Editing your book is difficult because a) it’s your baby, b) you tend to be blind to certain faults, and c) you might really suck at grammar. Plus, editing isn’t just one thing. There are something like nine different types of editing. Here, I’ll cover the three basics: developmental editing, copy editing, and proofreading.
Does your plot have holes? Do your characters have reasonable motivation? Is the pace of the story uneven? Are there infodumps or baggage text that should be cut? Are the first few chapters exciting?
Developmental editing looks at the big picture to make sure the story will make sense, has no plot inconsistencies, and engages the reader so they want to keep turning the pages. This is the first thing that needs to happen before you start worrying about grammar or proofreading, and is probably the most important to get right. If a reader doesn’t finish a book, chances are it was because something went horribly wrong in this part.
At this point, you should check out this web page again: What Makes You Put Down a Book? and scroll down to the poll results to see the top issues. Most of them are editing issues, with several in the top related to structural problems.
The best way to help find developmental issues is to have others read your story and give feedback. If your friends or family can give honest feedback, great, otherwise you may need to find a local writing group.
This covers things like grammar, spelling, dialog tags, number usage, name or term inconsistencies.
Unlike developmental editing which focuses on story structure, there are some tools that can help with grammar and spelling: Grammerly and ProWritingAid. However, even the best software cannot find all the grammar mistakes, or might find something that isn’t really a mistake. Nothing beats understanding grammar (or hiring a professional!).
The Chicago Manual of Style is the ultimate guide to all things grammar. However, it costs money and can be overwhelming. Most grammar books tend to be more focused on paper writing than creative writing. However, if you don’t have a good background in grammar, I recommend buying one to familiarize yourself with the parts of speech.
If you know what something like a comma splice is, then searching a site like GrammarGirl can save you a lot of time and money. It’s an online site with all the information at your fingertips. While I haven’t purchased any of her books, these two look very good:
You can find out how to properly format dialog by searching GrammarGirl for dialog tags. The other thing you can do is look at traditionally published books to see what they do in situations. The good news is that the more you edit, the easier it will get.
To maintain consistency of words and terms, I like to keep a list of them in a separate document. Since I use Word, I turn on all the grammar and spelling flags and investigate each red or blue squiggle on the page. Made up words show up really well that way. You can choose to ignore all instances or add the word to the dictionary, so it unsquiggles all your words that are spelled the right way. Just don’t mistakenly add the wrong spelling!
If you need to keep track of the time or day of the week, use a chapter by chapter outline in a separate document (some writing software lets you integrate it). That way your characters don’t suddenly go from noon to midnight and then back again – which is quite easy to do when you’re writing over several weeks.
So, you’ve probably seen those social media posts that have you look quickly at a bit of text and then ask you questions about what you read, or thought you read. Then when you look closer at it, you see the double ‘the’ or the missing vowels or consonants. Our minds are amazingly adept at reading what we expect to see rather than what’s actually on the page. This is bad for proofreading.
That’s why one piece of advice for successful proofreading is to read everything backwards. Another technique is to turn on text to speech and have your word processor read it aloud. Or you can read it aloud yourself or have a friend read it to you. Try changing the margins of your document or upload it to your Kindle or Kindle for PC. By changing the margins, you shift the flow of words on the page. That can reveal duplicate words or phrases that used to be separated by a new line or page.
It also helps to ask a friend who is really good at catching mistakes to read your work. The more eyes on it, the fewer mistakes will go through to publishing. All books have mistakes, even traditionally published ones, but you want to have as few as possible. The beauty of self-publishing is you can upload fixes to your ebook quickly and painlessly. The down side is that readers who’ve already purchased your ebook won’t get the update. So try to flush those mistakes out before publishing the first time.