Skip to main content

Blogs / Developmental Editing / How to Edit a Book: 6 Steps with Examples

How to Edit a Book: 6 Steps with Examples

how to edit a book

Fasten your seatbelts, literary trailblazers, because we’re going to look at how to edit a book.

Yes, you heard right. That formidable, enigmatic beast that we all have to face after our first draft is done. If the thought of editing makes you break into a cold sweat, then fear not. You’re on the same path as most writers, including yours truly.

I remember when I first started writing.

The blissful rush of creativity and the pure joy of watching a story unfold under my fingertips. It was a beautiful experience… until the how to edit a book part came around. Suddenly, my creative haven turned into a daunting labyrinth. A labyrinth with flat characters and canyon-sized plot holes lurking around every corner. I felt like I was staring up at Mount Everest with nothing but a toothpick for a climbing aid.

Then came my saviour in digital disguise. Fictionary. With Fictionary, I found a systematic, structured approach to editing that transformed the process. No more hair-pulling, just discovery and improvement.

Fictionary, my writer friends, made me realise that editing isn’t a monstrous chore, but an integral part of the creative process.

It’s the magic wand that transforms a rough stone into a polished gem.

So, in this article, we’ll jump headfirst into the nitty-gritty of book editing, and I promise you, we’ll make it out alive. You’ll be a stronger editor. And you’ll be ready to transform your novel from good to unputdownable.

So, let’s buckle up, rev those engines, and plunge into the exhilarating ride of systematic novel editing.

Fictionary CTA

Try Fictionary for free now

Why You Need to Edit Writing


Editing a Book Is Challenging

Step right up, writers, because you’re about to tackle the giant, wild elephant in the room… answering the question of how to edit a book is tough.

It’s a little like trying to lick your elbow or juggle flaming swords. Awkward. Challenging. Downright difficult. But just like a tightrope walker can’t skip practising on the high wire, you can’t dodge ‌editing.

Editing is that magical key that unlocks the true potential of your story, refining your raw narrative into a mesmerising masterpiece.

It’s the process that polishes your prose, sharpens your scenes, and helps your characters leap off the page. Yes, it’s challenging. Yes, it’s time-consuming, but it’s as essential as oxygen is to fire.

Now brace yourself, don your helmet, and charge into the editing battle.

The Reader-First Mindset for Editing a Book

Fiction Writer

Lights, camera, and… wait, let’s not rush into the action just yet.

Before we dive headfirst into the editing ocean, we need to get our heads around the concept of the reader-first mindset. Imagine strapping on a pair of magical goggles that let you see your work from a reader’s perspective. How do they feel? What keeps them turning pages? Where might they stumble?

A reader-first mindset means keeping your audience at the forefront while editing.

It’s about ensuring you’ve strapped the reader in tight on the rollercoaster of your narrative. You want them to experience every twist, turn, and loop-the-loop. You may need to ask tricky questions like:

  • Will my readers resonate with this character?
  • Is this plot twist satisfying?
  • How well does this setting immerse the reader?
  • Does this sentence make grammatical sense?
  • And more…

So, let’s slide into our readers’ shoes and edit with empathy, shall we?

Should You Self-Edit a Book?

To self-edit or not to self-edit, that is the question.

Imagine you’ve just baked a scrumptious cake. Would you tuck into it while it’s still steaming hot, or would you let it cool to perfect eating temperature? Self-editing is similar. It’s about stepping back from your ‘oven-fresh’ manuscript and scrutinising it with a cool, critical gaze.

It’s tempting to hand over your baby to a professional right after you type “The End”, but hold your horses there, Zorro.

There’s a lot you can do to improve your manuscript before a professional editor gets their hands on it. Think of self-editing as the rehearsals before the grand performance. It helps you fine-tune your story, weed out the obvious errors, and sharpen your narrative. So, don your editing hat, grab your red pen (or Fictionary software), and let’s dive into the fine art of self-editing.

6 Steps to Edit a Book

Are you ready to put on your hiking boots and embark on an editing expedition?


Because I’m about to map out how to edit a books in 6 steps. This process will transform your diamond-in-the-rough manuscript into a shining literary gem.

But don’t worry. This isn’t some maddening maze of a path. Nope. It’s a systematic and structured journey that’ll lead you straight to the treasure chest of a polished, reader-ready novel.

Strap on your editing backpack, fill your flask with determination (or coffee, if you’re like me), and let’s get cracking on this editing adventure.

Step 1: Step Away to Get Some Distance

People, it’s time to play hide-and-seek with your manuscript. No, really. Hear me out.

Once you’ve typed out that final full stop, the instinct is to jump right into editing. Resist it. Instead, tuck your manuscript away and pretend it doesn’t exist… for now, at least.

You’ve spent countless hours, weeks, or even months immersed in your novel. You’ve lived and breathed your characters, plot twists, and dialogue. It’s a bit like eating a dozen donuts. Delicious at first, but soon enough, you can’t tell the jelly from a Boston cream. That’s why it’s crucial to step away and get some distance.

Let your palate cleanse, so to speak.

Spend this time catching up on the neglected pile of books on your bedside table. Explore the great outdoors. Sign up for that pottery class you’ve been dying to try.

The goal is to break from your manuscript long enough so that when you return, you can see it with fresh, discerning eyes. Eyes that can spot the strengths and weaknesses, the genius twists and those ‘what-was-I-thinking’ moments.

Think of it as reuniting with an old friend.

You’ve had your space, gathered new experiences, and when you meet again, you see them in a new light. That’s the perspective you want when you embark on editing. A clear, refreshed, and objective view. So, be brave. Step away.

Your manuscript will thank you for it later.

Fictionary CTA

Try Fictionary for free now

Step 2: Analyse Your Story Structure

Next up in our discussion on how to edit a book, we’re going on a panoramic tour of your story.

Much like admiring a beautiful landscape from a hilltop, this step allows you to take a step back and analyse the whole enchilada of your story structure.

You should squint at the sprawling tapestry of your novel to identify the patterns. To spot connections. To tie up the inevitable loose threads. The goal? To ensure your story is as yummy, tempting, and satisfying as a triple-scoop sundae on a hot summer day.

The Fictionary Story Arc

The Story Arc

Picture your story as a thrilling roller coaster ride.

You’ve got the slow, suspense-filled climb (the setup). You’ve got the exhilarating drop (the confrontation). And you’ve got the final loop-de-loop that leaves you gasping for more (the resolution). That’s your story arc right there. It’s the pulse-pounding rhythm of your novel.

The Fictionary Story Arc is your trusty blueprint for this wild ride. Using this arc, you’ve ensure your story hits all the right key beats, including:

  • The Inciting Incident: The event that upends your protagonist’s everyday world
  • Plot Point 1: When your protagonist engages with the central conflict
  • The Midpoint: Where your protagonist shifts from reactive to active
  • Plot Point 2: The protagonist’s lowest point, where all hope seems lost
  • The Climax: Where your protagonist resolves the central story conflict

These beats keep readers’ hearts racing, minds whirling, and fingers flipping through those pages.

Everything from the first dramatic event that kick-starts your plot to the final thematic statement that wraps up your story. It’s all mapped out on the Fictionary Story Arc. It’s like having a secret decoder ring for your story structure.

The Fictionary 38 Story Elements

Now, if the Fictionary Story Arc is the decoder ring, then the 38 Story Elements are the hidden messages waiting to be discovered. They’re the essential ingredients that mix to form the hearty stew of your narrative. Characters, plot, and setting—it’s all there.

These elements guide you to scrutinise every facet of your story. Your protagonist’s internal goals. The sensory details of your setting. And the elements that make your plot pack a punch. They’re the checkpoints that ensure your story is rich, complex, and oh-so satisfying. So grab your magnifying glass, put on your detective hat, and start inspecting.

The Fictionary Story Map

Story Map

As an explorer in the dense jungle of your narrative, you need a reliable map. Cue the Fictionary Story Map. It’s a visual representation of the 38 Story Elements, and shows you how to edit a book.

Want to see the entire map, with all the elements, to give you a global view of your story? No problem. Want to track specific elements like entry and exit hooks, or opening and closing types? You can do that too. Want to sense check the skeleton blurb for each scene. Filter the Story Map to ‘POV Character’, ‘POV Character Goal’ and ‘What if Goal Fails?’, and you can see the scene skeleton blurb at a glance.

This is the true power of the Fictionary Story Map. Complete creative control.

With this handy tool, you can instantly spot if your conflict needs calibrating, or if your climax hits at the right point.

It’s like having a bird’s-eye view of your narrative, giving you the power to tweak and twist your story structure to perfection. Who wouldn’t want that? Trust me, folks, once you’ve used the Fictionary Story Map, there’s no going back.

It’s editing, and enlightenment, delivered.

Fictionary CTA

Try Fictionary for free now

Step 3: Scene By Scene Editing

Alright, fellow Fictionarians, it’s time to grab your metaphorical microscopes and zoom in on the nitty-gritty details of how to edit a book. We’re going to dive into the very building blocks of your narrative… the scenes.

Imagine you’re a master chef, and you’re perfecting a gourmet meal.

Step 2 was all about ensuring all the ingredients complement each other to create an exquisite taste profile. Step 3 is about perfecting each individual dish. Each scene should have its own mini story arc and purpose, advancing the plot while also being a delightful experience‌.

Picture this…

You’re meticulously examining every bite of setting. Chewing over every character’s decision. Sampling every dramatic revelation like a picky food critic on a mission.

You’re tasting and testing, adding a dash of tension here, a sprinkle of character development there until it’s just right.

As an author, you’re serving up a multi-course narrative meal, and you want each scene to be a tantalising morsel that leaves your reader hungry for the next. Wear your chef’s hat and whip up some spectacular scenes that will have your readers salivating for more. Now, that’s how you turn readers into ravenous fans.

Let’s get cooking, shall we?

Fiction Editing

Point of View Goal and Purpose

Prepare yourselves, storytellers.

Let’s dive into the story world through your characters’ eyes.

Remember, every scene should be driven by the Point of View (POV) character’s goal. That’s right. Your characters are like hikers on a mountain trail. They need a destination. A reason to push through the dense foliage. A goal to propel them into the throes of your carefully crafted plot. A clearly defined POV goal acts like the compass guiding their journey through each scene.

Yet, it’s not enough for your character to just have a goal. They need an interesting reason for pursuing it.

That’s where purpose swoops in, like a superhero in tight-fitting spandex. Purpose breathes life into the goal, giving your readers a reason to root for your character. Remember, every action has a reaction, and every goal has a purpose. Dear author, whip out your writer’s cape and start aligning those goals and purposes.

Your Scene Skeleton Blurb

Hold on to your hats, folks. It’s time for some serious scene management.

Picture yourself as a film director and your scene skeleton blurb as the film’s premise. This short, snappy summary should be as tempting as the aroma of freshly brewed coffee. It should have your reader’s curiosity perking up, ready to plunge into your narrative brew. Remember the golden structure:

[POV character name] must [scene goal] otherwise [stakes]

It’s a fail-safe recipe for scene-level intrigue. Come up with a skeleton blurb for every scene, and you’ll tell a satisfying mini-story every time.

Entry and Exit Hooks

I present to you the gatekeepers of your narrative… the entry and exit hooks.

Imagine these as the dazzling carnival barkers, luring your readers into the show and leaving them gasping for more at the end.

An entry hook should pull your readers into a scene, like a joke-telling rabbit drawing them down the narrative hole. On the flip side, the exit hook leaves them on the edge of their seats, making them itch to turn the page.

So, do you want your readers riveted to your every word?

Then let’s get those hooks in place and reel them in.

The Five Senses

Alright, time for a sensory overload, my friends.

Great writing isn’t just about what your characters see. It’s about what they hear, smell, taste, and touch.

It’s about immersing your reader into your world until they can feel the crunch of autumn leaves underfoot or smell the sharp tang of sea air. Sprinkle your scenes with sensory details like a master chef garnishing a gourmet meal, and watch as your world comes alive in all its full sensory glory.

Fictionary CTA

Try Fictionary for free now

Step 4: Editing Your Blurb and Synopsis

Alright, fellow wordsmiths.

The road gets winding here, but the view—oh, the view. It’s worth every twist and turn. Editing your blurb and synopsis isn’t just a task. It’s a rite of passage, a pilgrimage to the hallowed halls of storytelling mastery.

Let’s kick off this part of our how to edit a book chinwag with the blurb.

This pint-sized paragraph is the cinematic trailer of your scene. It’s got to pack a punch, it’s got to enthral, and above all, it’s got to be razor sharp. So, grab your editor’s scalpel, because it’s time to cut, trim, and sculpt that blurb until it’s a tantalising morsel of your narrative feast. Don’t be afraid to be ruthless here. If a word or phrase isn’t adding value, wave it goodbye.

Next up, your synopsis. Think of this as the director’s cut of your scene. It’s where you lay bare the bones of your story, where your characters live, breathe, and take shape.

It’s also where you’ll spend a good chunk of your editing time, so make sure you have your favourite editing snacks at hand (Mine’s a bag of Kettle chips—just saying). Look for inconsistencies in your plot, scrutinise your character development, and check for pacing.

Does each sentence drive the story forward? Is every word earning its keep? If not, it’s time to pull out that red pen.

Just remember, your blurb and synopsis are your story’s ambassadors to the reader’s world.

Make them count. Trust me, it’s a thrilling ride, and the destination? A polished, captivating narrative your readers won’t be able to resist. Now, who wouldn’t want that?

Step 5: Copyediting Your Book

Copy Editing a Book

Ready for another twist in the how to edit a book maze? Welcome to the nitpicking nirvana of copyediting. This is where we switch on the spotlight and scrutinise every sentence, every word, for a squeaky-clean manuscript.


Now, grammar is like the traffic rules of writing.

Imagine a city without traffic rules—chaos, right?

Same with writing. A misplaced comma or a rogue tense shift can cause narrative pile-ups. Brush up on your grammar rules or use tools to keep your prose clear, and keep the narrative traffic flowing smoothly.


Spellings, ah, those pesky minor mistakes that change ‘desert’ into ‘dessert’. They’re the chameleons of the writing world, changing the meaning with just an extra “s”. Be vigilant, and do a spell check… unless you want your characters wandering around a Saharan dune looking for a chocolate cake (see what I did there?).


Style is your narrative outfit, your unique authorial signature. It’s what makes your writing YOU. Be consistent with it. Whether you’re a fan of the Oxford comma or you love personification, stick to your guns.

Your style, your rules.

Word Choice

Word choice is all about picking the right tools from your literary toolbox. It’s the difference between a character walking or ambling, between a sunset or a twilight glow. A robust vocabulary is a writer’s best friend, so cultivate it. Make every word matter, make every word sing.

Fictionary CTA

Try Fictionary for free now

Step 6: Proofreading Your Book

Proofreading a Book

We’ve finally made it to the last lap of our how to edit a book race.

Now, if you’re thinking, “Aren’t we done yet? Isn’t copyediting and proofreading the same thing?” trust me, you’re in for a treat. While copy editing and proofreading are editing cousins, they’re as different as Batman and Superman.

Proofreading is the final gatekeeper, the bouncer at the door of your book’s publication party.

If editing is about polishing the diamond, proofreading is about giving it that last buff, the one that makes it go “bling!”

It’s about catching those tiny errors that might have slipped through the earlier rounds of editing. Typos, errant spaces, misaligned margins. You name it. If it’s going to distract the reader, the proofreading process will seek it out and annihilate it.

Now, here’s the secret sauce…

Get a fresh pair of eyes for this stage.

You’re going to be way too familiar with your work by now, and you might miss those minute details.

Proofreading is a detail-oriented, eagle-eyed task. It’s like checking for loose threads and lint before you step out in your tuxedo or evening gown. It’s that last spit and polish to make sure your story is as flawless as possible. Grab your magnifying glass, and get ready to dive into the minutiae of your manuscript.

This is it, the last stretch.

How to Edit Books FAQs

Book Editing Questions

Let’s take a detour down the path of enlightenment and address some of those burning questions simmering in the back of your mind. Yes, those ‘Frequently Asked Questions’ that keep you up at night and make you toss and turn.

Don’t worry, I’ve got your back.

How can the Fictionary Software Help?

Ah, my beloved Fictionary.

Let me count the ways this software can help you figure out how to edit a book.

If editing is a puzzle, Fictionary is the picture on the box that guides you. Its comprehensive analysis of the key elements of your story helps you see where you’ve nailed it and where there’s room for improvement.

It’s like having a super-intelligent, ultra-patient, writing buddy. An author pal who’s got nothing better to do than help you polish your manuscript until it sparkles.

What Are Some Common Editing Mistakes Fiction Writers Make?

Well, this could be an entire article‌.

But if I had to pick a few, I’d include:

  • Ignoring character development
  • Neglecting plot holes
  • Leaving setting as flat as British pancakes

These pitfalls can make a reader disconnect faster than dodgy Wi-Fi in a storm. But remember, we’re all human and prone to error. It’s how we learn, improve, and eventually pen our masterpiece.

How Do I Know When to Hire A Professional Editor?

This, my friend, is the million-dollar question.

You might need a professional editor when you’ve read your manuscript so many times that the words blur. You might need one when you justify plot holes the size of craters.

An editor’s fresh perspective can shine a light on the dark corners of your story that you didn’t even know existed. If you’re looking for a publishing deal or if you’re self-publishing and want to produce a top-notch product, then calling in the pros is a must.

Conclusion on Editing a Novel

As our whirlwind tour on how to edit a book ends, it’s time to put our feet up, sip our beverage of choice, and reflect on what we’ve learned.

Let’s be real.

Editing is tough. It’s like taking a long, hard look at yourself in the mirror and deciding it’s time to hit the gym (or at least stop eating cookies for breakfast… and lunch… and dinner). But it’s also incredibly rewarding.

Polish your manuscript until it shines brighter than the top of the Chrysler Building. Strengthen your story and hone your skills as a writer.

But remember, folks, editing isn’t a solitary pursuit.

We’ve got an entire community of word-nerds at Fictionary. And don’t forget our handy-dandy software. We’re here to lend you a helping hand, or a sympathetic ear when the going gets tough. So, step right up. Dive headfirst into the wonderful world of editing with renewed vigour and your trusty guide…


You’ve got this, and we’ve got you!

Now, what are you waiting for? Go forth and edit. And don’t forget to laugh at the lunacy of it all. It makes the journey that much more enjoyable. Trust me. I’ve been there.

Fictionary CTA

Try Fictionary for free now