Can Authors Self-Edit? An Editor's Perspective

Can authors self-edit? An editor's perspective  by Leslie Watts at

A new Captain’s Blog subscriber wrote the other day to say that she’s working on her first novel, and she said that she was going to self-edit and have some beta readers review it. She seemed a little worried that I would think this was a sacrilege. 

Nothing could be further from the truth. 

While I don’t think that beta readers and self-editing are a substitute for review by a professional editor, I do think these are important elements of the revision process. 

I recognize that the cost of editing represents a significant investment, especially before you know that your novel is going to sell. I think an author should do the best they can to put their best work out in the world and that an editor is an important part, but not the only part, of that.

I fully understand that some people enjoy editing while others find it challenging and confusing. Some think that true writing happens in the editing stage, and other writers see it as a chore they’d rather hand off to someone else. Whatever you believe about editing, understand that it is a skill that you can learn that is of benefit to you. 

First, if you can’t afford the price of editing initially, then self-editing is necessary. I’m talking about more than reading the manuscript and finding typos. Your goal in the revision process is to check that you have achieved your mission, that you have written something that resonates with the readers you hope to entertain or inform. It would be foolish for a business to produce a product and not evaluate it to see if it meets the consumer’s expectations. (Some people feel uncomfortable to hear their art compared to a product. I understand that it can be a difficult concept to take on board. But if you want people to read your writing, it is a product as well as your art. More on that in another post.)

If you are planning to hire an editor, you might think you shouldn’t need to self-edit; you can turn it over to the editor, who will make corrections and suggestions for you. While you can work this way, you won’t get the most out of the relationship if you don’t engage in self-editing too.

You know your story better than anyone. As an editor, I can show you strengths and areas for improvement within your manuscript because I have more distance from the work. But you understand your vision better than anyone and you can bring that perspective to your revision. I can’t see into your heart and mind to know what you intended, but I can tell you what’s on the page. The more you can articulate your intention through self-editing, the easier I can help you make it as clear as possible to your reader.

When your manuscript is cleaner, you generally pay less for editing than when it is rough, because rough writing takes longer to read and sort through the issues. When you make your preferences and decisions clear ahead of time, the editor can focus on other items. 

If you focus on what you can adjust and fix, the editor can focus on other items, the ones that are more challenging for you. The editor can make only so many passes through the document in the time allotted. Within each individual pass, the editor can focus on only a certain number of problem areas. The more you do in advance, the more attention your editor can give to deeper issues, the ones that only she can identify for you because of knowledge, expertise, and a different perspective. To avoid splitting the editor’s attention, do what you can first.

Possibly the biggest benefit to you when you learn to edit your own work is that you develop the craft of writing. Becoming aware of a problem is the first step to correcting it. Initially, you’ll have to correct it in your manuscript, but gradually, you’ll find that your writing changes and grows and some of the errors you used to make will disappear or at least lessen. It’s not only that you will catch them in the process of editing your own work, it is that the errors will occur less often. 

Writership went through a lot of transitions in 2016. Alyssa left the business to focus on her fiction. Clark joined me on the podcast. We’ve taken on some great contract editors to serve the needs of our clients. All this change has caused me to refocus on how I want Writership to serve authors: Help authors make the most of working with their editor. 

As we move through 2017, we’re going to put out more content that will help you with this. 

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If you want to learn to make the most of working with an editor, join our crew. You’ll receive our newsletter and a free copy of Cast Your Net with Writership, a collection of 25 exercises to inspire your fiction.

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Cast Your Net with Writership: 25 Exercises to Inspire Your Fiction  by Leslie Watts


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