How To Edit A Book And Make Sure You Do It The Right Way

Editi A Book

When you sit down to edit a book, you want to improve your story and your writing.

It’s a good idea to do a thorough grammar and spell check before you start. You also have a choice of free and premium book editing software tools to help you.

But a grammar check can’t edit a story. The real editing process starts when you carefully read your manuscript, line by line.

If you don’t have a professional editor, you can learn how to edit a book by following my checklist of twenty areas to check.

Editing is polishing

When you write a book, it takes a long time.

It could be weeks or months between the chapters you’ve written. Because of this, you will likely have some inconsistencies, mismatches, and style changes.

If you can’t afford a professional editing service, you can still improve and polish your manuscript.

It doesn’t matter if you self-publish or try to find a traditional publisher through a literary agent.

You should always aim to make your manuscript as perfect as possible. You are not putting your best foot forward if you send an unedited draft manuscript to an agent or even beta readers.

Worse still is to self-publish your book without a thorough edit.


The book editing process

There are so many aspects to manuscript editing. You certainly need to focus on character development and a consistent point of view and look for any plot holes.

You also want to pay attention to words and phrases that are overused, inconsistent, or incorrect. This is often referred to as copy editing or perhaps line editing.

Learning how to edit a book is a slow and painstaking process. But you can make it easier if you have a list of focus points in mind before you begin.


20 Point checklist to edit your book

The following points are the most common areas that usually need careful attention.

Premium tools like Prowritingaid can certainly help you improve your writing clarity and reduce grammar and spelling errors.

But a grammar checker will never find problems in your story.

You can’t rely on a grammar checker to help you when it comes time to edit your manuscript.

Keep the following points in mind as you go through the process of self-editing and improving the quality and accuracy of your writing.

You can use the infographic checklist below to remind you of all the points you need to remember when you edit a book.

Each topic is explained in detail below.

how to edit a book checklist


1. Check your characters’ names

There is nothing more annoying for a reader than inconsistency in the spelling of character names.

Ann or Anne, Cathy or Kathy, Jeffrey or Jeffery, Alan or Allan,  Allison or Alison, Elizabeth or Elisabeth, or Lindsay or Lindsey?

If you have character profile cards, make a list of all your characters and keep them next to you when you edit.

It is rare that you won’t find typos or misspellings with names.

Check every mention of your characters’ names very carefully.


2. Excessive use of the passive voice

You can’t always avoid using passive sentences, but you should always aim to use them as little as possible.

In most cases, it’s easy to rewrite a sentence in the active voice.

He was shocked when he was sentenced to three months in prison for dangerous driving. Passive

He was shocked when the judge sentenced him to three months in prison for dangerous driving. Active

An easy way to find passive sentences is to use the free Hemingway editor. Then you can rewrite as many as you can.


3. Remove weak adverbs

Stephen King calls adverbs weeds.

Look for your use of adverbs, especially with dialogue tags, and try to replace them with a strong verb.

“I don’t know if I can take any more of this,” she said quietly.

“I don’t know if I can take any more of this,” she whispered.

The car drove away very quickly.

The car sped away.


4. Omit the fluff

Look for long sentences that can slow down your story.

If you use excessive defining and non-defining clauses or adverbial clauses, you can often delete them.

Here’s an example of fluff in writing.

Well, you know I think it would be better, given what has happened, or could happen, if we agreed to postpone the wedding to later in the year.

Let’s put off the wedding because of what’s happening.


5. Look for redundancies

Redundancy is when there is a word or phrase that is not necessary. In other words, you are saying the same thing twice.

She blinked her eyes. What else can you blink?

He shrugged his shoulders. What other parts of the body can you shrug?

They heard the sound of a car backfiring. A car backfiring makes a loud sound, so there is no need to say it twice.

She wrote an autobiography of her life. An autobiography is always about a person’s life.


6. Avoid unnecessary prepositions

Yes, you can use phrasal verbs. But sometimes, the main verb is strong enough to describe what is happening.

She sat down on the chair.

He started out on his trek to Nepal.

They started up the generator.


7. Double-check your facts and figures

Nothing ruins an author’s credibility faster than getting basic facts wrong.

While it is critical for nonfiction books, it can also apply to fiction novels. Whenever you cite or mention a fact, check that you are correct.

Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon on July 14th, 1968 20th 1969.

King John ruled during the 13th century. John was King of England from 1199 until his death in 1216.

Typhoid is a viral, bacterial disease spread through contaminated food, water, or close contact.


8. Remove that when possible

Very often, the pronoun that can be removed when it serves no purpose.

It was the same car that he drove to three world championships.

There were three rooms in the house that were painted green.

It’s the smell of roses that I love.


9. Don’t over punctuate

You can be creative with punctuation, but don’t go overboard trying to paint a page with it.

“You know …” he started, “I hate my job! My boss is so … well–nasty and, to be honest, vindictive TOO!”

“I hate my boss because he is nasty and vindictive,” he said.


10. Avoid tired clichés

Expressions like kicked the bucket or as dead as a dodo are always best replaced with a more original phrase. You could just as easily say died.

Also, watch out for situational clichés like there was a knock at the door, or she asked her mirror.

Always aim for originality in your writing wherever possible.


11. Let your characters say things

There are many words for said, but you should go easy on trying to replace it. Readers have a blind spot for he said, she said.

But they don’t have one for annoying dialogue tag verbs that over-explain.

Verbs such as grunted, retorted, wheezed, gasped, sighed, laughed, snorted, exclaimed, or declared are often better changed to said.

Mary was very tired and in a bad mood when she got home after work and didn’t feel like cooking. “I think I’ll just order a pizza,” she snorted said.


12. Don’t stage direct

Too much detail can bore readers. There’s no need to explain every small action.

When he arrived home, he reached for his keys in his jacket pocket and tiredly opened the front door before taking off his jacket and flopping onto his sofa, exhausted.

After he arrived home, he flopped onto his sofa.


13. Check your characters’ voices

You should know how your characters talk. Do certain characters use a lot of slang, or do others speak more formally?

Check the register you use for each one and make sure it stays consistent.

If a character says hi y’all, how’s it going or what d’ya mean, it would seem unreal if they suddenly used how do you do, that is gracious of you, or thank you indeed for reminding me.

An excellent way to check this is to copy and paste one character’s dialogue into a document and read it aloud.


14. Nothing’s happening

If nothing is happening, don’t bother explaining it.

He didn’t arrive.

She didn’t say a word.

He didn’t go to the bank.


15. Avoid adjective chains

When you describe something, try to use one strong adjective instead of two or three weaker ones.

The morning was very cold, gray, and bleak.

It was a freezing morning.


16. Degrading verbs

When you see a verb weakened by crutch words such as a little, a bit, almost, or nearly, you can usually avoid using them.

He almost smiled. He tried to smile.

She nearly missed her bus. She just managed to catch the bus.

He was only a little bit late. He was late, but only by a few minutes.


17. Grade your vocabulary

Mark Twain said, “Don’t use a five-dollar word when a fifty-cent word will do.”

Complex words can certainly show off your expansive vocabulary. But they can also drive a reader to a dictionary instead of reading your book.

Go easy on them. It’s better to be understood than be seen as a sesquipedalian writer.


18. Check the eyes

If your character flashes her big blue eyes in chapter two and then flashes her big brown eyes in chapter eleven, you have a problem to fix.

When you edit your book, check your character details and events carefully.

It can happen so easily that a character has two brothers at the start of a story but suddenly has three brothers halfway through.

One of the best ways to maintain consistency is to use character profile cards.

fiction character profile

Another element to check is the minor events and details that arise in your story.

In one book I wrote, I remember that a character put a six-pack of beer into his empty refrigerator. Three chapters later, he returned to find only eleven left.

Yes, keep the big picture in mind, but don’t forget about the details.


19. Don’t be afraid to chop

More words don’t make for a better story.

Check your narrative, especially, and make sure you are not waffling. World-building and scene-setting are necessary, but don’t let them occupy half of your story.

Say only what needs to be said.


20. Take lots of breaks

It is a long job to edit a book manuscript. Don’t expect to do it all in one day.

Take it one step at a time, and give yourself plenty of rest in between. Then you can come back to your book with fresh eyes.

It’s not about how fast you can edit but how well you can do it.

Use this checklist to help you plan your schedule and tackle one or two issues at a time.

On day one, check your characters’ names. On the second day, check for excessive passive voice. Day three, you choose.



Some book editors spend more time working on a manuscript than the author spent writing it.

The more time you invest in self-editing your book, the better the final result will be.

If you still plan to hire an editor, it will cost you much less because of all the work you did.

When you are querying your book to agents, you stand a much better chance of success if your manuscript is perfect.

For self-publishing authors, good self-editing and using beta readers can help you sell many more books.

There are so many ebooks on Amazon that are full of typos and mistakes.

You can rise above the pack with quality writing and editing.


Related reading: How To Check Dialogue Writing Consistency In Your Manuscript

2 thoughts on “How To Edit A Book And Make Sure You Do It The Right Way”

  1. Yes! I happen to believe that Positive and Negative can be as important as Passive and Active.
    What do you think?

    1. Avatar for nagaraja koodli
      nagaraja koodli

      positive and negative don’t provide for initiative.

      passive and active are words which provide for action, indicatig dynamism. they are preferred.

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