Writer Checklist: Self Edit Before You Submit the Final

Dear writer,

Think it takes a long time to get your edited novel back?

For a lot of people it does, and I’m about to tell you why. It’s not because we’re all sitting on our luxurious rooftop patios enjoying margaritas and pondering the life span of the Oxford comma while becoming buried in piles of literary gold.

It’s a little more like this. At the end of the day, we drown ourselves in margaritas because if we see one more damned comma splice or noun/verb disagreement, we’re going to throw ourselves in front of the nearest fully-loaded library cart and hope for oblivion.

There’s a lot…like a metric shit ton…that goes into making sure your book is perfect. (And it still won’t be, by the way. Humans are only physically and mentally capable of capturing a certain percentage of errors, and while we can get pretty darned good, occasionally the sneaky little ankle-biter gets past us.)

The State of Your Manuscript Matters

There are many different things that go into an extensive line edit of your book, but you can help speed up the process. The stage and state in which your novel is received determines the length of time it takes an editor to comprehensively review your work.

Want to know how you can help? Check out the tips below to get your book in the best shape possible before it hits the editor’s desk:

1. Read aloud for overall sound, cadence, and feel. If. All. Of. Your. Sentences. Sound. Like. This. Oh. My. God. It’s. Time. To. Revise.

Abrupt sentences are great for emphasis. They break things up and serve as interjections in long sections of text. Likewise, cool beans if you enjoy waxing poetic about your passion for life for paragraphs on end, but there’s a limit.

For the love of all the libraries in the world, change things up a bit. Excite us with a little variety. Trust me; it’ll keep us awake, and we’ll get your work back to you much faster.

The point of cadence and rhythm is to let things flow, to feel the language. Everything shouldn’t sound the same. If your book’s cadence is as exciting as the grandfather clock in my mom’s living room, I’m more likely to take a nap than continue reading.

2. Proofread every sentence for grammar. There are nothing more distracting that shitty grammar and speling. It’s difficult to follow even the most badass of storylines if I’m distracted by misplaced apostrophes and abused verb tenses.

Errors? We all make errors. Typo is my middle name when I’m ON FIRE with a great new idea, and that’s why proofreading was invented. We’re human. But when editors run across an entire manuscript full of errors, it tends to throw a wrench in the works. It slows us down until we’re being passed by turtles jogging through peanut butter. Want your MS faster? Give it a good old-fashioned proof before you submit.

Pro Tip: Spell check doesn’t catch everything.

Ex: She set her alarm so she could walk up early for her meeting with the shareholders.

3. Search for passive verbs and kill them. (Seriously, murder the shit out of them.) If you want your work to be interesting, riveting, and keep readers awake past the rush-hour news, decimate the damned passive verbs.

She was driven to madness. (passive = weaker, not the doer of the action)


They drove her mad. (active = strong, doer of the action)

4. Tighten sentences and cut words that are unnecessary. Eliminate words that aren’t needed in your writing to make it more concise and readable.

For all intents and purposes, the culprit was Joe, but the police questioned everyone for the purpose of eliminating suspects.


The culprit was Joe, but the police questioned everyone to eliminate suspects.

5. Check every paragraph. Do several of your sentences begin with the same word? Are they all short? Are they all long and complicated? If so, go back and restructure to make your writing more interesting.

It’s very easy to fall into habits; we do it every day of our lives. Why? It streamlines things, makes them easier. So, of course we do it with our writing, too. Challenge yourself constantly to ensure you’re finding new ways to express your ideas:

Question yourself. Before you send your MS to the editor, question the moves you’ve made in your writing:

  1. Can everyone who picks up your book understand the terminology you’ve used?
  2. Did you convey the message you wanted to convey when telling your story?

3. What IS your main message?

4. Have you written as plainly and simply as possible?

5. Have you checked every name for consistent spelling throughout your book?

6. Have you checked your MS format?

7. Have you checked for consistent style throughout?

8. Has someone else read your work?

When you feel confident you’ve covered all your bases and your work is solid — with as few errors as possible — then you’re ready to send it to your editor.

Remember, your editor will be most effective when they receive the cleanest work you can possibly give them. They are on the lookout for ways to improve character, pacing, and plot; as well as other issues that may arise. However, when there are fewer small issues, they have more time and brainpower to focus on the larger, overall aspects.

Bottom Line: Help your editor help you! We want you to succeed, but we also know you’re very capable of catching “courldn’t” with a simple spellcheck.


Editors everywhere



I’m a word nerd and a dreamer who’s stuck in a world of make-believe. I have an excessive amount of gnomes, a very tolerant family, and a hoard of books.

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J Dana Stahl

I’m a word nerd and a dreamer who’s stuck in a world of make-believe. I have an excessive amount of gnomes, a very tolerant family, and a hoard of books.