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46 Self-Editing Questions for the Self-Publishing Writer

photo-1422207258071-70754198c4a2With great power comes great responsibility.”

These true words, whether they were first coined by either Voltaire or Spiderman’s Uncle Ben, pretty much sum up the self-publishing author’s experience. On one hand, you have total control over your work; you’re not beholden to anyone else’s gatekeeping or limited vision. On the other hand, you have total control over your work. 

Publishing is a multi-step process, and there are experts and professionals to help you every stage of the way. However, you’ll save time and money if you address a few key issues and answer some top-level questions yourself.


Developmental Editing/Content Editing

For practical (prescriptive or expository) nonfiction:

  1. Can you summarize the reader’s felt need in a sentence? When they walk into a bookstore or visit an online store, what is the question that they’re asking?
  2. Is there a clear promise of a solution or resolution offered in the first chapter? 
  3. Do you clearly offer something unique from the competition?
  4. Do you show that you have the authority and knowledge to write about this subject?
  5. Is each chapter relevant to the premise of the book? 
  6. Does each chapter add something new?
  7. Does it build to a conclusion?
  8. Is your voice consistent, authoritative, and natural?
  9. Are there examples and anecdotes to support your ideas?
  10. Have you checked your facts and details and sourced your material appropriately?

For fiction and narrative nonfiction (memoir): 

  1. Is there a clear conflict that can be summarized into a single, unique sentence? Is there something the character wants and doesn’t have?
  2. Does that conflict emerge within the first few pages, and does it last, and build, the rest of the book? 
  3. Is your character actively involved in the way the plot unfolds? Are they pursuing what they want? 
  4. Does each scene reveal something new about the plot or the characters? Are there unnecessary scenes or parts of scenes that need to be cut?
  5. Does everything happen for a logical reason, based on what we know about motivations, and external cause and effect? Are there any places where the plot relies on coincidences or characters acting outside their natural tendencies without reason? 
  6. Is the conclusion satisfying and appropriate for its genre? Is it clearly tied to the preceding action?
  7. Are your characters complex, not relying on cliches? Does your hero have flaws, and do your villains have sympathetic sides? 
  8. Does each secondary character exist for a unique reason? Do characters appear consistently and appropriately throughout the book?
  9. Does dialogue read naturally, the way people really talk? Are there non-verbal sensory beats?
  10. Does your narrator intrude anywhere, “telling” when they should be “showing?” Is your narrator explaining what the reader can see for themselves?
  11. Is your Point of View consistent throughout each scene? Do we see only the perspectives that really drive the novel as a whole? 

Copy Editing

 Clarity, Accuracy, Readability, Brevity (CARP)

  1. Is anything missing: references to facts, stories, people, details that got cut in an early draft? Does anything need a citation? Are you making assumptions about what the reader knows or believes, when you need more evidence or back story?
  2. Do facts or information repeat? Check for sentences, ideas that were moved or edited, quotes, etc.
  3. Are details consistent from one chapter to another?
  4. Are details and information accurate? (Check distances, time periods, math, proper names and places, etc.)
  5. Are there any distracting stylistic habits or overused words/phrases?
  6. Are sentences all properly structured and clear, without misplaced modifiers or passive verbs? 
  7. Can you cut wordiness in sentences: adverbs and adjectives, similar actions or repeated details in conversations?
  8. Are there awkward moments in dialogue? Do characters use proper names in one-on-one conversations, or info dump, or are there tags other than “said?” 
  9. Are you relying on cliches?
  10. Is the punctuation correct?



  1. Are there typos that spell-check didn’t catch?
  2. Are all words used appropriately?
  3. Are there missing words?
  4. Are specific terms, numbers, etc. used consistently?
  5. Is the formatting consistent with indents, paragraphs, spacing, etc.?
  6. Is the punctuation correct?


Page Proofs

  1. Do print books have widows and orphans
  2. Are the print headers and footers accurate on every page?
  3. Are print page layout options like subheadings and drop caps used consistently
  4. Are print page numbers and chapter numbers consistent? Do page numbers start with the manuscript (not the title page or front matter)?
  5. Does each print chapter and new section start on the right-side page (the recto)?
  6. Are fonts and spacing consistent from chapter to chapter?
  7. Is formatting (italics, “smart” quotation marks, footnotes) accurate?
  8. Is the Table of Contents accurate?
  9. Is the cover (front and back) accurate and proofread?



Originally presented for The Seattle Public Library’s #SeattleWrites program.

Interested in having Beth teach a self-editing class to your group? Contact her.

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