Book Editing – Guide For Beginners

Book Editing For Beginners

Book editing can get tough. It is the least creative thing a writer does. It’s calculating, playing by the rules, provoking exact emotion at exact pages. I could go all day like this – but you get the picture. No one likes editing their work when they can create more new stuff!

But, you still have to do it. Even if you are about to hire an editor, you still have to revise your work before you hand it over. So, regardless of whether you are hiring an editor or not, we’ll cover the editing steps.

Since this is the article for beginners, my published friends have no need to read it further – you all know this already.

Book editing is a process. That means it is continuous, it lasts. So, what do we exactly do? When do we do it?

Here’s what we are about to explore:

  1. Exploring Drafts
  2. When Does The Book Editing Start?
  3. What are our goals?
  4. How do we achieve our goals?

Also, I’ll recommend an editor at the end of this post. Don’t miss it!

Exploring Drafts

First Draft

Your first draft is your blueprint. It serves only you. After you finish all the preparation steps your only job is to sit and write. Don’t worry about hitting the marks (emotional beats your narrative is made of). Just throw the words onto paper.

My constant tip is you should make time for writing. Also, you should have a daily goal you must reach. I set my goals from day to day. Today I have 2,000 words of my new WIP and as much as this post takes to write. As Stephen King says, don’t leave the room until you have achieved the goal.

What you write in your first draft doesn’t matter. At this stage, you only translate moods and feelings you want your book to be made of. To simplify even more, the first draft are moods and skeletons of scenes you want in your book. Treat it like that – don’t overdo the writing there. Just be sure to complete the draft.

Also, don’t mind grammar. You’ll take care if it later.


Then comes the revision. Since you probably don’t want to (and you don’t need to) show the first draft to anyone, do this alone. Print out your book and take three different markers. Designate colors to these three decisions: doesn’t work and must be cut, could work and must be improved or cut, definitely stays.

That way you select parts of your novel that define its mood (those are the places that must stay in it). Once you’ve done it, you can start rewriting the whole thing. Weigh every word.

When you finish the second draft you can show it to people – you should. Show it to your friends and family (but only if they promise to be unbiased) if you don’t have some external readers you can send it to.

Task them with marking the spots they really liked and especially those they disliked. Now, don’t change every word your readers disliked. Instead, see which parts were disliked the most and decide if you should cut it out or change it.

When Does The Book Editing Start?

You should never start editing while you are writing. Especially not if it’s the first draft. Of course, correct a typo, erase a scene if you realize it leads nowhere. But, don’t go back to a chapter, read it and start polishing it up.

Revising your first draft is the first step to editing. Do as I explained above. Revise your novel as many times as you think it necessary. If you plan on giving it to a professional, don’t overdo the editing.

The main problem here is: what to cut? It’s easy to find grammar error and mistakes but deciding on a whole scene or even a chapter isn’t.

The answer is that chapters create a full circle. If you take a chapter away from the circle and it still flows like a clock, you cut that chapter. The simple rule is that is something doesn’t push the story forward, it is useless. So, if you have a dialogue that is two pages long and produces nothing, cut it out and don’t be sorry – you are doing the right thing.

What Are Our Goals?

As an author, your goal is to tell a story that people will want to read. If a tree falls deep in the forest and no one can hear it – did it fall? Just like that, if people don’t want to read your masterpiece, is it a masterpiece?

Your goal should be going through your novel and judging it. It’s hard to do it since it’s you who wrote it and you are biased. But, that’s the job.

Also, your goal is to judge where readers might get bored and put the book down. That’s the spot you should have cut.

Another goal is improving the style and polishing up the rough edges.

How Do We Achieve Our Goals?

Be harsh about it. Mark every word you think you could improve. Stop at every adjective and think of three synonyms – seek the best. Do not think you’ll get away with it if you only find a posh word or a jargon that will make you sound more clever. It doesn’t work like that, readers will sense you forced it. So, find only appropriate words that you feel would fit.

Read every scene and ask yourself if you would and could read it again – then read it again. If it’s interesting enough and if your focus group didn’t mark it, it should stay. As long as the story progresses, you are fine.

Read once again and judge the sentences. Judge their relationships and the overall harmony if there is one. Read out loud. You’ll never be able to know how your novel might sound to the readers until you read it out loud. That’s the way to improve the style – if you find something that sounds strange, correct it.


Writing is fun. Keep doing it but abide some rules. Even if those are merely personal rules. You’ll have a great time writing and you can find ways to make book editing interesting.

These were only snippets of what it looks like but if you are a beginner, it’s enough to paint the picture and set some expectations.

Final Note

Again, you really should have someone else edit your work before you publish it. The link I placed here will lead you to a freelancer on Fiverr who has a lot of experience in editing and proofreading. The best bit is, it’s really not as expensive as it would be if you were to hire someone on Amazon (as they offer when you self-publish). Starting price is $5 but for works up to 50,000 words it is $100. Still, you would have to pay over $1,000 anywhere else.

Keep writing (and editing)!

Author: Mladen Reljanović

Mladen Reljanović is the founder and lead writer at Writer to Writers. He is the author of Oaktown stories, senior student of communication and a pianist.

16 thoughts on “Book Editing – Guide For Beginners

  1. Always a good article 🙂 Thanks for this. I’m currently writing first draft of my novel. It’s roughly 70% done. There are good parts, there are bad parts, but I’ll revise them later as you’ve said. Thanks for the article.

    1. Thank you for saying that. I’m also writing at the moment (hence less articles of my own and more guests, gods bless them) and am tempted to revise everything. That’s why I wrote this one – to remind myself as well 😀

  2. I wish some professionals would read this. The times I’ve encountered dialogue that rambled forever and took the story nowhere are uncountable. I always vow never to do that.

    1. Thank you so much, that’s quite a compliment. I found myself trying the same thing, avoiding dialogue that doesn’t give insight in characters or foreshadows the future events or pushes the story.

    1. It seems she removed her services. So, here is a link to another person who does the editing on Fiverr:

      Don’t be threatened by the length of the link, it’s just Fiverr referring to itself 🙂

    1. As you should be. Fiverr editors do a good job on proofreading and copyediting but with some time so do the authors themselves. Well, it’s always good to find someone who has experience in the genre.
      Try registering at Kboards, a forum for Kindle users. There are pages dedicated to authors and you could easily find some editors leaving their contact info during some SALE periods 🙂

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