Self-Publish Like a Pro: Manuscript Editing

If you decide to self-publish, editing your work is the single most crucial step you cannot skip. You can get away with a self-made cover, website, blurb, and interior design, but editing is one area you need help, no matter how good and experienced you are.

Every author benefits from a fresh pair of eyes, but many indie writers skip editing because of budget constraints. Others want to edit their books, but have no idea how. Traditionally, this has never been something authors had to worry about – agents and publishers were the ones to guide writers through the process. However, if you are self-publishing, you are in charge of the whole production process – from the rough draft, through all editing and formatting stages, and up to the final product.

In this post, I will cover the different kinds manuscript editing.

Developmental Editing

Sometimes called Content Editing, this is the first part of your editing process. At this stage, you don’t care about spelling and grammar, but focus on the big picture. Does your plot make sense? Are there any plot holes? Abandoned storylines?  Is the action moving too fast? Too slowly? Are your plot twists unexpected and yet believable? Are your characters relatable? Are readers rooting for your protagonists and loving to hate your villains? Do you have any inconsistencies?

At this point, you may end up completely rewriting your manuscript. You might scrape entire plots and introduce new ones. You might delete whole chapters, write new content, and rearrange what you already have.

This editing stage is extremely important. Authors are often too close to their own manuscript and fail to see any problems. Someone approaching the book from a reader’s perspective can spot plot holes you are likely to miss.

Generally, areas covered by a developmental edit include:

– Plot structure

– World-building

– Pacing

– Tone

– Character arcs

– Readability

– Inconsistencies

When I finished the first draft of Kingdom of Ashes, I knew the manuscript still required lots of work. Still, I was certain that there was one element I would have no problems with – world-building. I had spent so much time meticulously crafting the history and mythology of the Nightfall universe that there was no way I could have missed something. Or was there? My first beta reader provided the following feedback:

One of the main worldbuilding problems is the fact that you never really describe what the vampires are capable of physically. If they can move fast enough to dodge bullets, how is anything humans do enough to stop them?

I couldn’t believe it. I actually had scenes where vampires dodge bullets,  and others where they got shot by crossbows. The error was so big, so obvious. How was it possible that I had missed that?

The thing is, you will always miss something. Often, you will miss obvious things. You are so close to your words that it is hard to take a step back and consider your manuscript from a distance.

Besides general comments, your developmental editor will provide line-by-line comments on your manuscript. Below is a sample of comments I got from one of my beta readers:


As you can see, this is not something inherently wrong, but your beta reader provides helpful suggestion that can improve your story. Needless to say, I followed her advice, and I believe the new version of this scene is better for it.

Quite often, reading your beta reader’s comments can feed your muse, and you will get ideas for more and more little details that will make your world richer.


This one is easy to miss when you are writing. In your head, you see the characters moving around and interacting, but you fail to describe every step. You never notice this because you know what is happening and what everyone is doing, but you never realize the reader doesn’t know that. A second pair of eyes is extremely helpful in identifying such gaps.


Again, my world-building problems are coming up. The story is from the perspective of a character who has initially never seen living nature, and I need to make sure all descriptions are consistent with her point of view. An editor is crucial for identifying any gaps.


This is the second stage of the editing process. Here the editor looks at your sentences line-by-line and, if necessary, rewrites them to sound better. This may include fixing grammar and spelling, rearranging your words for better clarity, replacing words to avoid repetitions, and cutting parts of your sentences to tighten the prose. The editor also addresses issues such as run-on sentences and wordiness.

This stage is important for authors like me, who are not writing in their native language. Still, even if you write in your mother tongue, and even if you are very good at it, you can benefit from an editor checking for any awkward or unclear wording.


Proofreading is the final stage in the editing process. It’s meant to identify typos and various formatting errors.

Never, ever hire a copy editor or a proofreader before you have completed developmental editing. You may end up rewriting your manuscript, so it will be a waste of time and money.

Line editing

Sometimes editors talk about a fourth type – line editing. I’ve seen certain editors use it to mean a developmental edit, some – an intensive copy edit, and others – something in between. Often developmental editing is divided into two parts – the first is similar to a manuscript assessment, looking at the bigger picture and identifying all major problems that need fixing. The second, the “line edit,” is looking at your manuscript line-by-line and suggesting small changes on paragraph level. If you hire an editor to do a “line edit” for you, first make sure you know what they mean by it.

Getting help with your manuscript is essential, but a professional editor can be extremely expensive. In my next post I will cover budget (yet good) alternatives. In any case, if you can afford only one editing stage, I strongly suggest you choose the content editing. Readers will forgive a few typos. They won’t forgive a poor story.


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