How to self edit your novel: the three main editing stages

You’re an indie author and you’ve written the first draft of your new novel – congratulations! Now you need to mould it into the best shape possible before sending it off to a professional editor. Here’s how to self edit your novel by working through the three main editing stages.

Why is self editing essential?

Self editing is essential because first drafts are messy! Your first draft – or ‘trash draft’ as bestselling author Laura Jane Williams calls it – is simply getting the first version of the full story down. A lot needs to change between the first draft and the second, or third, or fourth (or more!) for the story to be as solid as possible. Therefore, as an indie author, it’s important to be able to self edit your own manuscript before recruiting editing and then proofreading professionals to help.

What are the three main stages of editing?

The three main stages of editing include:

  • Developmental (also known as structural) editing
  • Factual editing
  • Line (also known as copy) editing

How to self edit your novel: the three main editing stages

Each stage is essential because it focuses on different, but equally important, elements of the story.

Let’s look at them all in detail:

Developmental/structural editing

Development/structural editing focuses on big picture issues such as:

  • Plot order
  • Major plot holes
  • Pace of the book
  • Plausibility of events
  • Loose/unnecessary story threads
  • Adding or removing scenes if necessary


Read your full manuscript on a different device, or in a different format, than it was originally written on – send it to your Kindle or print out/order a hard copy (through Doxdirect, for example). This will give you an external reader perspective. Make notes separately about any issues from the list above, but resist editing the original manuscript until you’ve read the whole draft through!

Factual editing

Factual editing focuses on:

  • Timeline
  • Logical events
  • Character action consistency

At this stage, you’re trying to make sure that your future readers stay absorbed in the story and don’t get distracted by impossible/implausible events.


Read through the draft on your laptop and correct any issues as you go. Highlight anything that references time, including minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, years, seasons, decades, eras, time zones, birthdays and general passing of time etc., and work through them all methodically. Research anything additional relating to logical events and character action consistency relevant to your story, for example: tide times, travel duration, job hierarchies, police procedures, geographical locations etc.

Line/copy editing

Line or copy editing focuses on:

  • Spelling, punctuation and grammar corrections
  • Correcting incorrect words and adding missed words
  • Consistent formatting e.g. how dates/times are written
  • Character name/description/distinguishing feature(s) consistency
  • Removing writing clutter (How to cut the clutter for page-turning prose will help!)


Use the read aloud function on your phone or laptop to listen to your story and make changes to your manuscript as necessary. Work slowly and methodically. Create a simple style sheet to keep track of all the details. (This will come in useful at the proofreading stage too.)

The benefits of self editing before sending your manuscript to a professional editor

The benefits of self editing before sending your manuscript to a professional editor include:

  • Increased confidence in your self edited novel
  • Lessons learned about your story and your writing style
  • Chances of major problems being solved before the professional edit
  • Saved time and money, especially if editors charge per word, or per 1,000 words
  • Potentially fewer revisions to do after the professional edit has been completed

Once you have self edited your novel, you should rightly feel very proud – it’s hard work! However, it’s now time to send it off to a professional editor. Enlisting the services of a professional editor ensures that extra layer of professionalism and helps elevate your novel to the same high standard as a traditionally published book. It also reassures future readers that they can expect to read a quality product, knowing it’s been thoroughly quality checked.

If you have found ‘How to self edit your novel: the three main editing stages’ helpful, my other editing related blogs may be useful too:

How to self edit your novel: clichés and common phrases

How to self edit your novel: spelling, punctuation and grammar

What are the basic differences between editing and proofreading?

What are the differences between line and developmental editing?

How to self edit your novel: repetition

How to self edit your novel: dialogue mistakes