Authors Helping Authors: Self-Editing

We didn’t get a Friday Authors Helping Authors post. So how about a Sunday extra by yours truly. 🙂

I have a confession to make. Despite the pressure to hire an editor, I forwent one with Shadow Cat. Yes, it’s true. Shadow Cat has never visited a professional editor. I’m still waiting for someone to tell me to run it through a proofer. My mother told me last week she found one error in the first 100 pages. Another writer mentioned I’d spelled “entrée” as “entree” in chapter 2.

I cringed when those errors were pointed out. Were there more? Most likely. After all, I’m not perfect.

“Have you found any more errors?” I couldn’t help but probe from time to time.

One or a couple was the typical response after finishing Shadow Cat. Of course they could have overlooked some. They’re not perfect either. 🙂

So I told myself, three or four errors wasn’t bad. Please let it only be three or four errors. [crosses fingers] A traditionally published book gets looked over by several people and still has errors in it. Doesn’t justify shoddy work, of course, but it does allow for the human factor to come into play (within reason).

So why you ask did I forgo an editor? The simple reason is I’m not in the position to shell out that kind of money. For a 90K+ piece of work, we’re easily talking in the thousands of $$$. The salary of a stay-at-home mom (SAHM) doesn’t quite cover that. And let’s face it, kickass editing doesn’t guarantee a financial return.

HOWEVER, I still value presenting the best foot forward. I don’t want people to look at my work and label me as unprofessional, sloppy, or any other unpleasant adjective. So I do the best I can, and now I’m going to share with you the tools I use to do it.


I do my writing through a program called StoryBox, which includes a spell check feature. I typically use it to spot check while writing, but for the big editing, I still prefer MS Word. The red underlines really catch my attention. Plus it includes a grammar check. I export my work into an rtf file, do a quick spelling/grammar check in MS Word, then I import my work back into StoryBox.

I edit my work in sections (usually a scene). For me, it’s just easier to work in pieces. And since I use StoryBox, I can set the status to First Draft, Second Draft, Final, or Done for each scene depending on the stage I’m in. By the way, StoryBox is inexpensive—$35 last I checked. You can try before you buy, so it’s virtually risk free. I have to say, I’m quite satisfied with the program. I wish I’d know programs like that were available when I first started writing, because MS Word definitely isn’t designed with the novelist in mind.

My most important tool when editing is text-to-speech. It’s easy to overlook errors. Often our minds read what we expect to see rather than what’s really there. Some folks say to read the work aloud, but even then I sometimes read what I expect. Not with text-to-speech software. The program reads exactly what’s there (with a few oddities). Not only does it help me pick up silly errors the spelling/grammar checks miss, but also ensure the sentences and paragraphs flow well.


Bryan added with a winked.


Why in the world spelling/grammar check doesn’t catch that, I don’t know. My eyes might miss it, but my ears give me another chance.

If you’re using Windows, you likely have a feature called Narrator. It’s rather computer sounding, but it’s free. SAHM, remember? Free is good. The way Narrator runs is so flakey, it’s almost worthless as it is. So why in the heck am I mentioning it? When implemented in a program, it’s effective.

StoryBox has text-to-speech which uses the Narrator program. Ctrl + Shift + s toggles the feature on and off. If you don’t have StoryBox, shame on you. That’s okay though, you can create a macro for MS Word which also uses Narrator. Before Mark Fassett added text-to-speech to StoryBox, I relied on the Word macro and still do from time to time. Here is an online tutorial that shows how to set up your own macro in Word.

Autocrit is the next tool I use. Usually I sandwich Autocrit between two sessions of text-to-speech. Why? Because after I make corrections, I want to make sure what I’ve done still sounds right.

So what is Autocrit? You know how you send a work to some critters and they highlight EVERY SINGLE “was” or cross out EACH and EVERY adverb? The list goes on, but if you’re like me, you probably chafe under those kinds of critiques. “To be” verbs, adverbs, “that,” and other overused words have their place in writing. The key is not to overdo it. That’s where Autocrit comes into play. It ferrets out those overused words and gives suggestions to eliminate some when you’ve gone overboard. YOU get to choose which ones to keep and which ones to ditch.

Since I’ve started using Autocrit, I’ve become more aware of the weaknesses in my writing. Autocrit offers a whole list of features that I’m not going to go into. Depending on your strengths and weaknesses, you might use some more than others. For me, Overused Words is my big thing, but lately, I’ve been visiting the Pacing feature. If you have a problem with putting too much back story in your work, that’s a great tool. There’s a free membership for Autocrit if you want to check it out. It’s very limited, but it’d give you a chance to decide if it’s for you. Paid membership ranges from $47-117. For me, it’s worth every penny. Have a look see at my opinion, if you’re looking for Autocrit reviews.

So I’ve done all I can do to make my work shine—spelling/grammar check, text-to-speech, and Autocrit. I’m done, right? Uhm… no.

Next, you need the people factor. That’s right, critters. Those extra pairs of eyes make a world of difference. Do your sentences make sense? Is your plot unfolding nicely? Oops, you missed a typo or misused a word. Plus critters can tell you what works and doesn’t work. And trust me, YOU are not the best judge for this stage. No matter how great you are at editing, you cannot possibly know how others will view your writing unless you’ve got some kind of supernatural insight.

I prefer at least three different people to view my projects. The more the merrier. But remember, you are the author, so it’s up to you to decide which advice to heed. You DO NOT have to implement EVERY change or suggestion. Chances are, if you let critters take over your work THEY WILL DESTROY IT. Why? Because much of the opinions are subjective, but if several are saying the same thing, it might indicate a problem.

I top everything off with another text-to-speech round. So that’s that.

Even if you have the funds to pay an editor, using these tools can save you money. Some editors pay according to the time spent on your work. The crappier the draft you send, the more it’s going to cost you. Others charge by the level of editing. A basic proofreading is going to be a lot less expensive than a line-by-line copyedit, and the cost for a deep edit or rewrite is enough to cause my mind to reboot.

Also, if you use the self-editing tools before sending your work to critters, I guarantee your helpers will appreciate the effort. Critiquing can be very time consuming. The critters I work with are writers and have their own projects. If they’re like me, critiquing isn’t the highlight of their day. It’s not a pleasure read; it’s work. We do it to help one another and because we need help ourselves. It’s a cost-saving tradeoff which works to everyone’s benefit… or so it should. 🙂

So a quick rundown of the tools:

  • Spelling/grammar check
  • Text-to-Speech (available in StoryBox or create a MS Word macro)
  • Autocrit
  • Critters (please don’t tell them I called them tools) 🙂

What tools do you use which are invaluable to your editing process?

0 thoughts on “Authors Helping Authors: Self-Editing

  1. This was a great post with a lot of good info! I have a lady who – bless her – edits mine for free but.the trade off is speed. I gave her the book in February and might be lucky to have it done by September.

    Ruth Ann Nordin recommends using the text to speech on a kindle (if you own one) but I have never tried it. I have the same problem reading aloud to myself, though I find if I read it aloud to someone else it helps (But like I am going to do that with a whole book!?!?)

  2. I find the turnaround time with dealing with my writing buddies is slow also, but with good reason. It’d be crazy for me to expect them to drop their projects to accommodate my projects. They work me in when they can muster the motivation and time.

    If I had extra money to hire an editor, the speed in getting a work on the shelf would be the driving factor for going that route. 🙂 I would love to get away with writing a first draft, spell checking, and passing it off to an editor. Maybe one day.

    The voice on the Kindle is very similar to the Narrator. Once in a while, I’ll let my preschooler listen to Curious George on mine.

    I like Ruth’s idea though. I have a work that’s ready for editing, and I’ve only spell checked it. While driving in the car, I was reading it on the Kindle, while making corrections on the laptop version.

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