Photo Source: Denis Jans, Unsplash

Photo Source: Denis Jans, Unsplash



In the last five years, I’ve published twenty books: three novels and seventeen novellas. Word counts vary from 60,000 to as low as 15,000. Prior to that, I’d written three novels in sixteen years, each with word counts of 105,000, 80,000 and 75,000, respectively. I know, before you say: “Oh, but James Patterson, Enid Blyton and indie author Mark Dawson write far more than that,” you have to realise my books – unlike most of theirs – are multi-genre: l write crime fiction, historical fiction, satire, and supernatural stories, no easy feat and not the approach for a writer who wants a high level of output.


During my younger days as an author, my editing was at a very slow pace. I found it a chore. I didn’t enjoy it (who does?), which in turn created a situation where the quality of my prose suffered. First of all, I think my technique and approach were all wrong. When I started writing seriously in the late-1990s, THE PROCESS OF WRITING AND SELF-EDITING WAS AS FOLLOWS:

Write the book and then self-edit, which I did by reading through the whole story electronically four times, each time giving myself two weeks between read-throughs — that way I got a fresh perspective to the story. I can even recommend longer. I always used the courier-new font. After that, alpha readers, then beta readers until I handed it over to my copy editors and proof-readers. I’ve never used developmental editors — I don’t think they’re useful. A writer should know his/her characters, plot and style intimately anyway, and shouldn’t need an outside source to improve it. During the alpha editing stage, I had my reader pull me up for certain things: verb-noun agreement, misspellings, and other annoyances the four edits I’d done myself missed. 

I was angry. 

I checked through again. 

Every time I spotted something new that needed changing. After the alpha reader was satisfied, I sent the copy off to two beta readers that I used. They, too, spotted mistakes, some obvious ones which even the alpha reader had missed. I have always demanded from all my alpha and beta readers, copy editors as well as proof-readers to highlight what is ‘wrong with the story rather than what is right’. I think I’ve always been able to take criticism well (I think). It is only human nature for us to bask in compliments, but for a writer hearing only positive comments all the time can be detrimental to our overall goal: it can cause arrogance, laziness, and especially entitlement: a great book — for me, at least — should stir the reader’s imagination and take them to another place, but also contain the ‘paranoia of failure’, a psychological condition which forces the creator to perfect the story, not only in terms of plot but by eliminating completely typographical and grammatical errors.


But there was a problem with that: it was expensive, prohibitively so. All my books prior to 2013, Red Corner, An Alternate History of Rus; Master Sisyphus and the Saveloy Men; and Mister Blue Sky had been edited this way. Even now, when I sometimes read through a short extract or sentence from one of them, I still have those ‘cringe moments’ when I spot an error: either a typo, a phrase or piece of dialogue I’d like to change (like with this post now).


Photo source: Tony Ross, Unsplash

Photo source: Tony Ross, Unsplash

One of the first things I noticed was editing on the screen: I was going blind, snowblind in a sense, as the time I was additionally looking at the monitor — after having spent hundreds of hours writing the novel — was killing me. I was skimming over things that I should have spotted. Font, too. Courier new was and still is my font of preference for writing on a laptop, but during the editing process, it had become a burden.

So, I’d identified the two main problems with my self-editing approach. I had to do something to improve it and up my productivity: In 2013, I came up with a plan and revised my self-editing process, and since then I haven’t looked back.


Here are the simple things I changed:

  • Printing out my drafts for editing and changing the font for every edit. This encompassed buying myself a printer.

  • After finishing the novel/novella, I would print it out:

  • The first round of self-editing (copy edit and proofread): read through hardcopy printout with a red marker pen, courier new font

  • The second round of self-editing (copy edit and proofread): read through hardcopy printout with a red marker pen, New Times Roman font

  • The third round of self-editing (copy edit and proofread): read through hardcopy printout with a red marker pen, Garamond font

  • The fourth round of self-editing (copy edit and proofread): read through hardcopy printout with a red marker pen, Gill Sans Nova font

  • The fifth round of self-editing (proofread): read through hard copy printout ‘backwards’ with a red marker pen, Verdana font


First of all, reading from a hard copy was a revelation — I could see the words on the page more clearly, giving me a different perspective to the narrative. Changing fonts for every edit, too, altered the words that my eyes were looking at, tricking my brain into thinking I was reading something for the first time — this is a major problem of self-editing: after we have written something, we tend to read what we have written on auto mode, as there is what I like to call: ‘the expectation of the known’, something the great German philosopher Immanuel Kant would call an obvious case of ‘Conceptual Containment’. Changing fonts — though not a panacea to the obstacles of self-editing — does help eliminate certain traits our brain and eyes learn from re-reading.

And finally, reading something backwards, as in from finish to start, eliminates the narrative, and just gives you the words as readable phenomena. Reading like this is quite effective for proofreading.


Since I have done this, my output (twenty-three books written and counting as of September 2018) and editing skills have improved greatly, as well as my pace of doing it. I no longer use an alpha reader and hire only a copy editor for the final draft, usually sending them a galley proof of my book, which suffices. Now, this method is not foolproof, and I cannot say it will work for everyone, though it will definitely save you money, as costs now are considerably lower from what they were in the past.

Photo source: Mirza Babic, Unsplash

Photo source: Mirza Babic, Unsplash