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        Quick Guide to Novel Editing (with a Self-Editing Checklist)

        • calenderMay 19, 2023
        • calender 4 min read

        If the notion of novel editing fills you with dread, you’re not alone. Writers often see editing as a painful process where they must fight for each word, but that isn’t (always) the case! With the right mindset and editing team, editing your novel can be a creative process.

        It can add value to your novel in ways you hadn’t paused to imagine before. However, you need to keep an open mind for this to happen. So as soon as you’ve heaved the big sigh of satisfaction—once your first draft is complete—put it away for a week or two. No cheating!

        Some honed writers have the policy of not touching their manuscript for a whopping three months after completion. This gives them enough distance and objectivity to work with a novel editor and fine-tune what they’ve written.

        What is novel editing?

        Novel editing refers to the process of reviewing, revising, and refining a written manuscript to improve its overall quality and readability. The process typically involves several stages such as developmental editing, line editing, copy editing, and proofreading.

        During the editing process, the author and/or editor may identify areas where the manuscript can be improved, such as plot inconsistencies, pacing issues, awkward phrasing, or grammatical errors. This is handled as a systematic process consisting of various types of editing. But before approaching a professional novel editing service for this, you must know how to self-edit your novel.

        How to self-edit your novel

        In order to prepare your novel for professional editing and proofreading, you must do a few rounds of self-editing first. This will ensure that your editors work with a refined version of your first draft, which will help create a better final product. Not to mention, this can also bring down your editing cost!

        Here are some tips for editing your novel:

        1. Take a break: This will allow you to approach the narrative with fresh eyes and a clear perspective.

        2. Print it out: Seeing your work in a different format will help you spot errors and inconsistencies.

        3. Read it aloud: This will help you identify awkward phrasing, pacing issues, and areas where the dialogue may not be natural or believable.

        4. Check for consistency: Check for continuity errors, such as changes in eye color, clothes, or other physical descriptions.

        5. Focus on pacing: Ensure that the plot moves along at an appropriate pace, with enough action and tension to keep readers engaged throughout.

        6. Simplify your language: Avoid using overly complicated language or jargon that may alienate readers. The key to good writing is telling great truths in simple language!

        7. Show, don’t tell: Instead of telling readers what is happening, try to show them through vivid descriptions and sensory details.

        8. Cut unnecessary details: Be ruthless with cutting unnecessary details, such as extraneous descriptions or subplots that don’t contribute to the overall story.

        9. Use beta readers: Get feedback from beta readers who can offer fresh perspectives and identify areas for improvement.

        10. Edit in stages: Don’t try to edit everything, everywhere, all at once. Break the process down so that each review consists of one or two checks at most.

        Bonus tip: Focus on large-scale issues such as structure, organization, and character arcs before small-scale issues such as grammar, spelling, and word choice.

        Novel editing checklist

        We won’t stop at novel editing tips! Editing is a deeply layered process, so you’ll benefit from a checklist while editing the first draft of your novel. You may use it to ensure that you catch the majority of basic errors while editing your novel.

        Here’s your novel editing checklist:

        • Structure: Review the plot and overall structure of the novel, ensuring that the story flows logically and that the plot points are consistent and well-developed.
        • Characters: Check that the characters are well-developed, consistent, and have clear motivations and goals. Ensure that each character has a unique voice and that their actions are believable.
        • Dialogue: Eliminate any dialogue that feels stilted or contrived, and ensure that each character’s speech is consistent with their personality and background.
        • Setting: Ensure that the setting is well-developed and consistent throughout the story. Check for any inconsistencies in the descriptions of the setting or timeline.
        • Pacing: Review the pacing of the story, making sure that it is appropriate for the genre and that the plot moves along at a satisfying pace. Check for any slow or confusing sections that need to be revised.
        • Point of view: Ensure that the point of view is consistent throughout the story and that the author’s voice is consistent with the chosen perspective.
        • Tone: Review the tone of the manuscript, ensuring that it is consistent with the intended audience and genre.
        • Clichés: Check for clichés and overused phrases, eliminating them wherever possible.
        • Sensory details: Ensure that the manuscript includes enough sensory details to immerse the reader in the story.
        • Tense: Check that the tense is consistent throughout the manuscript and that the author is using the correct tense for each section.
        • Sentence structure: Review the sentence structure, ensuring that it is varied and engaging. Eliminate any awkward or convoluted sentences.
        • Grammar and spelling: Check for grammar and spelling errors, ensuring that the manuscript is free from typos, punctuation errors, and other common mistakes.
        • Formatting: Check that the manuscript is formatted consistently, with the same font, spacing, and margins throughout the document.
        • Fact-checking: Check any facts included in the manuscript to ensure they are accurate.
        • Beta readers: Consider getting feedback from beta readers to get fresh perspectives on the manuscript.

        Types of novel editing

        There are four major types of novel editing: developmental editing, line editing, copy editing, and proofreading. Handled as individual steps in the editing and proofreading process, they ensure that your manuscript gets reviewed systematically.

        If you’ve come across other types of editing such as structural editing or editorial assessment, don’t worry! These are just alternate names for the same basic processes that are undertaken while editing a novel. Different editors and editing organizations might take different approaches to the process, but the four key steps of editing remain unchanged.

        Developmental editing

        Also called structural editing or content editing, this type of editing focuses on the big picture of your novel. A developmental editor will evaluate the overall structure, pacing, and plot of your story, as well as the characterization of your main characters. The goal is to identify any weaknesses in your story and suggest ways to improve it.

        Line Editing

        Line editing focuses on the finer details of your writing. A line editor will review your manuscript line by line to improve the clarity, tone, and style of your writing. They may also suggest changes to sentence structure, word choice, and dialogue. Since an author’s individual style is essential to novel writing, this step is crucial in the editing process.

        Copy Editing

        Copy editing is the final stage of the editing process. A copy editor will review your manuscript for errors in grammar, punctuation, and spelling. They may also suggest changes to formatting and consistency. You may find this an uphill battle since stipulations of language might conflict with your own writing voice. Eventually, a balance must be struck between grammatical accuracy and experimentation with style.


        Novel proofreading is the final step in the editing process before publication. The primary goal of proofreading is to identify and correct errors in grammar, punctuation, and spelling, as well as to ensure consistency in formatting and style. Proofreading is primarily concerned with the technical accuracy of the novel and takes place after typesetting.

        Note: The writer may opt for an editorial assessment if they’re unsure of their manuscript. This assessment gives you a page-long review of your novel. Based on this, you may decide whether your writing needs more work or if it is ready for a developmental editor’s scrutiny.

        What is the cost of editing a novel?

        The cost of editing a novel can vary widely depending on the level of editing required, the length of the manuscript, and the experience and qualifications of the editor. A basic copyedit may cost anywhere from $0.01 to $0.03 per word, while a more in-depth developmental edit could cost upwards of $0.15 per word.

        Some editors charge an hourly rate, which can range from $30 to $100 per hour, depending on their level of experience and the type of editing required.

        You may avoid the hassle of hiring individual editors for each of these steps by working with a novel editing service instead. Editing firms employ hundreds of editors and simplify the novel editing process for writers. All you need to do is opt for the types of editing you require and wait for the refined manuscript to be delivered.

        On average, a novel editing firm may cost you about $2,000–$3,500 for a manuscript of 1,00,000 words. While there are variables involved such as turnaround time and density of errors, this ballpark figure can help you budget for novel editing.

        Frequently Asked Questions

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        Prasanna Linkedin

        Prasanna is on a little break from academia and spends his time compiling fiction writing tips. He enjoys poetry, mythology, and drawing lotuses on any surface he can find.

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