Editing Your Own Books

Where's The Edit?Generally speaking, it isn’t recommended that you, as a writer, edit your own work. There’s a very good reason for this. You know the story so well, your brain will automatically “see” what it’s expecting to see.

But you can make life easier for your editor if you know and apply generally accepted rules for writing fiction.

I’ve put together a short list of resources I reference regularly while writing. I recommend you bookmark these pages so they are handy when you need them, along with any other resources you’ve found.

Once you’ve finished writing your book, doing a preliminary edit for common mistakes is also a good idea. You could rely on your editor to find them all. But you have to revise your manuscript to apply the edits anyway, so why not catch the obvious before sending your book off to the editor?

It’s easy to miss some of the less obvious changes, especially if you are counting on “Track Changes” in MS Word or Open Office to show you where those changes are. That bit of color on the page doesn’t show up very well when the edit is a single character, such as adding or removing an comma. (Notice the red underlined comma in the post image?)

I use the “Find” feature to look for, and fix as necessary, the following common occurrences before sending to my editor.

  1. Dialog punctuation
    1. comma-quote-space (,” )
    2. period-quote-space (.” )
    3. period-space-quote (. “)
    4. comma-space-quote (, “)
  2. Consistent use of ellipses and emdashes
    1. Ellipsis: …space or space…space (“Now… or later?” or “Now … or later?”)
    2. emdash, no spaces before or after
  3. Correct use of apostrophes:
    1. apostrophe-es (‘s)
    2. its -> it’s (it is/was)
    3. it’s -> its (possesive pronoun)
    4. thats -> that’s (that is/was)
    5. whats -> what’s (what is/was)
    6. were -> we’re (we are/were)
    7. we’re -> were (past tense of are)
    8. fiance -> fiancé (fiancee -> fiancée)
    9. lets -> let’s (let us)
    10. [name]s -> [name]’s (possessive)

Let me clarify. Item 1 shows four dialog punctuations which may be correct or incorrect depending on how they are used.

When it comes to dialog, the most common mistakes I’ve seen are using a comma before the end quote when it should be a period and using a period when it should be a comma. And being such tiny specks on the screen, it isn’t always easy to see you’ve mixed them up.

An extra space inside the quotes, or missing space between punctuation and quotes is also easy to find this way. Not to mention the question mark. How many times have you seen a question without one in dialog?

Item 2 and 3 are pretty straight forward. Except, for Item 3.i. above, [name] is a placeholder for a proper name—i.e. Jane, John, etc. I recommend you do this for each character in your book.

Now, what do you do when the name ends with an ‘s’? For example, James. I was taught, back in the dark ages, that you only put the apostrophe on the end, and omit the trailing ‘s’, like this: James’ favorite baseball bat is missing. These days, while not considered incorrect, it is preferred to use the trailing ‘s’, like this: James’s favorite baseball bat is missing. (I just try to avoid using names that end in ‘s': Jim instead of James, Smith instead of Jones, and so on.)

Don’t forget to run your spellchecker, but don’t automatically accept the changes. Occasionally, you’ll have mangled the word so bad the spellchecker thinks it’s another word entirely. So check each word it wants to fix.

This preliminary edit won’t catch everything. It’s not intended to. But the fewer of these little mistakes you have to fix later, the less likely you’re going to miss something when implementing the changes your editor recommends.

About Anita Cross

is the host of The Writers Chat and a newly-minted Indie Author writing under the pen name of Lorraine Adair. Before embarking on her own writer's journey, Anita could be found proofreading and editing manuscripts for other Indie Authors.


  1. Great post, Anita. I’ve bookmarked some of these sites. But I have a question about your 1a. and 1b. I don’t understand why they are incorrect. The punctuation is inside the quote marks as it should be. What am I missing? Also, one bugaboo of mine that I have to proof with eyes is leaving off the end quote marks in dialog. Grrrrrr. Thanks.

    • I noticed after I posted the article, the list for “Dialog punctuation mistakes” would need to be clarified. You just caught me before I had the time. :)

      Anyway, it isn’t that these are wrong per se, but commonly mixed up… for example, “I want an apple, too.” She said. Or “I want an apple, too,” Sandy held her hand out. Other examples: “Hey. ” Sandy held her hand out. “I want an apple, too.” “Hey, ” she said.”I want an apple, too.”

      By using the find utility to look at each instance of 1a, 1b, 1c, and 1d, without the distraction of actually reading the story, I can quickly find any instances that are incorrect.

      Okay, Helen. I’ve changed the post a bit. What do you think?

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