Home » The Importance of Revision and Self-Editing (An #AuthorToolBoxBlogHop post)

The Importance of Revision and Self-Editing

The Importance of Revision and Self-Editing (An #AuthorToolBoxBlogHop post)

Why do authors need to know how to revise and self-edit?

Doesn’t the publisher edit?

Yes, they do. At least, the good ones do. (I’d steer clear of any publisher that doesn’t edit … or charges you for editing. But that’s another conversation).

If the publisher is going to edit your manuscript, why do you need to edit it first?

If the publisher is going to edit your manuscript, why do you need to edit it first? Because you only get one chance to make a first impression for agents, publishers, and readers. #EditTips #AmEditing Click To Tweet

It’s a cliché, but you only get one chance to make a first impression. You need to make it count—which means presenting the agent or publisher with the best possible manuscript. Don’t destroy your chances by submitting something that’s less than your best.

Traditional Publishers

Publishers, like most businesses, are under pressure to produce financial results. Editing takes time, and time is money. Few publishers can afford to sign an author with a great idea but poor writing.

Publishers do edit. Publishers know authors make typos. They know we all have writing glitches or concepts we never grasp. Publishers understand that. But publishers want to work with manuscripts that have been written and edited well enough to enable them to assess the plot and characters, to judge the overall saleability of the story. They don’t want to be wading through complex and convoluted sentences that seem to say one thing but could say something different entirely.

Literary Agents

In fact, many publishers (especially US and British publishers) don’t even consider direct submissions from authors. They only accept submissions from reputable literary agents. Agents are paid on commission, usually 15% of the author’s advance and royalty. It makes sense that agent want to work with competent writers, as they get paid for selling manuscripts to publishers, not for editing those manuscripts in the hope of making a sale. It’s going to be easier to sign with an agent if you have stellar writing and self-editing skills.


What if you intend to self-publish? Then you definitely need an editor … and not just a proofreader. Traditionally published books will typically go through three or four rounds of editing: developmental editing, line editing, copyediting, and proofreading.

Most editors charge by the hour. Some quote based on a word count or page count (a standard manuscript page is 250 words). Even if they’re quoting by the word or page, they’re budgeting on editing X words per hour or Y pages per hour so they earn their target hourly rate (and we’d like to earn more per hour than our teenagers earn at McDonalds).

So the more work your novel needs, the longer it’s going to take to edit, and the more expensive it’s going to be. That’s why it’s important to learn writing craft and learn to self-edit.

Here are nine free or low-cost alternatives to help you learn to self-edit and reduce your need for paid editing #AmEditing #EditTips Click To Tweet

Let’s look at some of the free or low-cost alternatives to help you learn to self-edit and reduce your need for paid editing:

Read Craft Books

Read books on writing craft. Read to learn, and never stop learning. (You can also mix this up with reading blog posts and reading about publishing and marketing—two more subjects you’ll need to master.)

Work with a Critique Partner

Many authors work with one or more critique partners, often swapping a chapter at a time. You revise and edit their chapter or manuscript, and they do the same. This is a great option, as long as your critique partner knows the craft of writing fiction—otherwise they could be giving you bad advice.

Work with Beta Readers

A beta reader is a volunteer who reads you full manuscript and offers feedback on specific issues. Some authors use beta readers for the final proofread, after the copyeditor has covered the manuscript with (virtual) red pen. But it’s more common to work with beta readers before the manuscript goes to an editor. After all, there is no point in polishing a novel with underlying plot or character issues.

Enter Contests

Contests are a cost-effective way of getting feedback on your writing. Most contests for unpublished writers offer feedback from the judges. Even contests that only judge the first five or fifteen pages can be useful, as most recurring writing issues show up in those early pages.

Judge Contests

You don’t have to be a great writer or self-editor to judge a writing contest—many contests are actually looking for reader judges.

If you’re a new writer, then reading a published novel with judging criteria in mind is a great way of learning what agents, editors, and publishers consider important in a novel, and will help you with your own writing. If you’re a more experienced writer, then judging is a great way of giving back to your favourite writing organisation!

Hire a Writing Coach

Some writing coaches have expensive packages, but many charge by the hour. You can learn a huge amount in a couple of hours when the coach is specifically focused on your writing.

Hire an Editor

Freelance editors don’t always charge hundreds or thousands. Most charge by the hour, and many will offer a free sample edit. Many will also agree to edit a sample of your manuscript (e.g. the first 5,000 words) for a reasonable fee. This won’t identify overarching plot or characterisation issues, but will show you your writing strengths, and the areas you need to work on.

Take a Course

I’m a big fan of Margie Lawson’s online training courses (www.margielawson.com), and credit Margie’s Deep Editing techniques with helping me with my contest wins. There are other great options out there: Author Accelerator, One-Stop Shop for Writers, and My Book Therapy, to name a few. Also check out the Romance Writers of Australia OWLs and the RWNZ webinar recordings.

Attend a Conference

Attending a conference is a great way of learning more about the craft of writing. It will also help you connect with potential agents, publishers, critique partners, beta readers … and freelance editors.

No matter how you plan to publish, it’s in your best interest to learn to edit your own work.

It will reduce your overall editing costs and will improve your chances of attracting the attention of your dream agent and publisher.

I’ll be sharing my top tips over the next few months.

Need help with your novel? I'm available for manuscript assessment and editing services. Need help with your author platform? Check out my Kick-Start Your Author Platform Marketing Challenge. Looking for a publisher? Sign up to my newsletter below.

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  1. Love that tweet feature: so cool! When I first started writing, I thought it would be way easier than it is to get published. I definitely didn’t fully understand the number of drafts it would take. 🙂

  2. I enjoyed this post. I self-published my debut novel with only one round of edits from a friend who edits. While I appreciate her work, and have since paid in support and such, I know that I need to follow many of the steps you mentioned here in your post. Right now, I am revising the debut and will be republishing a new edition at the end of the year. I’ve used your CP suggestion and have two CPs and their feedback has been amazing! I cannot wait to dive into the changes they’ve recommended.

    Thank you for such an insightful post, and I may be seeking a quote for upcoming editing services. 🙂

    • Iola says:

      Great CPs are worth their weight in gold 🙂

      I offer a manuscript assessment service for those who can’t find great CPs. I read your manuscript, and provide a detailed letter with my suggestions. It’s a great place to start if you’re a first-time author.

      More experienced writers – or those with great CPs – can start with line editing or copyediting. I’d love to work with you, Sarah!

  3. It’s not only first impressions of agents/publishers but also (beta) readers and early reviewers. I once read an ARC for an author and it was full of error after error. I gave the book a very critical review. She was mad as she said that’s normal in ARCs. Um, a few typos and mistakes in an ARC are okay but full of errors? No!

    • Iola says:

      Definitely! I also read a lot of ARCs. Some ARCs make clear that it’s the pre-proofed version, so I know to expect some errors and ignore them. But if an author doesn’t tell me in advance that I’m reading the pre-proofed version, then I expect to be reading the final version (especially when I’m reading a book that’s already been published). My review is going to reflect that.

    • Iola says:

      Reading books (and blog posts) on writing craft is one of my favourite ways to procrastinate and not get any actual writing done …

  4. Great tips! I’m always on the lookout for craft books, and I have a great critique partner. I find that even looking over her work helps me realize things I need to fix in my own manuscript. Thanks for sharing! 🙂

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