice for an editorial process:

  1. I write a (very) rough draft to get it all out.
  2. I do a thorough edit covering flow, grammar, and content (including notes of what chapters to cut, merge, or add)
  3. I do what nearly feels like a rewrite with all of that cutting, moving, new research and new writing.
  4. I do another self-edit.
  5. I do another self-edit, reading things aloud.
  6. I send it to beta readers for general feedback.
  7. I make changes based on beta reader feedback.
  8. I do another self-edit to clean up anything changed or added after that beta reader feedback.
  9. I send it off to a professional editor.
  10. I clean up all my f*ck ups according to said editor (within reason -- I don't think any editor's word should be treated as your gospel, but rather as suggestions for improvement where appropriate).
  11. I send the new copy off to another reader or two from the original beta group.
  12. I consider any new suggestions or feedback and make changes if appropriate.
  13. I say "Suck it, I'm done with this," go cry in a corner for an hour, let out a big sigh, and then decide I'm ready to digest it all. One. More. Time.
  14. Final cleanup mode initiates. I send the manuscript off the typesetter and put the cover designer to work.
  15. I hibernate for a few weeks until they get things back to me.
  16. I do a check on all cover and back cover copy and make sure nothing was royally screwed during typesetting.

It's not a quick process. And I consider it irresponsible to rush edits through a read or two, thinking that makes it ready for the world. If I want to ramble or write typo-forgivable content, I'll draft a quick blog post. I don't freak about grammar in blogging because it's an instant publishing platform that's generally meant to be casual and conversational. But when I read a book, I hold it to higher standards. That applies to my own as well.

What does your editing process look like as an indie publisher? How many objective voices do you bring into the mix? Do you attempt to publish after only you have edited your manuscript? If you could make changes to your process, what would they be? Leave a comment below to share your thoughts and check back on Wednesday for the second part of our look at self-editing where we'll tackle its benefits and risks.

Profile image for Jennifer Mattern

Jennifer Mattern is a professional blogger, freelance business writer, consultant, and indie author. She runs numerous websites & blogs including All Freelance Writing, Freelance Writing Pros, NakedPR, and Kiss My Biz.

Jenn has 25 years' experience as a professional writer and editor and over 20 years' experience in marketing and PR (working heavily in digital PR, online marketing, social media, SEO, new media, and thought leadership publication). She also has 19 years' professional blogging and web publishing experience (including web development) and around 18 years of experience as an indie author / publisher.

Jenn also writes fiction under multiple pen names and is an Active member of the Horror Writers Association.

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4 thoughts on “The Value (and Limits) of Self-Editing: Part 1”

  1. I actually go through Step 13 three or four times in my process, so I think you’re doing much better than me, Jennifer. LOL

    And I don’t underestimate the value of having several sets of eyes on my work. It goes back to your previous post about having quality product to attract repeat customers.

    • I think one of my biggest fears is that all of the editing and re-reading will make me ultimately hate my work. I’m not someone who handles boredom well, and re-reading the same thing over and over again bores me to tears. I’ll do it because it’s necessary. But that third party feedback will definitely be what keeps me going.

      And you’re absolutely right. I don’t believe any author can claim they’re putting out a truly high quality product if it never went past anyone’s eyes but their own. Just yesterday I saw a “review” an author wrote about their own book on Amazon where they outright admitted they could have edited it more (yet they gave themselves a 5 star review?). And it’s not the first time. Maybe not on Amazon, but I’ve seen several other authors make excuses for their work even before it’s releases, saying they wish they’d done another round of edits or it’s not their best for x, y, or z reason. My thoughts? If you don’t feel it’s your best work, you have no business releasing it yet. There’s a difference between professionalism and perfectionism. I don’t think authors need to be obsessive to the point of being perfectionists (no one’s perfect, no matter how hard they try). But if you haven’t gotten another set of eyes for a book edit, I’m not sure I’d consider the work even “professional” yet.

  2. As an editor who works primarily with indie authors, I agree completely with your process. I always recommend that my clients get feedback from several other people. For nonfiction, a combination of subject matter experts and novices works well. The SMEs can catch errors that an editor who isn’t necessarily an expert in the topic would miss, and novices catch the things that SMEs take for granted because they know the subject so well. After the author has self-edited thoroughly (as you describe) and obtained feedback from others, I do at least three rounds of edits. Often I will have an associate do the final proofreading because at that final stage, those of us who have been through it several times are less apt to catch little details that jump out to someone who hasn’t seen the material before.

    • Thanks for sharing your insight Lillie! It’s always nice to hear from editors in addition to authors, especially the fact that you face a similar issue with multiple reads and benefit from yet another set of eyes. 🙂 My preference for nonfiction is to have subject matter experts as my beta readers. They don’t worry about the grammatical clean-up but they can call me on any potential BS or let me know where there are holes in the content. For fiction my hope is to have two editors — one story editor (already have one picked out so I’ll cross my fingers and hope she’s still available when I need her) and one to proofread and help me tighten things up.


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