Build your editing skills with the tips below for becoming a better editor. Whether you want to self-publish your book or go the traditional publishing route, being a good editor is essential.
Because the more complete and polished your manuscript is, the more likely your book will be chosen for publishing. And even when you do hire an editor, it helps to have your manuscript in the best condition you can make it.
Below you will find my tips for improving your editing and proofreading skills.
Ways to improve your developmental editing skills
1. Read books in the genre you’re writing
This may seem like a no-brainer, but there’s a difference between reading for pleasure and reading as a writer.
First, you have to know what genre you’re writing in. Is it an action, romance, or crime story? Or is it a how-to or an academic book?
Then, as you read through, write down the things that stand out: certain characters, scenes, settings, or events. When you’ve read two or more books, compare them. What do they have in common?
Doing this will give you a deeper understanding of the genre you’re writing in and the things a reader will expect in your novel. Do you have these elements in your manuscript as well? And if so, how can you make them better? How can you change these things in a new way?
2. Practice finding the structure of a story
For most published work (especially traditionally published), the structure of a story is quite solid. The same goes for movies. If you want to better understand story structure and how to enhance the structure in your own stories, you should practice finding the structure within a story.
Pick a full book, a scene, an episode of a show, an act within a story, a short story, or a movie. Then, break it down into 5 (or 4, for nonfiction) elements and ask whether the components are related to each other.
For example, you can watch this Facebook video here, where I break down the first episode of The Sandman.
Ways to improve your line editing skills
1. Avoid repetition
Look up a piece of writing. This could be your own, someone else’s, or an article on the internet. Pick a paragraph. Then, pay close attention to any repeated words (often nouns or verbs). How does the repetition feel when you read the paragraph out loud? Are the words too close together? Or is the word simply repeated too much throughout?
Edit the paragraph by removing the repetitions. You can choose a synonym for the repeated word or restructure the sentences, so repetition is no longer necessary.
The more you practice this, the better you’ll become at spotting and correcting repetitions.
2. Connect sentences
This exercise is critical when you write nonfiction. Too often, I see work by nonfiction authors where all the sentences are standing on their own, and there’s no clear connection between them. This impairs the readability of your paragraphs. But also, when you write fiction, it’s a good skill to know how to connect sentences together. When you don’t, it can make descriptions, internal monologues, or even dialogue seem clunky.
As before, pick a piece of writing. Read through the paragraph: are the sentences connected in some way? For instance, do they use connecting words such as therefore, as such, these/those, this, for instance, or on the one hand (there are more connecting words).
How do the sentences relate to each other? For instance, do they elaborate on an example, give a reasoning, or give foundation to an argument?
Consider how you could rewrite that paragraph to make the sentences connect logically.
The more you do this and think about it, the more ingrained it becomes.
Would you like some help with your developmental editing? Then this developmental editing planner is the one for you! It contains a checklist followed by detailed information and worksheets to perfect your developmental editing process.
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Ways to improve your copy editing skills
1. Use a style guide (and create your own)
This is what professional editors use as well. For American authors, the Chicago Manual of Style is the most commonly used. For the UK, the Oxford Guide to Style is most often used. For nonfiction or journalism (or blogging), the AP style guide fits best. If you write academic books, the APA style guide is probably your best bet.
Within these style guides, you can find information on things like when to write out numbers or when to use numerals, when to use capitalization, whether to use the Oxford comma, and much more.
Then, you can create your own style guide by writing down the most used spellings you use for words that have more than one spelling. In addition, you can write down which words you like to italicize and how you write out dates or times. Basically, you can note down anything that might be useful to you when you copy edit your own manuscript.
It will also be a really helpful document for your editor if you do decide to hire a copy editor.
2. Cut long sentences
It’s easy to fall into the trap of writing long sentences. However, the longer the sentence, the more likely it’s confusing. It’s simply harder to read.
So, pick a piece of writing (anywhere) and read through it. Look out for sentences that are particularly long. It’s difficult to determine a magical number when a sentence is too long, as this will also vary based on your target reader.
A YA book should have mostly shorter sentences (aim for sentences around 25-30 words max). Whereas a book targeted to an academic audience can have some longer sentences here and there (aim for sentences no longer than 40-50 words). But don’t have too many long sentences within one paragraph (preferably only one if it’s very long).
So, consider the target of the piece you’re reviewing. Look at the sentences again and find the ones that you feel are too long. Then either cut the sentence in two or rewrite the sentence so the meaning is still the same, but it’s easier to read.
Want some other self-editing tips? Watch this video on YouTube where I share my top 3 self-editing tips.
Ways to improve your proofreading skills
1. Browse the internet and fix the mistakes.
To learn how to proofread better, all you need to do is actually do it. Look for a piece of copy, for instance on a blog, and start reading through it. Pay close attention: can you spot any errors? These could be spelling mistakes, typos, or grammatical errors.
2. Create a list of commonly misspelled words
There are many words that are commonly misspelled. If you google, it’s likely you’ll get a good list of them. However, it’s a good practice to also create a list for yourself. That way, you know what words to look out for in your own work.
If you’ve done the other exercise, you should already have a pretty good idea of which words often tend to be misspelled. It’s usually words such as they’re/their, then/than, you’re/your, and so on.
Write down any misspelled words you’ve noticed occurring most often. Do this both for writing pieces by others and those you’ve written yourself. That way, you’ll have a comprehensive list of words to pay extra attention to when you proofread your manuscript.
Go forth and sharpen your editing skills
Hopefully, you now have a fairly good idea of how to improve your editing skills. The most important thing is to practice. Just as with writing, you’ll become better at editing if you keep at it.
Feel like you’ve done what you could? Then consider hiring an editor for the editorial service you need help with. You can request a quote from me right here.
In addition, read this article here with 15 helpful questions you can ask your editor before hiring them to determine whether it's a good fit.