The editing and revision process for self-publishers

Track Changes

Lisa Poisso is an editor and works directly with authors, whether you plan to publish independently or submit to an agent or publisher. Lisa is a fiction editor and book writing coach working with independent authors and new authors seeking representation. Lisa helps emerging authors tune their manuscripts to publishing industry standards and craft commercial fiction that resonates with readers. Find her at Lisa Poisso, follow her on Twitter at @LisaPoisso, or like her on Facebook. This guest post originally appeared on Lisa’s site.

New authors often assume that self-publishing a book means doing everything themselves. Nothing could be further from the truth, and that all becomes evident during editing and revision. Successful self-published authors know the value of putting together their own team of editorial professionals. Every step in the revision process represents another chance to achieve a professional-quality product that can compete in today’s publishing market.

Is every step on the editorial revisions flowchart here essential? Of course not. But the more eyes you can get on your book before it’s published, the greater the likelihood that someone will spot another way to improve it and the more likely you are to create a book you will be proud of.

Many editors and authors loop in these processes at different points in the process. You should adapt the process to fit your own needs.


Let’s look briefly at each step of editing and revisions and what benefits each holds for your book. Remember that sandwiched in between each of these stages—see the pinkish boxes?—should be a healthy dose of author revision.

1) Complete manuscript

The milestone you thought would be the biggest moment of your publishing journey (other than actual publication) is only the first step in the editorial process.

2) A fresh eye

Before you can effectively revise your manuscript, you need time away from it. Aim for at least a few weeks, preferably longer. Your goal is to come back to your manuscript with an entirely fresh outlook.

3) Self-revision

If you’ve heard that editing is the hardest part of writing a novel, you heard right. Don’t do yourself the disservice of skimming over your first draft to fix a few commas and then calling it done. The most successful authors I work with go through at least three to four drafts before they consider their manuscript ready for another person’s eyes. Try this author’s seven-draft plan. I like Chuck Wendig’s salty advice on how to edit the unmerciful suck out of your story; if you prefer a more sober description, try the Writer’s Digest version instead.

4) Alpha reading

Your alpha readers are the first outside eyes on your manuscript. Most authors use less than a handful of alpha readers. Whether your alpha readers are personal or professional contacts, you should trust them to have your best interests at heart and be gentle yet forthright with realistic feedback. All you’re looking for at this stage is reassurance that the story hangs together overall. Avoid readers who want to focus on details like spelling, punctuation, and grammar at this stage; you’re looking for big-picture impressions.

5) Peer critique

Once your alpha readers have given you a green light, it’s time to ask your fellow writers to read your book. I’ve written an entire article on how to find critique partners and writing groups. Although many authors skip this step, finding and correcting story issues before you seek professional editing will affect how much time and money your edit will require. At the same time, beware the temptation to get stuck in an endless critique feedback loop. Find the right critique partner or group, get input, implement what makes sense, and keep moving forward.

6) Content edit

It’s finally time for a professional editor. If this is your first time taking a manuscript this far toward publication, consult with your editor about what type of editing is right for you. If you are a new author working on a limited budget, I recommend prioritizing a content edit (also known as a developmental edit). Without solid story structure at the heart of your book, no amount of polish will transform your book into a page-turner. I often recommend a plot checkup, New Author Review, or manuscript evaluation for authors who are still on the fence about the strength of their writing or storytelling techniques.

7) Beta reading

Now that your story is solid, it’s time to see what readers think. Your beta readers can help you spot remaining story issues, typos, and other errors before you get to the final stages of editing.

8) Line edit

Here’s where an editor can really help your writing shine. My line edits cover the mechanics of your writing (spelling, punctuation, grammar—what’s often referred to as a copy edit) as well as its spirit (clarity and style).

9) Proofreading

The amount of editing (by your editor) and revision (by you) that goes into a line edit or copy edit often astounds first-time authors. Whittle down the chance of typos and errors that didn’t get caught in the main crunch with proofreading, whether you choose to hire a pro or farm it out.

10) Formatting and layout

This is simple enough to handle yourself, but templates or professional assistance start at affordable rates.

11) Advance Reader Copies (ARCs)

While you’re doing the final corrections on your layout, you can send ARCs to readers and reviewers in order to score some advance publicity and reviews.

12) Publication

You’re there! But the beauty of self-publishing is that publication isn’t a finite point. You can make periodic revisions whenever you find typos and other issues (and even after all of this, you inevitably will).


  1. I’m a children’s non-fiction writer and have always written on commission for publishers. I also work as a project manager and editor. Now, for the first time, I am considering self-publishing a title I’m writing as a personal project. It’s quite different from my regular writing jobs so these tips are really useful. Thank you!

  2. Hi Lisa,

    I am just starting out as a freelance editor and find that the multiple definitions of the different kinds of editing can get quite confusing, so I’m grateful for this post as well as the diagram, which makes things quite clear for visual people like myself.

    I’m just about to head over to your website to check out some of the links that you posted here!

    Thanks again for this clear outline,


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