How to get your book edited when you can’t afford an editor.

Does professional editing sound like a significant investment you’re not sure you’re ready for? Professional editing is expensive because it takes time and skill, but there are other options you can consider. Use these tips to make the most of your professional editing budget and bring overall costs down. The good news is that you can learn some editorial skills yourself if you have the time and determination.

What’s involved:

  1. Sort out your story’s big picture
  2. Sentence-level editing
  3. Get feedback from beta readers
  4. Check the copyediting details
  5. Proofreading for quality control
  6. Spellcheck and AI grammar editors

Sort out your story’s big picture

BitmoJo studying story structure at a desk.

You don’t want to hand over your first draft to an editor if you’re on a budget! Learn to rewrite and self-edit as best you can until you’re happy with your story’s structure. You can find lots of advice online regarding self-editing and the basics of developmental editing. I wrote a post about self-editing your first draft a little while ago.

I’d recommend identifying the core of your story: what is it about at its heart? How would you summarize your book in a sentence or two? When you reread your work, you can check that’s what’s coming through on the page, and that your story delivers what you intended.

Story-level considerations to get you started:

  • Do readers have a reason to care about your characters?
  • Are the stakes, plot, and pace compelling?
  • Does every scene have a purpose?
  • How is your balance of show and tell?
  • Is there a balance of narrative and dialogue?
  • Are actions, transitions, descriptions, and backstory clear and integrated?
  • Is your setting or world rich and believable?
  • Is wordcount about right for your target audience and genre?

When you’re happy with your overall story, your characters will be captivating and challenged and developed by your plot. If you’re unsure, you can get feedback from some test readers who don’t mind reading drafts (alpha readers). You might have a friend, colleague, or family member who’ll be honest with you about what does and doesn’t work for them as a reader.

Sentence-level editing

BitmoJo ticking things off her self-editing to-do list.

When story-level issues are taken care of, it’s time for sentence-level work. But take a break before you go through your manuscript again so you can view it slightly more objectively. Research line-editing for ideas; I’ve written about the different types of editing on the blog.

Line-editing considerations to get you started:

  • Repetition of certain phrases. We all have writing habits and tics. Can you spot yours?
  • Will everything make sense to readers who are unfamiliar with your story?
  • Are there any filter words (such as thought and watched) or adverbs (such as suddenly and unexpectedly) that you don’t really want?
  • Is it always clear who’s speaking and what they are doing while speaking?
  • Does point of view accidentally slip to other characters?
  • Are transitions in and out of flashbacks clear?
  • Recheck your balance of showing and telling, and narrative and dialogue.
  • Are your character names pronounceable and distinct from each other?

Get feedback from beta readers

Maybe you are part of a writing group, have a critique partner, or can find some helpful beta readers to provide feedback. If you are not used to receiving feedback, don’t worry if it stings at first. This is our hardwired reaction to what feels like social judgement, and it does get easier!

Not all feedback will be useful to you, and requesting specific feedback on particular things can be helpful. Decide which comments work for you and apply them to your book. Repeat often.

Check the copyediting details

BitmoJo with a book on a laptop.

When you think your story’s written, it’s time to check the details, such as spelling, punctuation, and grammar. The free version of Grammarly is a good place to start as it usually picks up more errors than your standard spellcheck. But be wary as some of the suggestions are plain silly, and other errors will be missed. Read carefully yourself, too, and become an expert at looking things up!

Copyediting considerations to get you started:

  • Commonly confused words (such as affect and effect)
  • Words that sound the same but are spelled differently (homonyms)
  • Apostrophes for possession and contraction
  • Commas and semicolons
  • Hyphens and dashes
  • Punctuating dialogue
  • Paragraph styles
  • Chapter numbers

Proofreading for quality control

BitmoJo using a magnifying glass to look for proofreading errors.

Proofreading is a final quality control check for errors that might have been missed during copyediting. It isn’t easy to proofread your own work, and I’ve written about improving accuracy when proofreading your own work. Enlist whoever you can to help you at least look for typos or other errors that you’re too close to your own work to see.

There are cheap proofreading and editing services around, and you might be lucky enough to find quality work from someone new to the profession or just starting out on a particular online platform. However, this option may take a lot of time and luck and could be a stressful gamble.

Spellcheck and AI grammar editors

AI editing and spellcheckers are great tools, but don’t just accept all their suggestions as you will introduce errors into your work. They can be quite helpful for sentence-level issues, but they do miss things, or make suggestions that aren’t correct or appropriate for your work. This post on Kindlepreneur compares AI proofreading tools such as Grammarly and ProWritingAid. Remember in fiction we can creatively bend the rules, especially in dialogue.

Summing up

If you want a comprehensive edit without spending money, you might be better learning to do it yourself (although professional editing training costs money) or trading within a trusted writing and critique group. You could follow some editors on social media, if that’s your kind of thing, to see what tips they give.

Some editors offer a mini-edit of your first few chapters, see my services for example mini-edit options, and you could then apply the feedback to the rest of your book.

I hope that gives you some ideas for editing on a budget.

BitmoJo with a question mark on her head.

Are there any items on the lists above you’d like to know more about? Let me know in the comments, or via email at, so I can write about it next time!

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Published by Joanne Taylor

I help fiction and mythology authors with developmental feedback, editing, and proofreading. Detail-orientated and thoughtful editing for a book your readers can't stop thinking about.

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