As of 2018, the rate of book publishing in the United States surpassed 1 million per year. With that type of competition, anyone who desires to earn a living with a fiction writer needs to do something considerable to differentiate themselves from the masses of other hopefuls. Trade publishers still exist and provide the necessary gatekeeping that helps to maintain the quality levels of published novels. However, fiction writers turn to self-publishing to get their book out there as a product with increasing frequency.

Whatever your particular focus – trade or self-publishing – the fundamental need for self-editing still exists. Yes, you will either have to hire a skilled independent editor or use the services of a publisher-specific one to bring your book up to professional levels. First, however, take the time and put in the effort necessary to edit it yourself.

These four stages of self-editing for fiction writers will help you not only create a better product in the end but give you valuable insight that may increase the quality of your next first draft.

Story or Structural Editing

Does your timeline make sense? Are there any glaring plot holes you have to fill in? Do your characters act in ways that make sense? Story or structural editing is also called developmental editing when you hire someone to help you. This first round may include quite a bit of rewriting and restructuring, so everything makes sense.

Style or Voice Editing

Fix awkward passages, chop out unneeded paragraphs, and change the language, pacing, emotion, and flow so that the story creates the right feel for the reader. This is not about correcting grammar. That comes in the next step. Instead, this stage of editing involves making the book feel and sound like you want it to.

Copy or Line Editing

During the line editing phase, you fix grammar errors, punctuation mistakes, spelling problems, and technical aspects of quality writing. Your story should be set and convey both the information and emotive qualities you desire by this time. Now is the time to make everything accurate and consistent.


This final self-editing task gives a piece of fiction that final polish. This is where you remove all misspellings, grammar mistakes, punctuation errors, and formatting fumbles that you missed on all the other passes. 

Proper self-editing techniques that include the four stages listed above help you create higher-quality fiction. If you are submitting to a trade publication, this process may increase your chance of acceptance. If you intend to self-publish, it may minimize the cost of a professional editor.

As writers are judged for the content of their book and the accuracy of the language, you must do everything possible to fix and polish it before you release it to the world. At the very least, going through this process a few times will make your writing stronger because you will know what to avoid from the start.

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