How To Edit A Book

how to edit a book

Congrats, hurrah, and well-done! You’ve learned how to write a book and finished the first draft.

If this is your first rodeo, then this is a big step and you should be proud. Truly take your achievement to heart and feel good about your toughness to research, outline, and write enough to get your first draft completed.

This process can feel similar to running a marathon if you’ve never done it before. So I think making it to this point deserves a small celebration, especially because most people never get this far!

However, don’t celebrate for too long because experienced authors know the journey has just begun and to expect more hurdles on the horizon.

The next obstacle in the way of getting your book published is proper editing. You may think using your Microsoft Word or Google Doc’s spell check tool will be enough, but you’re very mistaken.

How you edit a book is not the same as how you would edit your completion grade college paper. There is a lot more to editing than dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s.

And an unpolished book can shine negatively on you, your business, and your future work. Virtually destroying all the gains you desire for publishing your book in the first place.

Plus, if you spend so much energy writing your book, you want to finish the job right so everything you say is clearly communicated to the reader and your message reaches as many people as possible.

So let’s finish strong. You’ll be grateful when you get rewarded for it.

Here are four steps to polish your book into a masterpiece.

Step 1: Read With The Big Picture In Mind

With your first draft complete, it’s time to read through your entire book with the big idea in mind. The key here is to analyze your book’s organization, structure, and flow.

Ask yourself these questions when doing the big idea read through:

  • Does my book deliver the message I intended?
  • Are there any holes that would leave the reader confused?
  • What sections or chapters need to be reconstructed?
  • Is my voice and interest in the subject obvious?
  • Are the transitions smooth from the introduction to the last chapter?
  • Would my book be clearer if I deleted certain paragraphs or entire chapters?

We’re looking for the big ideas here and how they’re communicated. Essentially, look at your book in this step the same way you would look at the forest and not the trees.

And when you see something you want to change, make comments or scribble notes to come back to it.

Assuming you’re writing your book on Google Docs (I prefer Google Docs because it automatically saves your work), here’s how you make a comment:

1. Highlight the text you need to come back to.

2. Scroll to the header and click ‘Insert.’

3. Click ‘Comment’ on the drop down menu.

editing your book with comments

4. Type in a note to yourself for when it’s time rewrite it

But, it’s important that you don’t go past making comments to actually edit your book in this step. If this happens, you will waste too much time in the weeds and lose the big idea perspective—the whole point of this step.

In the same way that it doesn’t make sense to decorate the outside of a house before the foundation is established, it doesn’t make sense to try to change awkward wording before your book’s structure is completed.

You’re going to revise your book in the next step based off of the observations you came up with in this read through. Be patient and trust the process.

Step 2: Rewrite The Content

With all the comments you made on your document in Step 1, now is the time to rewrite those sections.

If you did Step 1 correctly, you’ll have an easy roadmap that marks where you need to spend your time.

Use the mental framework of rewriting with your target audience in mind. That will help you get away from your personal bias to write a better book for the public.

Here are some questions to think about as you edit your book’s content:

  • Based on your audience’s understanding of the subject matter, is your text too simple or too technical for them?
  • What ideas need to be clearer?
  • Do parts of your book need to be rearranged so your book flows better?
  • What sections are boring and could use a story or more passionate writing style?

The way you answer these questions with your revisions is a vital step in the editing process. An editor can only help you so much later, but they aren’t inside your mind so you need to lead them.

Again, only focus on fixing the content here and the structure of your book. In the next step we will look at the grammar and spelling, but that’s a tiny priority compared to content.

Above all else, I can’t stress the importance of keeping the ball moving in this process so you can publish your book. And focusing on one thing at a time is designed to help you do just that so you don’t get stuck, or even worse, give up.

Step 3: Read Out Loud For Grammar And Spelling

Now it’s time to polish your book’s grammar and spelling before an editor takes it.

The best way to edit your book for grammar and spelling isn’t some automatic online tool or software program. Instead, you’ll find the most errors and confusing wording by simply reading your book out loud.

When you speak and hear your words, you force your mind to slow down and take every word into account. And this helps you catch typos, awkward phrases, and unclear language that could turn off your readers.

(I’ve also found that reading out loud can help you find more structure issues and gaps in your book. So if you do find a few of those, be sure to make content edits in this step, too.)

The problem with reading in your head is you’re prone to go too fast and you don’t get the true idea of how a sentence sounds. So make sure to speak what you wrote from start to finish.

And if you want to go all in, I recommend printing your book off before you read it out loud to yourself. Many people find more mistakes when they read a physical page compared to a digital screen. It’s up to you though.

In the moments you do stumble over your words while reading, you need to stop right there and either write it a different way or cut that portion. In my experience, many of the places where I’m forced to pause are too wordy so I rewrite the same message in a more concise manner.

Once you’ve edited the section that tripped you up, go back a sentence or two and read your new text out loud to make sure it sounds smooth.

If this activity starts to feel uncomfortably tedious, just remember the more time and effort you put into this step means the less your editor and you will have to cover in the next step.

Step 4: Hire An Editor

Now that you’ve gotten your book ready to be passed on, here’s how to find an editor and ensure your book is finished off the right way.

There are two different options.

Option one is to hire someone you know. For my two books, Freedom Money and The Golden Resume, I hired a friend I went to college with—and who now works at a newspaper—to edit my book.

Because I have familiarity with her writing and editing ability, I felt comfortable working with her. Plus, we already had built up trust together so it was a great fit and I continue to have her edit my books.

If you don’t know any editors or a peer good for the job, then option two is to hire a stranger to edit your book from a service site like Upwork.com.

This could be unfamiliar territory if you haven’t worked with someone digitally, but I assure you it’s low risk. The freelancer who you hire is going to do quality work because they want to get paid, receive a nice review from you, and get future jobs on this site.

Assuming you work through Upwork.com, here’s what to do:

1. Create an account.

2. Click the heading ‘Post a Job.’ Select the category ‘Writing’ and then narrow it down to ‘Editing & Proofreading.’

3. Title the job “Need an editor for my book.”

4. Describe the details of your book and what you want done including: your book’s subject; how many words; the voice you’re going for; that you need content editing and copyediting; when you need the editing completed by (I recommend two weeks); and explain that you’re going to attach a couple pages for them to test edit with track changes on and return to you.

5. Remember to attach two sample pages from your book for them to test edit.

6. Select ‘One-time project’ and ‘I want to hire one freelancer.’ Select ‘Pay a fixed price.’

7. Set the budget to be around $75 for every 10,000 words of text (or $0.0075 per word). So if your book is 20,000 words, then set your budget at $150. A higher budget is likely to attract better editors, so keep that in mind.

8. Click ‘Post Job’ and see the responses you get.

When it comes to picking one editor, you can narrow your decision by looking at their previous job ratings and customer comments. But, the most important tool in your evaluation is going to be the test edits returned to you.

Pick the one who is best able to capture your voice and make content and copy edits that you agree need to be fixed.

Then give him or her instructions to do the entire content edit for the first four days. Then have them send the document back to you where you will accept or reject (or add to) their track changes for the next three days. That’s week one.

On week two, tell them to proofread your book for grammar, awkward wording, and typos for the next four days. Then you will accept or reject their track changes to finish out this week and the entire editing process.

If you have your editor use Google Docs with you during this process, make sure you click the ‘Editing’ pencil icon on the top right and change the mode to ‘Suggesting’ to track each other’s changes and accept or reject their edits.

edit with google suggestions

While the editing process can be a beast at times and you might get sick of reading what you wrote after awhile, it’s certainly worth it. Putting your book through this will make the difference from a bunch of scrambled ideas to a fine tuned masterpiece.

And if you complete these four steps and edit a book properly, you won’t have to worry about getting a negative review on Amazon for poor editing. 

Once your book is edited, see how to self publish a book and avoid these self publishing formatting errors. Then you can start selling it.

Want to take the first step to becoming a bestselling author today? Check out my author coaching program.

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