SIX Self-Editing Tips

By Lisa Amstutz

Finishing a story you’ve worked hard on is something to celebrate! Now it’s ready for submission—right? Not so fast! You’ve missed an important step: the self-edit. Once a few days have passed and you can look at your manuscript clearly, take time to revise before sending it out. You’ll want to do this again and again as you continue to get feedback from critique partners and others.

Below are six steps I always take when editing my own work, along with that of my critique clients and mentees. Hopefully they will help you too!

1.     ASSESS YOUR ARC. Before you worry about tweaking words here and there, look at your story as a whole. Is the story arc compelling? Does it evoke some emotion in the reader? Has your main character made several unsuccessful attempts to solve their problem before succeeding? Does the main character solve their own problem? Is the main character relatable to your intended audience?

 2.    PEP UP YOUR PACING. Once you’ve nailed down the story arc, look at the pacing of the story. Have you rushed through some parts, or spent too much time on others? For a picture book, break down the story into spreads (facing pages). Make sure you don’t have too much or too little text on each spread.

 3.    STUDY YOUR SCENES. Are your scenes complete and visual? Do they have a character, setting, and action or turning point of some kind? If it’s a picture book, can you envision different illustrations for each one? This is important for visual interest.

 4.    POLISH YOUR PROSE. Polish your language and make it really sing. Replace passive verbs (e.g., was walking) with active ones (e.g., walked, strolled, sauntered, etc.). Look for adverbs and adjectives and replace them with stronger nouns and verbs whenever possible. Find and simplify “double tags”—places where you’ve used both a dialogue tag and an action. Only one or the other is needed. Look at ways to make your reader want to turn the page in a picture book, or start the next chapter in a longer book.

 5.    READ IT ALOUD. Reading the text aloud is extremely important for picture books, which are intended to be read aloud, and for rhyme. It can also be helpful for longer books. Listen to yourself: are there any places you stumble? Sentences you could make more lyrical or exciting? It may be helpful to have someone else read your text aloud as well.

  6.  PROOFREAD! Before you send your manuscript out, be sure to proofread it and check the formatting. You want to present yourself as a professional, not as someone who will create extra work for their editor or agent. While an error or two will probably not affect an editor or agent’s decision, a manuscript riddled with spelling and grammatical errors will reflect poorly on you. If you use Word, review your spelling and grammar settings. Not only can the program flag potential spelling errors, but you can also set it to catch things like passive voice and extra spaces between sentences (one space is now standard). If grammar and spelling aren’t your strong suits, or if you are not writing in your first language, ask a friend to review the manuscript too.

Self-editing can only take you so far—at some point, you’ll want to get feedback from critique partners or a professional editor—but it will give you a solid start, and learning these skills will help you at each step along the way.

Happy editing!

 Lisa Amstutz is a freelance editor and the author of 150+ books for kids. For information on her editorial services and mentorships, see

A WORLD OF YOUR OWN: SIX Tips for Fantasy World Building

 By Gloria Adams

Creating your own world for your story is one of the most enjoyable activities for a writer. At least, that’s what I’ve found. 

While I usually limit this to my adult short story writing, I am currently having a wonderful time building a fantasy world for my middle grade novel. But even when you’re “making stuff up” you need to make sure your world makes sense.

Here are Six Tips for successful world-building that will make that happen:

1.   Write out everything you can about the world you want to build before you begin. This will provide a great base to which you can refer as you write your book. And even though some things may change as you write, and, let’s face it, that’s when the magic happens, your original plan will still provide a resource to help it change logically and accurately.

2.   Be consistent. This is vitally important. Since your world is fantasy, there is no collective reality from which your readers can draw like there is in realistic fiction. If one of your characters can only discern where they are by their sense of smell, make sure you never have him or her (or it) looking at something. Or, if you create a world where certain flowers only grow in the snow, make sure no one is picking them in the summertime.

3.   Make your setting work for you. Your setting can add to the mood of your book, create obstacles that must be overcome, or be the reason for the premise. Does it take place in a dark, damp cave? A scary forest? Somewhere over the rainbow? Is there an insurmountable mountain? Forbidden rooms? Do your characters live in an undersea world that is being threatened by pollution or a world that is about to explode?

4.   Pay attention to the details. What kind of government does your world have? How do people communicate? What about transportation? Do they use money or barter or neither? What do they eat? Where does their food come from? Are people separated economically, socially, physically or not at all? What’s the weather like? What about ethics or morals? Their mythologies or world view? Make sure all these issues get addressed, or at least the ones that you want to include in your story.

5.   Don’t info-dump. While you need to let your readers understand your world, make sure you don’t explain everything in chapter one. or worse yet, a prologue. Determine what is absolutely necessary to get your story going and what can be woven in throughout the next few chapters.

6.   Make it a destination where your reader wants to go. Who doesn’t want to go to school at Hogwarts, ride a dragon in Pern, or open a door in the back of a closet and step into Narnia? Use your setting to keep the reader in your story. What about it will make the reader want to stay there or come back and visit it in your next book?

What kinds of worlds will YOU imagine?

For a great resource, check out Randy Ellefson’s series, The Art of World Building.