15 ‘must know’ content editing hacks for Indie writers


If you have written your very first book, and are now trying to choose between hiring a professional editor, and editing the first draft on your own, you have come to the right place.

Even if you don’t find everything you need to edit your manuscript here, these tips are sure to get you started on your journey.

Why is error-free editing that much important, you ask? Well for one, a reputed publisher will want an impeccable first draft.

More so if you are a first time writer (and hence the know-it-all squint on their faces as they study you from top to toe).

Honestly, writing your first draft is not that big a deal. Getting it through to the right publishing house/agent or channel is.

One of the key reasons a manuscript is rejected in the first go, is a badly edited/written first draft. When I completed my first draft, I was very little prepared for what came next.

Month after month of trying to push my manuscript to publishers and literary agents was an ordeal by itself.

It didn’t matter that I was a seasoned writer and a veteran professional in my field.

So what I am attempting to share with you today, are not tricks you can use to magically transform your limp draft into a fabulous race horse.

These are helpful tips you can use, IF your first draft is already a fairly good piece and can use little trims to make it more suitable for sharing further.

You may have come across some of these tips on the many other web help/content help pages available out there.

You may also know of some that we may not have listed here, do feel free to comment and share them with us. That would be super helpful!

1. Write the first draft first

Your first draft must be a literary purge. Do not hold back, when you begin to write that novel. Because I know by personal experience that when you try to write and edit at the same time, you end up doing neither. So when you are writing, just write. Get it all on paper and then when it’s all done, sit down to edit. Writing and editing are two very separate processes.

2. Pick a title that matches your inside content

A badly matched book title is a sure fire put off. Take Sita, by Amish Tripathi. Although the backdrop is obviously the great Indian epic of Ramayana, his book focuses on the ‘Warrior of Mithila’, and so the title- Sita. Had it been ‘The warrior of Mithila’, or anything else for that matter, the intrigue would be lost. Think of the title as a sneak peek into your book, a window if you please. Go simple and short but make it a point to make it meaningful.

3. Redundant Words

After you finish writing your book, and before serious editing, take the time to find out redundant words, phrases or ‘weak’ words. Typically, these will be over used sentences, or words such as Very, Every, Small, Really, Good, Important. One simple trick is to remove that word and see if the sentence loses its structure or meaning. If it doesn’t, that word is definitely not needed.

4. Don’t use passive voice

Unless the story or narrative or script requires it, minimize the usage of passive voice. Writing in active voice is meant to engage readers and editors more. Think about it. ‘Raul changed the flat tyre’. ‘The flat tyre was changed by Raul’? Not really, right? You get it.

5. Read your book aloud

This is a very very important step. Do not skip this by any chance. Unless it’s a monster of an epic, reading out aloud is the best way to ascertain whether your book flows smoothly or whether it courses a turbulent terrain of bumps and jerks. Read out to yourself. If possible record the audio and listen to it again.

6. Use really good editing tools

Grammarly is one tool I have used many times for my own book. I also use it very frequently when I work. But you do not have to use this, there are many other tools that are equally awesome. Take some time out to browse for the right tool for yourself. Also check out the Hemingway app. Doing a spell check after every edit you make is also a good practice.

7. Double check on Punctuations, Formatting, Pagination, Paragraphs and Indent

Professional publications and Editors demand a ‘perfect’ copy with standardised punctuations, and margins. Some publishers have their own style guides that the first drafts must adhere to, before they are even taken on. Do check the sites for the publishing house you are interested in for any such specifics. You can also use a standard Style Guide for reference. You can browse through the MLA, Chicago, and AP to understand some of the formatting and accepted usage basics.

8. Get rid of the fluff

Extra adjectives, pronouns, extra-long sentences, repetitions, boring event sequences, jargons and descriptions are a put off. As a rule, 10% of your first draft will be junk. Do not squirm when chopping off word trash.

9. Write in short, precise sentences

Long-winding sentences that have too many connecting words, and thoughts are heavy on the readers and the editors alike. Break them down into simpler constructs that read fresh and fast.

10. Share your book with others around you

Go ahead, host reading sessions with your spouse, parent, friend or child. Oftentimes a third person will catch errors that you may miss and it always helps to get multiple readers to ensure your book works well with different types of reading audiences.

11. Maintain tense continuity

Past, present, future. Mind your tenses in the manuscript. The flow should be impeccable and the comeback from past to present must have what popular authors call, the ‘epiphany’- the realization or an emotional gain or jolt for the character in question. It is simpler to have chunks or portions of your book alternating past and present rather than have small sentences oscillate between past and present, for better reading ease.

12. Edit in stages

First do a content clean with spell check or any of the tools of your choice. Then check specifically for punctuation and formatting errors. Then come back to check the flow of the script/story. Check for any missing information/detail. When you are satisfied, do one more check on punctuation and formatting. It is a tedious process, but a thorough one.

13. Be conscious of the form

Whether you write fiction, or narrative or biography, there has to be a form to your content. Logically there has to be a start, a middle and an end. Yes you can start from the end, or end on the start; but there has to be a steady and logical flow. Check for this when you have completed all other mandatory checks on your manuscript.

14. Provide breaks

Continuous intense paragraphs lead to reader fatigue. Structure your story or work in a way that provides comic relief, or a break from serious content.

15. Run a plagiarism check

Even if you have meticulously written the manuscript, there are chances some lines or phrases may seem similar to a popular book or excerpt or novel. Why risk? Plagiarism Checker is one tool. Grammarly has one inbuilt too! And there are many more available, for free, online.

These may seem a bit overwhelming, but believe me, once you get the hang of this process, it is the best way to ascertain that your first draft is in the very least, presentable to the publisher. It is certainly worth the effort.

Do let us know how these helped you, and don’t forget to subscribe to fabstori for many such interesting shares. Oh, and all the best for your book!


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