6 Self-Editing Tasks to Reduce Your Editing Costs

In my blog “The Cost of Editing and How to Afford it on a Limited Budget,” I discussed ways to reduce the editing services you get if you can’t afford it.

But if you can afford full editing services, you can still save on costs. Why spend more when you could spend less?

Since most editors charge based on what they want to earn per hour (even if charging you a per-word, per-page, or flat project fee rate), you can reduce the cost by doing some of the work yourself.

No, this doesn’t replace getting an editor. You are an author, not a trained editor, and even if you are a trained editor, you shouldn’t do your own editing as you are blind to your own mistakes.

However, you can take care of some general tasks that will reduce the amount of time an editor needs to spend on your project, thus reducing the overall costs.

1. Create your own style sheet


I already wrote an entire blog on how to do this so I won’t spend much time on this topic here. But suffice it to say, this will shave off time spent creating the style sheet and time spent figuring out choices unique to your manuscript.

2. Format your headings using Word’s styles feature


Most likely you manually formatted your chapter titles, section titles, subheadings, etc. An editor or formatter will have to spend time changing these to styles. (Some editors don’t do this and leave it to the formatter; some editors do take care of this. Either way, you are saving money on either the editor or the formatter.)

Step 1: highlight your section title (if you don’t have section titles, then highlight your chapter title) and select “Heading 1” in the Styles pane.


Step 2: right click on “Heading 1” and select modify to change the format.


So let’s say, for example, you want your section titles (or chapter titles) to be bold and size 22, then change that in the formatting pane that comes up after clicking on modify.


Step 3: find all of your section titles (or chapter titles), select them, and click on “Heading 1.”


If you didn’t have section titles, you did the above steps with your chapter titles. But if you did have section titles, you now need to format your chapter titles.

Follow the same steps as outlined above, but this time select “Heading 2.”

Now if you ever want to, say, change the font of all your chapter titles, all you have to do is modify “Heading 1” or “Heading 2,” whichever style you used for your chapter titles, and all of them will be changed with one click rather than manually scrolling through and changing each one.

Additionally, heading 1 and 2 are set to appear in the navigation pane and in an automatically created table of contents. This makes jumping around in your document so much easier. Rather than scrolling to find chapter 4, you can just select chapter 4 from the navigation pane.

If your book has subheadings, you will want to do the same thing for your subheadings. For this, create a new style.


Step 1: right click on the first instance of that subheading and select “styles” >> “create a style” from the mini toolbar that appears.



Step 2: call this new style “subheading level 1.”

Select the formatting you want for this subhead.

Step 3: if you want the subhead to appear in the table of contents and the navigation pane, click on the dropdown arrow next to the “format” button, and select “paragraph.”


Then in the outline level, select the next available level. If you used both heading 1 and heading 2, then level 3 is the next one. If you used only heading 1, then level 2 is the next one.

Repeat steps one–four for all your level of subheads, changing the name of the style accordingly (i.e., subheading level 2, subheading level 3, etc.) You only need to do step three if you want that subhead level to appear in your navigation pane or table of contents.

Step 4: select all instances of that level of subhead and select “subheading level 1,” to apply your style to all of them.

3. Ask friends, family, and writing buddies to give you some big-picture feedback


Enlist the aid of some trusted associates to give you readers’ feedback. Give them a list of questions to answer before they begin reading so they can focus their attention on those items.

Sample fiction questions:

  • Were there any spots where the book dragged and was less engaging?
  • Did you spot any plot holes?
  • Were my characters relatable, believable, and interesting?
  • Did the dialogue seem realistic?
  • Was the conflict and plot compelling?
  • Could you envision the setting?
  • Was the conclusion satisfying?

Sample nonfiction questions:

  • Did my content make sense?
  • Did I have enough clear examples to explain my content?
  • Was my content well-organized or did you feel I jumped around?
  • Were there any tangents that distracted from my real message?
  • Did the order of my chapters make sense?
  • Did I have enough headings to help you follow the content?
  • Did I repeat myself?

Use their feedback to strengthen the content of your book before enlisting an editor.


4. Read blogs and books covering various writing topics


Many editors and writers maintain blogs with a wealth of information on various writing topics. Based on the feedback you received from your preliminary readers, you may have an idea of your weaknesses. So you can use that to guide your decision on what blogs and books to read.

For example, if your fiction readers indicated areas where the book seemed to drag, you can read blogs on pacing. If your nonfiction readers indicated the content seemed disorganized, you can read blogs on organizational structure.

Check out my writing resource center that offers some blogs on nonfiction and fiction writing. I just started it last year (2018) so I don’t have a ton yet, but I am constantly adding to it.

If you struggle with grammar or punctuation in general, many books can help you improve. One such book that I recently read is The Best Punctuation Book, Period by June Cassagrande. Or if you just struggle with a certain grammar or punctuation concept, you can search the internet for blogs on that topic.

Check out my bite-sized punctuation blog series started in January of 2019.

Then go through and self-edit your book based on what you learned from these sources.

5. Use find and replace to do some general cleanup tasks


Before sending your manuscript to an editor, you can do a quick find and replace to take care of some issues in a few clicks. Just make sure you let your editor know you did these things as they won’t necessarily know from the sample.

*Note: (space) means press the space bar, not type the word “space.”

Remove extra spaces:

You may have been taught to put two spaces after a period, but that isn’t necessarily. Standard conventions call for just one space. If you have put extra spaces, you can get rid of them.

Find: (space) (space)

Replace: (space)

Change hyphen or en dashes to em dashes:

If you are following Chicago Manual of Style, you should use em dashes to surround parenthetical elements, not en dashes. If you are following British style, then you use en dashes. CMoS recommends unspaced em dashes, but if you prefer to space them out that is fine. Just let your editor know.

ExampleHow to change to this from unspaced hyphensHow to change to this from spaced hyphensHow to change to this from spaced en dash
Unspaced em dashMy son—the cutest kid ever—has now learned how to army crawlFind: -

Replace: ^+
Find: (space)-(space)

Replace: ^+
Find: (space)^=(space)

Replace: ^+
Spaced em dashMy son — the cutest kid ever — has learned to army crawl.Find: -

Replace: (space)^+(space)
Find: (space)-(space)

Replace: (space)^+(space)
Find: (space)^=(space)

Replace: (space) ^+(space)
Spaced en dashMy son – the cutest kid ever – has learned to army crawl. Find: -

Replace: (space)^=(space)
Find: (space)-(space)

Replace: (space)^=(space)


Change ellipses to proper ellipses:

A proper ellipses for CMoS is spaced out with nonbreaking spaces like this . . . got it?

Some prefer ellipses that look like this … not me.

For a proper ellipses according to CMoS:

Find: … OR ^0133

Test out your find function. After entering in … in the find field, see if it will find your ellipses. If not, you need to enter in ^0133 (the code for the Word ellipses symbol).

Replace: (Ctrl+Shift+Space Bar) . ( Ctrl+Shift+Space Bar) .  (Ctrl+Shift+Space Bar) . (space)

The  Ctrl+Shift+Space Bar creates a nonbreaking space, which you need so your ellipses won’t break into another line. You only need a regular space after the last dot, however.

For an ellipses that only has spaces on either side and not in between:


Replace: (space) … (space)

Change hyphen between numbers to an en dash:

When have a range of numbers, you should use an en dash, not a hyphen. So it should be 3–20, not 3-20.

Make sure you check the use wildcards box, or this find and replace won’t work.

Find: ([0-9])-([0-9])

Replace: \1^=\2

Change straight quotes to curly:

First make sure your document is set up to autocorrect straight quotes to smart quotes. This is the default setting, so most likely this is already the case.

But just in case, go to file >> options >> proofing. Then click on the autocorrect options button. Once in the autocorrect options, click on autoformat and make sure change straight quotes to smart quotes is selected.

For single quotes:


Replace: ‘

For double quotes:



Yes, you are typing the exact same thing in the find and replace box, but since it is set to autocorrect to curly (smart quotes), it will put in the correct ones.

Change tabbed indents to proper indents

Your paragraphs shouldn’t be indented by pressing tab. That won’t translate in the formatting, so at some point this will need to be changed.

First remove the tabs:

Find: ^t

Replace: (leave it blank)

This will now get rid of all the tabs.

Now you need to create a real indent.

Highlight your entire document by hitting Ctrl/A.

Then, under your toolbar, in the Paragraph section, click on the arrow on the right-hand corner. A dialogue box will pop up. Under “Special,” select “First line.” Under “By,” select “0.5” (or whatever you want the indent to be, but that is standard). Then click OK.

6. Take care of some other general cleanup tasks without find and replace


Properly prepare your document to be sent to an editor. I can’t tell you how many manuscripts I’ve gotten with weird spacing and weird font issues. You may think, Oh, who cares? My editor or formatter can take care of this. But that is the wrong mentality to take. An editor and a formatter have a lot of tasks they have to do; things they were trained to do. So show us you actually care about your project by taking the time to do these cleanup tasks that you can easily do yourself.

Font issues:

Make sure everything is in the same font and font size (headlines and titles or things you purposefully put in a different font—like a sidebar or a quote or a text message or something you want in a different font—excluded).

But with the exceptions aside, you shouldn’t have one paragraph in size 14 while the next one is in size 12. I am not even sure why that happens, but I get many manuscripts like that. Maybe it happened when you converted your document to Word, if you didn’t originally write it in Word. I don’t know. But this is something you can easily do, and it clears up my brain to focus on the tasks I have been trained to focus on rather than spending my time changing font sizes and font.

Spacing issues:

You should have the same spacing between paragraphs and between headings and text.

Use spell check:

If you have spell check turned on, it actually underlines misspelled words in red. Yes, sometimes, it is wrong. So you just ignore the squiggly red line, but often it is right, and it is very easy to just right click on it and select the suggested spelling.

When getting the quote from your potential editor, make sure to tell them that you already took care of these things. They may not be able to tell that from the sample, so be sure to let them know, and most likely, they will adjust the price. I know I would.


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