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Writer’s Toolkit: My Personal Book Editing Process

Updated on October 12, 2014

I wrote an article about the importance of having someone edit your work, now I’m going to share my personal novel and short story editing process.


Behind closed doors…

I think it was Steven King who said something about keeping the door closed for your first and second draft and open the door only once the second draft is complete. I completely agree with this. You couldn’t convince me otherwise. Under no circumstances do I ever let anyone read my first draft, whether it’s a novel, short story, or novella. Size is irrelevant. No one reads it. Once the first draft is done, then I take the time to go through, fix errors, and polish it the best that I can.

The main reason is because I want the people in the next step of the process to find errors that I miss. If I don’t edit first then they are going to be finding errors I could have found myself. This is not only a complete waste of their time, but it makes it more likely that they will miss something else. In fact, if I’m not fairly confident that I’ve done a decent job, no one may see it until the third draft.


Opening the doors one at a time…

At one time, when I had completed the second draft, I would have swung the barn doors wide open and asked as many people as possible to start editing and beta reading. I think this is a bad idea, and I don’t recommend it. Instead, I give the second draft to one person and ask them to edit/beta read, and to mark in red or highlight any errors they find. I also ask them to watch for inconsistencies, and to feel free to share anything that they think will make the story better. To be clear, the people in question are friends of mine, not professionals.


Once the first person has made it all of the way through the story and marked everything that they find, I go through what they’ve found and correct the grammatical, spelling, and inconsistency errors they’ve marked. If they had an idea to add or change something, then if I like it I go with it. If I’m not sure, I’ll hold it out, but keep it in mind. Someone else may have an even better idea, or someone else may have the same idea, which is a strong indication that maybe I should use it.

Once I’m done here, it’s on to the next person. I follow this same process, one person at a time, trying to get as many people as possible to edit the story. Right now, I’ve got four people I can depend on to edit my story, but usually I can find an extra person or two. I do it this way for the same reason that I do the second draft myself. I don’t want them all finding the same errors as each other. The cleaner it is with each pass, the more likely it is that someone will find a random error that was missed by everyone else.


Once all of the people I’ve begged, pleaded with, and annoyed into editing for me have finished, then I give it at least one more pass. If I still find an abundance of mistakes, I’m going through it again. In fact, I will continue going through it until I can pretty much read straight through without finding many or any errors.


I haven’t self-published anything in over a year, but if I was going to, at this point I would feel confident in putting it out there. Otherwise it’s ready to go to the publisher. You may wonder why I would put all of the extra work and effort in if the publisher is going to have line and copy editors go through it anyway. Well for one, this is my work and I want it to look good. There is a chance I don’t know the person editing it, and I’m unfamiliar with their ability. Perhaps more importantly, I want to make their job as easy as possible so they are more inclined to work with me in the future. Remember, when you are trying to sell your work (Whether to a publisher or a customer) you are selling yourself as much as the story and you don’t want to look like a slouch.

This is my strategy, and it may not be right for everyone, but if you are just starting out then you could do worse than to follow this method. Of course, I’m always open to new ideas, so if you have a strategy you want to add or a question to ask, feel free to do so in the comments section below.

Author Phillip Drayer Duncan
Author Phillip Drayer Duncan | Source

Phillip Drayer Duncan is the author of 4 published novels and 12 short stories. He has work published with Yard Dog Press, Pro Se Productions, and Seventh Star Press.


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    • Phillbert profile imageAUTHOR

      Phillip Drayer Duncan 

      4 years ago from The Ozarks

      Thank you Audrey! I was particularly referring to my editing process for novels and short stories. I self edit my hubs. Some of my earlier ones could have been much cleaner hahaha.

    • brakel2 profile image

      Audrey Selig 

      4 years ago from Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

      Hi Phill That is an interesting process you use for editing, and it must work well for you. You certainly have quite a few works listed in your profile. I know that Billybuc uses an editor, but each writer to his own personal way that works. Your writing style appeals to me, and I must read more hubs. Sharing, Blessiings, Audrey

    • Phillbert profile imageAUTHOR

      Phillip Drayer Duncan 

      4 years ago from The Ozarks

      Thanks Jaye, and I agree entirely! If someone wishes to publish something, they should make every effort to have a professional edit it. I absolutely agree. I think most self published writers probably can't afford to hire a professional, so my hope is that maybe my method will help a bit.

      I think everyone has some kind of writing or editing quirk. I always write 'in to' when I should write 'into', and then of course I sometimes forget to go back and do a search before handing it to my beta readers. I have a good friend that goes nuts every time he sees it. He's going to end up in the looney bin trying to edit for me.

    • JayeWisdom profile image

      Jaye Denman 

      4 years ago from Deep South, USA

      This is a good method that works for you, Phillip, but you are obviously an accomplished writer. Some writers--even those who produce great content (non-fiction) or are marvelous story-tellers (fiction)--may not have the ability to self-edit to the extent that you are able to do.

      One of my sisters has a Master's degree in English, is a good prose writer and poet, yet she's never been able to spell (still can't in middle age, so I think it's a lost cause). Years ago, I let her read some of my early writing to check consistency, but I'd never trust her spelling. (That's our secret...okay?)

      There are many errors that can be found by beta readers and the author, but anything meant to be published should be line-edited by a pro. Even editors who write for publication need another set of professional eyes to copy-edit their work. Anything that may distract the reader (and, hence, the reading experience) should be found before it's published.

      Voted Up+


    • Phillbert profile imageAUTHOR

      Phillip Drayer Duncan 

      4 years ago from The Ozarks

      Thank you cwilson! I hope it helps! Best of luck with your writing!

    • cwilson72180 profile image

      Clarissa Wilson 

      4 years ago from Ohio

      This is a great strategy you have. I am a writer myself although I have only published articles and not books, yet. I have been toying with the idea of writing my first eBook and self publishing it very soon. Thanks for writing about your process. I may use it when I decide to write and self publish.


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