Thursday, July 21, 2016

Self-Editing Tips for the Indie Author: When do you say ‘Done?’

with guest Helen Gray.

There are standard editing steps that most authors follow—but for indie publishing, there are generally a few more. 


Because the buck stops here. We’re on our own. Every writer needs to be a sharp-eyed self-editor, but for indie writers, that’s even more important than ever. We’re the only one responsible for our published output. We have to be more attentive to detail, go a few extra rounds.

While writing a book, I do some editing on chapter one as soon as it’s finished, to be sure I’ve covered necessary elements—GMC, setting, basic story setup—but after that, I don’t edit. I don’t mean I don’t pause to correct typos or simple details, but while I’m working on the first draft, I keep moving forward. I do, however, keep a list of things, as they occur to me, to check when I get done.

Once the manuscript is complete, I make myself shelve it for at least two days, longer if I can keep my antsy little hands off of it. I do something else that’s totally non-writing, like house cleaning, so my brain can take a rest. Then I return to paper-grading mode—pretend I’m back in the classroom, analyzing student reports and business correspondence.

ROUND ONE – The normal stuff most authors do.

I know there are those who insist that all editing be done on-screen, but  like a hard copy to edit. A major reason is that I can flip through the pages easily when I run across what I think are repetitions or inconsistencies that I want to compare in another location. Another reason is that I can read for long periods without glare from the computer screen.

Read it aloud. This exercise can be helpful in identifying awkward sentences, missing and repetitive words, and misspellings.

A. Story Edit

Read through the entire manuscript for structure and content, looking for new ideas and anything that doesn’t fit—plot holes, word usage, redundancies, inconsistent details, and ways to strengthen the story, sentences, and paragraphs. Here’s a checklist:

1. Look up any facts about which you’re unsure.

2. Check formatting.

3. End of scene and chapter hooks.

4. Does each scene move the story forward?

5. Is there plenty of white space?

6. Cut backstory dumps. Weave it in gradually.

7. Have you shown rather than told?

B. Copy Edit

Read for punctuation, spelling, and technical formatting glitches. During this round, check for the following:

1. Run Spell and Grammar Checks.

2. Search out the weasel words—the “pet” ones we say from habit.

3. Check sentence starts. 

4. Trim sentences—probably about ten percent of your words. Write tight. Less is more, and usually better. Watch for repetitions, wishy-washy phrases (in my opinion, it is my belief, etc.), flowery descriptions, too long sentences, and unnecessary adjectives.

5. Check comma usage.

6. Avoid overuse of punctuation (like exclamation marks).

7. Check for proper use of verb conjugation.

8. Check for unnecessary dialogue tags. Almost always use ‘said’ as a tag. Flowery verbs are distracting. Stick with said and asked, with an occasional replied or answered.

9. Check for passive construction. Use active verbs and nouns.

10. Check tenses. It’s easy to lapse into past tense when writing present, or vice versa.

11. Check for alien movement of body parts (her eyes flew to… His head followed …).

12. Be sure you’ve been consistent with the number of spaces before and after chapter headings and scene breaks. 

ROUND TWO – The indie/hybrid round.

Now that I’ve been through those checklists, more than once, it’s time for a few more steps. Here’s my process.

1. I send the manuscript to an editor. 
2. When the manuscript is returned to me, I go back through it again, adding any more edits of my own to what my editor friend has noted. 
3. Then I send it back to my editor, who proofreads it.
4. When she returns it, I insert her changes.
5. Then I proofread the whole thing again. Mistakes happen even in editing. 
6. I may review and polish again. And again. Then I turn it loose and publish it.
7. Now I have one more opportunity to proofread—when the print proof copy comes. 

Then I HAVE to stop. That doesn’t mean it’s perfect. It simply means my brain is getting fuzzy and I will probably do more harm than good if I continue. It’s time to QUIT. It’s DONE.

Are there any steps you do that I’ve missed  Any tricks you want to share? When do you know it's time to stop? Share in the comments!

As a giveaway, I’m making book one of my new Lake Ozark Ladies series, Paige’s Proposal, free today. Help yourself. If you enjoy it, a review is always appreciated.

Paige's Proposal
Proposing to a stranger is strange. Right?

Paige Kimball is manipulated into the ridiculous stunt of proposing to the next man who enters the hotel lobby. Shock follows when the Lake Ozark businessman accepts, gives her a ring, and walks away. 

More shock follows when Paige learns that Holt Taylor is the father of the twin girls who are disrupting her band class with their rowdy behavior. When Holt asks her to befriend his motherless daughters and spend time with them outside of school, she can’t refuse the request. But can Paige maintain this kind of close contact and resist falling for a handsome man who doesn't share her faith—or risk repeating the kind of mistake her mother made? 

Can Holt overcome the betrayals he's suffered and learn to trust God and chance love again?

Enjoy these other books in the Lake Ozark's Ladies Series!
Brooke's Bargain, Haley's Hero and Kelsey's Keeper!

Helen Gray grew up in a small Missouri town and married her pastor. While working alongside her husband in his ministry, she had three children, taught school, directed/accompanied church music programs, and became an amateur ventriloquist. Now retired, with the children gone from the nest, she and her supportive husband still live in their native Missouri Ozarks where he roams the woods, hunts, and fishes, and she weaves stories meant to honor God and depict Christian lives and problems as she knows and observes them. Helen thanks God for the time and opportunity to write and considers it an added blessing if her stories touch others in even a small way.


  1. The coffee pot is brewing!!
    Pull up a chair and have a cuppa.

  2. Hi Helen, I'll pass on the coffee as I'm getting ready to head to bed to read. I'm not a writer, but I do like learning the background to how authors write. All the behind-the-scenes if you will. I'm sure it's almost tougher on an indie writer. For me anyway, I'm my own worst critic, I'd see a flaw or an inconsistency where there is none. I'd need fresh eyes to read my WIP & then I'd probably still edit it to death, lol! I can see where taking 2 days off after a completed manuscript would be beneficial. That gets your brain off of it, doing or thinking about other things so you can come back refreshed and ready to go! I also like where you've said to read it aloud. I've heard other authors say the same thing. It makes sense, because when you hear sentence or paragraph, you can often catch anything missing or off or whatnot. Good idea!

    And I love your last point; Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away. I can see where it would ring true to an author! Again, since I'm not, I'd probably edit it to death and just shred a good story to pieces, lol!

    I'm sure you've learned some of these techniques yourself, probably by trail and error (more error as I would!) I like your way of self-editing as it makes sense to me :-)

    A side note, I went to over to Amazon to pick up your book "Paiges Proposal" but found it to be only free for Kindle Unlimted. Which I don't have :-( The story sounds like a modern day marriage-of-convenience, my top favorite storyline! Just thought I'd give you a heads up! Great post, thanks for sharing. I hope they'll be coffee tomorrow as I'll take a cuppa then!

  3. Welcome to you, Helen!

    Great to have you back. You new series looks like fun!

    How long does it take you to write a book?

  4. Trixi, it's not yet tomorrow in Amazonland PST.

    Come back on the real tomorrow and it will be free.

  5. Oh well, DUH!!! Golly, I forget about the time difference sometimes....sheesh!! Thanks for the reminder Tina, sometimes I amaze even myself :-\

    Now I'm really going to bury my head in a book....Night Seeker/Villagers!

  6. It's set to be free the 21st. Hope Amazon doesn't trip me up.

    Tina, it takes me about 3-4 months to write a Heartsong length book, about 6 months to write a full-length mystery, and about 6 weeks to write a novella. Estimates.

  7. I can see how important it is to know when to stop.

  8. Good morning, Helen!

    Thank you for your helpful post today. Your editing checklists will come in handy. I used to be intimidated by the amount of editing I needed to do on my work until I read an article in Writer's Digest years ago. I don't remember who the article was even about, but the writer in the interview had won a Pulitzer Prize. All I remember is that he claimed to do a minimum of FIFTY editing passes on each piece before sending them out to his publisher. I distinctly remember a huge weight being lifted off my shoulders when it suddenly dawned on me that I didn't have to get it right in the first draft, or even in the tenth, twentieth, or forty-ninth draft. Although, since then I've learned that there's definitely a time when you MUST press send and get a project off your desk.

    To this day (decades after reading that article), I still think about that author's dedication to his work. His perfectionism won him a Pulitzer. But I confess, I truly believe there's a point when all your endless fiddling gets in the way of God's work. I'm with you; if one person finds a nugget of truth in my story, then I'll have done my job. The rest is up to Him.

    P.S. to all my dear Seekers: I've turned the corner. Thanks for your prayers! XOXO

  9. Boy, you've been busy, Helen. Your books look great! Thank you so much for another keeper post...good stuff!

  10. Good morning, Helen! What a great post, and what a lot of books. Congratulations! Also thanks for Paige's Proposal.

    Thanks for the checklists!

  11. Helen, welcome back! And congrats on all of your success!!! Happy dancing for you!

    I love having a strong editor look at my indie work because everything I put out there is a reflection of what I love... great stories! So I'm in total agreement here.

    And thank you for the coffee, it hits the spot! So good to see you here on this side of the table!!!

    Hugs to you and for you!

  12. HELEN, thanks the excellent post on the steps we need to take before indie publishing. An editor is key. Where did you find yours? Who does your covers? They're adorable! Love the premise of Paige's Proposal!


  13. THANK YOU, Helen for your generous book give-away - got it. Now, looking at your author page on Amazon, I see I have been missing a lot of your work. I muust rectify that, because I've certainly enjoyed every book of yours I've acquired in the past. I will gladly post a review too, after I've read it. (Yay! something for my Kindle for this weekend's trip to the Smokey Mtns).

    Your editing tips are very straight-forward. Simple and yet... not so simple when one is attempting to perfect their manuscript. Thanks for reminding us that there is a time to stop and let our little birdy fly from the nest.

    Wonderful to see a Seeker Villager thriving. Gives me hope for me.

  14. Great tips Helen. I like your covers - sometimes I miss seeing them when I read mostly on Kindle so I enjoyed your pictures today. Everyone, if you haven't read Paige's Proposal, go get it NOW! Such a sweet story - and you will love the twins as well as the hero and heroine. Helen's book are all on my must-read (and review!) list.

  15. Great check list to follow, Helen.

    Love your mention of needing to stop at a certain point. There's always more that can be done.

  16. Hello, Helen!!!

    I'm so excited for you! I remember when we roomed together at ACFW two years ago, you were considering indie publishing...but still not sure if you wanted to dip your toes in that pond.

    But look at you now! And you're doing it right. :) I hope you're celebrating every day.

  17. Good morning, HELEN! What a treasure trove of great tips! I'm the world's worst when it comes to making myself STOP editing. Only contracted deadlines call a halt as I'm the type who'd be at my own book signing and saying "just a second and I'll sign this for you, but first let me redline page 54." :)

  18. I just checked Amazon, TRIXI, and Paige's Proposal is currently free on Kindle. Not just Unlimited.

  19. Helen, your books look like fun!
    Those are my favorite kind.

    I've never tried indie, but I can imagine the pressure to get it right. I also don't read many since I only read paperbacks and most are e-books, but I hear the biggest complaints is the mistakes. My daughter has a friend who does pretty well at self-publishing. She said her biggest pet peeve w/the author is using the same phrases over and over. She doesn't know if it's the books themselves, or she recognizes the phrases from knowing her personally. (Hope that makes sense.)

    Really enjoyed the post.

  20. Mary Preston,
    Yes, it's important to stop, but hard to know when. :)

  21. Renee,
    I've also read about authors who do a lot more editing than what I do.
    I guess the big motivator to find a place to quit editing one book is so I can get going on the next one!

  22. Jill and Jackie,

    Yes, I've been busy, and it' a lot of books.
    Since the Heartsong Presents line closed, I've published 13 books and 4 novellas.

  23. Ruthie,

    Hugs back at your. Wish I could do it in person.

    I'm having fun. :)

  24. Helen, I agree that at some point you have to say the book is finished and I've done my best.

    When I send my story to an editor, I can take a break for awhile. After the editor returns it to me, I re-read the manuscript with fresh eyes. Distance from the story helps a lot.

    Thanks for the editing tips!

  25. Janet,

    I commissioned Rogenna Brewer to create the first two covers I indie published. Then Cynthia Hickey of Forget Me Not Romances has done the rest.

    Paige's Proposal was a fun project.

  26. DebH,

    Delighted that you read and enjoy my books--and post reviews. :)

    I'm a list maker, and follower!
    It took me 30 years to get traditionally published. I don't have another 30 years to spend pursuing another publisher. So I'm doing my own thing.

  27. Cindy,

    You are such a faithful reader and reviewer--and so appreciated. Thank you!

    As I've said, I'm a list maker and user.

    Each of my Missouri series are set in parts of the state where my husband has pastored, so I'm personally familiar with them. I taught school about 20 miles from the Lake of the Ozarks.

  28. Debby,

    I'm linear, anal, tedious, etc. But I finish projects. And list help me do that. :)

  29. Jan Drexler,

    You were a great roomie!
    Looking forward to seeing you at conference this year.

    And, yeah, I'm signed up for choir. :)

  30. Glynna Kaye,

    Yes, it's hard to stop. But at some point we need to write another book. :)

  31. Connie,

    I try to watch the repetitive phrases, bit it's easy for them to slip in there. :)

  32. Cara,

    You're absolutely right. That break refreshes our minds and lets us see things we won't when we're tired.

  33. Hi Helen et al:

    I just love the settings for your books! But then I don't live far from the Ozarks. Have you seen the IMAX movie, "Ozarks: Legacy & Legend" which is always playing in Branson? I think you'd love it. I like to see it at least once a year.

    But I have a question to ask:

    Isn't the whole idea of self-editing somewhat paradoxical? Should you really allow the person who made the mistakes in the first place be responsible for finding and correcting those same mistakes?

    Isn't that like buying two copies of the same morning newspaper to use one copy to check if the first copy was telling the truth?

    At best, self-editing is like grading your own test papers and at worst it's like having the blind lead the blind. (Of course, if all you have are blind and you must transverse a mind field, then having the blind lead the blind makes perfect sense.)

    Well, in any event, if people believe they can lift themselves up by their own bootstraps, then a belief in self-editing is not that big a stretch.

    Of course, there is much to be said for self-reliance. In fact, much has been said about it. Now, as to self-editing, (like self-baptizing and self-ordaining), if one must do it, then one should do it as well as possible.

    First, I like to edit in passes. For this I often use a hard copy. Usually each pass is made to simply find one type of mistake. These passes are very fast and effective because I am looking for only one problem at a time. For example, I often write 'you' for the word 'your'. I'll use one pass to check every 'you' in the manuscript.

    By editing in passes, I don't have to keep twelve problem areas in mind, at the same time, as in your "B.Copy Edit" list, for example.

    I will also edit and read copy backwards so I will not let the sense of the copy interfere with finding typos. My mind loves to auto correct everything so I can read faster with no interruption in my thought process. This is great for cavemen hunting in a group needing instandly understood communications; however, it is not the best feature for self-editing copy.

    When editing a whole page, as a Gestalt, like a full newspaper advertisement, I will squint and blur the page. In this way mistakes, the brain would otherwise miss, often become noticeable once the context of those mistakes becomes obscured. Try it. It works.

    That's how I do it but then I often have as much success self-editing as the person who believes he can sneak up on a mirage.

    And yes, thanks, for making the odds 100% for winning a copy of " Paige's Proposal." It's very nice to make everyone a winner!


    P.S. It seems I survived my hospital stay yesterday. The doctor shocked my heart and was able to get the various chambers to once again march to the beat of the same drummer. Thanks to all those who offered prayers. I have no doubt they were answered.

  34. Vince,

    I've not seen that movie. Maybe I will sometime when I go visit kids in Branson and Springfield.

    Your "passes" method of editing sounds like what some call layering.

    As for self editing, I do the best I can at it, but I don't rely on just my personal efforts. They get at least two, sometimes more, edits by others.

    Happy to hear of your successful hospital visit.

  35. Thank you so much! I have been stressing over just this problem. I have a YA contemporary I have gone over so many times. I have decided this is the last time since I have learned so much and then I hope to release it out into the world. I know HE will put it where it needs to be. I just love this checklist!
    Thanks again!

  36. Jen,
    I'm glad to hear you're moving on with your project. I wish you the best.

  37. "Since the Heartsong Presents line closed, I've published 13 books and 4 novellas."

    Wowza, Helen. That is amazing.

    Are you a big plotter?

    And how do you write? Desktop, laptop on the go?

    What is your writing schedule like?

  38. "P.S. to all my dear Seekers: I've turned the corner. Thanks for your prayers! XOXO"

    Hurrah, hurrah for this moment.

  39. "P.S. It seems I survived my hospital stay yesterday. The doctor shocked my heart and was able to get the various chambers to once again march to the beat of the same drummer. Thanks to all those who offered prayers. I have no doubt they were answered."

    Lots of good news P.S. today!


  40. Tina,

    I'm tedious. :)
    I plot, research, outline, and plot some more.
    My outlines are not detailed, but they're complete. I use a simple Word table and make simple 2-3 sentence scene descriptions for each chapter (15 for books, 12 for novellas). That way I can look at that table and see the beginning, middle, and end sections and whether I've included inciting incidents at critical points to keep the story moving (like preventing a sagging middle). I can also copy/paste things around if I decide the sequence isn't working.

    As for how I write, I'm almost afraid to tell you,since it will probably get me laughed out of here.
    I have a desktop and a laptop, but I also have a THREE RING BINDER. I write out my stories in longhand. There's just something about that brain-to-hand process that works for me--and I can't create fast enough to keep the keyboard going. (I told you I'm slow and tedious.) When I finish a chapter, I immediately type it into my laptop. And it gets its first dab of editing as I do so.
    As for a schedule, my days vary. But I consistently produce at least SOME words each day. We're making more and more trips to doctors (for hubby), and my notebook travels with me. Time in waiting rooms goes much fast if I'm working.

  41. Not laughing. I submit a lot of stories to Woman's World and I write all of them longhand first. For some things it just works.

  42. Helen, No laughs here. I love to write in longhand too. When I get stuck in my story, turning to paper and pens always gets me unstuck.

  43. Hi Helen and welcome to Seekerville. How fun to have you not only bring coffee, but lovely words of advice. Great tips and words we should all heed. I think having an editor read your story is absolutely necessary. We are too close and think what is in our head is on the page. LOL Not always so.

    Have fun today and thanks again for posting today.

    Thanks also for the ebook.

  44. Oh yes, I write long hand also. I read an article once where they surveyed writers. Half wrote on the computer and half wrote long-hand. They said those who wrote long hand had less revisions and editing. Probably because the slower process gives you more time to think it out.

  45. Tina, Jill, and Sandra:

    Thanks for not laughing. I feel better now.

    I think I read that same article, Sandra. When I finish a story, it's all there. It may not be clean copy, but the story is complete, and easier to edit than if I had to add all kind of threads and scenes.

  46. From Mental Floss

    4 Benefits from Writing by Hand





  47. Glad to have you back, Helen! This is a comprehensive self-editing list and worth printing out for regular reference. Thanks!

  48. TINA, I wonder if it makes a difference whether you use longhand or print.

    However, the very idea of trying to write my books by hand just ties my brain in knots. I LOVE the speed of the keyboard so my fingers can keep up with my thoughts!

  49. VINCE, did you have a-fib? Project Guy had it a couple of times after getting his stent several years ago. The fix each time was a "shocking" experience, and the second time they weren't as proactive with the sedation. Some very bad language was reportedly heard in the procedure room.

  50. Tina,
    I LOVE your four points. They make me feel justified.

    Happy to be here. Appreciate the opportunity.
    Longhand has to be much faster than printing. :)

  51. Just glad I wasn't in there at the time, TINA!

  52. Hi Helen! Thank you for the free e-book!

    Thank you, too, for this super and concise guide. I'll be printing a copy of your post for each WIP and using it as a checklist. I found with my current WIP that printing it on one side of the paper is working well -- that way the blank back of the previous page serves as a place to write notes, comments, things to check, etc., for the page I'm reading. By the way, I'm keeping all this in a three-ring binder :-)

    All your recent books are contemporary. Do you plan to write more historical in the future?

    Nancy C

  53. Helen, great post! Bookmarking for future reference! :)

    Vince, so glad you made it through with flying colors.

  54. Vince, sorry you had such a shocking experience but very glad it worked :-)

    Nancy C

  55. It sounds like you've covered all the bases, Helen!

  56. Helen, we're so glad to have you post today! I loved these reminders. I totally agree about how difficult it is to let the story rest before I start editing. I also like to print at least once or twice because I always find problems on paper that I didn't see on screen.

  57. Helen, your checklists are a great help. It's so interesting to learn about your writing process. And, WOW, you have been busy! We ALL win a free book?!?! I just downloaded Paige's Proposal. (Did you teach music/band?) Thank you!

  58. Chill N,

    I also write notes on the back side of pages, primarily when I decide to insert information or scenes.

    There was a historical series between the two contemporary series.
    My four novellas are contemporary, but I have two more contracted, one contemporary and one historical. And I have two more historical novellas floating around in my head. :)

  59. Pam,

    Glad you find my list credible. :)

  60. Barbara,

    There's always another base to cover. :)

  61. Missy,

    You would say I'm linear. I say I have tunnel vision. I don't like to put a project aside until it's FINISHED. But I truly think a little time away from it makes editing go better. And I use a LOT of paper and ink. :)

  62. Me too. I am environmentally unfriendly. Although I do use recycled toner cartridges and I print on the back of my manuscript pages too.

    So slightly less trees.

  63. Sherida,

    I rely on my lists. Heavily.

    I taught high school business, my certified area, but I taught high school band/choir two years in a special circumstance. I also directed church music programs for many years.

  64. Tina,

    I sometimes buy recycled cartridges, but not often. I got 3 or 4 bad ones, and it kind of ruined that for me.

  65. HELEN,

    Your covers are great recommendations for your cover designers work! Have you used the same editor for all the books?


  66. Yay! We'll be choir buddies again! :)

  67. I can see benefits for writing in longhand but my handwriting has deteriorated to the point, I can't read it.


  68. Janet,

    Post Heartsong, Ruthie's daughter, Beth, edited my first two series. Then I started working with two local women who always come to my book signings and rave about my books. Both of them are retired teachers, one of them taught English in our local high school and still teaches part-time at a nearby college. They both offered editing services (at a price I guarantee you can't beat), and have each edited a series for me.

    My cover designers have both done good work for me.

    Poor handwriting (and scribbles all over the pages) are why I type the chapters IMMEDIATELY after completion. :)

  69. Hi Helen!

    It's great to see you here today. I read your post this morning, but didn't have time to leave a comment until now.

    You gave great self-editing tips for both traditionally and independent authors.

    Looks like everything is going great in your writing career!

  70. Rose!

    Great that you stopped by.

    I'm having a good time.

  71. Hi, HELEN! This is a wonderful checklist for editing! I've got several manuscripts in various stages and this hit on something for all of them. Thank you so much!!

  72. Laura,

    Thanks for dropping by. Hope you're able to make use of the lists.

  73. HELEN!!! Please forgive the delay in my comment. I actually read (and loved!) your post this morning, and then my hubby dragged me away for something or other, and the day got away from me after that.

    VERY important message for indie authors because there's too much competition out there to put out sloppy product.

    You said after all your excellent editing points: "Then I HAVE to stop. That doesn’t mean it’s perfect. It simply means my brain is getting fuzzy and I will probably do more harm than good if I continue. It’s time to QUIT. It’s DONE."

    I have to laugh because there was a saying at my husband's workplace that always came into play after umpteen hours spent to get a presentation or show out on the road, and that was: Sometimes done is better than good. ;) There comes a point in every project (and every ms.) when you just have to put it down because done is better than your concept of good. :)

    Your statement also makes me smile because I wish I had heard and heeded it on my first book, A Passion Most Pure, which I edited over 60 times. Of course, it wasn't published yet, and I was still trying to get a publisher to take it on, so I kept polishing instead of writing new books. I sigh when I think how many books I could have written in the time I took editing just that one, so I do regret that. But, the one positive was that I had the fewest edits on that book than any other. :)

    Thanks for a great post!


  74. Hi Janet:

    Yes, it was Afib. Thankfully I was put under and did not know what happened. My wife said it took three jolts to get it right. I believe that is the most they do at one time. I feel a lot better already. Often the adjustment does not hold and they have to do the procedure again in the future. I hope it holds for as long as possible.

    I hope your husband stays well. I've had a heart valve replacement so that made me a much higher risk to get Afib.


  75. Vince Hang in there. We need you. smile