Chris Gardner

The joys of self-publishing.

Self-editing for self publishers


Okay–first of all, if there’s any way you can afford an editor, hire one! Secondly, if you do, make sure you do some research first. I’ve seen self-published books where the writer has acknowledged the help of an editor and the first page is riddled with errors. I spent a couple of years editing free-lance and I belonged to an organization called The Victorian Society of Editors, which may or may not still be around. There’s bound to be some kind of association, preferably in your own country, that can help you find a professional editor. However you find someone it’s a good idea to ask them for a sample edit of a few pages, and make sure you communicate exactly what you require. Don’t just rely on terms like ‘substantive edit’ or ‘copy edit’; make sure you tell them exactly what you are hoping for.

Let’s assume you are not going to hire anyone. You’re quite sure you can do it yourself. You probably can’t, so at least get as many people as possible to read your book. You might be surprised at how something that makes perfect sense to you makes little or no sense to a reader who doesn’t know what you’re thinking. Sometimes things are so obvious and we don’t want to treat our readers as dummies but we have to realize they can’t read our minds, only what makes it to the page!

If you can find a writer’s group in your local area, or online, who will read your work and give you an honest opinion, that’s a step up from your best friend who doesn’t want to hurt your feelings. Always remember opinions are subjective and not everyone will love your story–take criticisms with a grain of salt, but if several people are dubious about the same thing maybe you can rethink it.

All right, you have no friends, no writers’ groups, no family members whose opinions you value, or you just don’t want anyone to read your story (other than the whole world, after it’s published), at least read it aloud to yourself. If you can, record it and listen to it. You know how your voice sounds like someone else’s when it’s recorded? If you can distance yourself enough to hear what you’ve actually written, rather than what you thought you’d written, that’s a good start. Update on this–if you have Word, use Text to Speech to have a somewhat robotic voice read your book aloud to you. I found a couple of errors in my own book after many self-edits. One I recall was ‘whole’ instead of ‘while’. Very different when spoken but so similar in writing, especially when the i and the o are next to each other on the keyboard!

Now your story’s perfect and you’re up to the nitty gritty. So many self-published novels are riddled with errors. Please don’t think I consider myself perfect–I was reading through an old blog the other day and realized I’d written ‘dairy’ instead of ‘diary’! We all make mistakes and every book I take off the shelf at the library has at least one; we can only try to do the best we can. At least, as self-published writers, we can always go back and correct our mistakes; it’s never too late.what did

Obviously use your computer spell-check but don’t rely on it–if in doubt use a dictionary. The spell-check won’t pick up ‘dairy’ instead of ‘diary’. Again, reading aloud helps but we tend to see what we think we wrote, not necessarily what’s there. We also get caught up in the story and miss errors of spelling or grammar. If you print it out–yes the whole thing!–you may be able to spot errors better. Sit at the table with your manuscript and a dictionary in front of you and use a ruler to read one line at a time and prevent you from reading ahead. Then start again, this time from the back of the book, again one line at a time–this helps to get away from the story line and concentrate on each sentence. Another update! I’m now editing again, for Australian writers only. More details on my Editing page.

My ebook ‘What Did You Say?’ on grammar and punctuation, is available at Smashwords and may be of some use–it’s free anyway, so why not?

My books are now available on most digital shopfronts, including Apple, Barnes and Noble and Kobo via Draft2Digital.

Paperbacks and ebooks are also available on Amazon.


Author: cmsgardnerblog

I'm a writer of fiction and non-fiction, for teens and adults. I live in Central Victoria, Australia and my books are available at

10 thoughts on “Self-editing for self publishers

  1. I tell the writers I work with to read their work aloud or at least speak the words under their breath. If you find yourself tripping over some areas, consider smoothing out the language. I’m not going to say editing is easy, but it’ll be easier to catch a lot of your own errors (or even areas you’d prefer to change!) by doing this method yourself.

  2. Editing is certainly an issue. Unfortunately, it’s one which makes no economic sense for most self-published authors. Even if you sell 1000 books, can you really afford to spend $3000 on an editor?

    What I recommend as a start is a subscription to a service like It’s much less expensive and will actually get you to improve your writing.

    My grammar is reasonably good, though. The problem I usually have when searching for an editor is they tend to push whatever it is they do well instead of what I want done.

    • The cost is a problem, I know. And there’s a huge variety of prices out there and a lot of people calling themselves editors. A good editor shouldn’t change your writing too much at all though–it’s all about communication, both with the editor and also with the readers.

  3. I am a retired newspaper editor, so I know how to edit. For my first novel to be published I had an editor and she messed it up so I had to rewrite it. I do my own editing because I can’t afford to pay someone. I write with the spellchecker on. I edit without it because I realize it doesn’t catch misspellings that make another word. I also watch for unwieldy sentences and rehashing what was written in previous chapter. Another reason I do my own editing is I don’t want to lose my writing style to an overzealous editor. When I edit a book for someone else, I try not to change their writing style. I simply tell them where their errors and what they can do to make it better.

  4. Read it out loud, good tip, but it’s surprising how many people don’t even read it, assuming its right. My tip is to always work from a printed copy, never on screen. Print it out. Read, correct, reprint and read again. And don’t call it a waste of paper. If it helps you get it right, it’s not. As for the spell checker, set it to indicate misspelled words but NEVER to autocorrect. This can really screw things up.

  5. Hi Chris.

    Just came across this post, and I wish everyone would read it. I see so many typos in self-published books, and that’s not just because I’m a copy editor and proofreader. Some of it is really basic, not just a question of style. And, like you say, no one should rely on Spellcheck, although I get the feeling that many people do.

    As I mentioned in a blog post the other day, you wouldn’t be happy if a brand-new CD kept jumping when you played it, so why should a book be any different? It diminishes the whole enjoyment of reading, for me at least.

    I know editing and proofreading can be expensive, but surely a writer would want to publish only what they will be proud of, having spent so much time and effort writing the book in the first place.

    I’ve actually started offering cut-rates for indie authors – it remains to be seen how many will come forward…

    All the best.


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