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How to Edit a Book: How Many Times Should I Edit?

book writing coach
Your Book Writing and Editing Coach

As a nonfiction author, you need to do more than just write a book, you need to know how to edit a book!

I just got off the phone with one of my Bring Your Book to Life® students, who’d asked, “How many times should I edit my manuscript?

For nonfiction book editing, novice writers often assume an edit or two will do it. The problem is, you can’t look at all editing issues at once. You often need to read the manuscript looking at one or two particular issues and then go through another time for another issue. Here are some editing tips for nonfiction writing that will teach you how to edit a book. I offer 10 ways to focus as you go through each iteration of nonfiction book editing:

The Developmental Edit(s)

1. You’ll want to start with a developmental edit, which looks at the big picture details: structure, tone, missing elements, areas that need more depth, what to cut, clarity and other global issues.

You might well start your first edit by looking at how the material is organized. Ask yourself:

– Does the order make sense?

– Is the information clear?

– Do I need to elaborate anywhere?

– Is some of the material too detailed or too technical for most of my readers? Or is it not technical enough in places?

– Should I move things around?

When you’ve edited your manuscript once through with these questions in mind, pat yourself on the back. You’ve completed your first developmental edit.

2. Next, you may want to read (and edit) for tone, stories and interest level:

– Are there places I can make it more interesting?

– Are there stories that would illustrate my points?

– Is the tone consistent and does it work for my audience?

Once you’ve edited a book for these three areas–tone, stories and interest–you can likely move to a copy edit of the book. How to copy edit a book? I’m glad you asked!

How to Copy Edit a Book

Once you’ve done your developmental edit(s), you may be ready for a copy edit — exploring the book line by line to make the writing clear, entertaining, succinct and polished. In the copy editing phase you also ensure the book is error-free.

David Donahue's Photo
Inject energy into your writing. [David Donahue’s Photo]
3. Next, you may read (and edit a book) for passive verbs and see where you can change them to more active verbs. Verbs give your writing energy. They shape your writing and make it compelling (or not).

4. Another book edit may be about “show vs. tell.

– Where do I tell readers something without illustrating it?

– How can I make this information come to life with specific–even quirky–details?

– Are there places where statistics or research can back up what I am saying?

5. Another book edit may be for concise writing:

– Are there extra words I can delete: words like “so”  and “well” at the beginning of a sentence and words like “really,” “very,” “so” and “that” throughout the manuscript.

– Can I say things in fewer words?

– Does the writing get awkward, clunky or unclear anywhere?

– Do I have any run-on or overly complex sentences?

edit aloud
You can have someone read aloud to you to get new nuances when editing.

7. and 8. You may want to do several edits “in your head” and then read aloud for further editing. You’ll notice different things when you read aloud. You can also have someone read aloud to you for another perspective.

Getting Feedback to Edit Your Book

9. It’s always important to have readers from your target audience read and give you feedback. Make sure you give them questions, like, “What do you want more of,” and, “Where do you get bored,” or, “Where did I lose you,” so they know specifically what to look for.

10. I always recommend hiring a professional editor to polish your work. They will catch things you cannot. I have hired editors for my work, because it’s easier to edit someone else’s work than one’s own.

Learn how to edit a book and you will be more successful as an author. Here, we have a minimum of 10 edits.  The editing work you do will improve your writing dramatically–and can be the difference between a book your readers recommend to others and one that sits on the shelf.

You may want to bookmark this post and come back to it when you need to edit. Or print a copy and post it on your bulletin board or fridge.

I’d love to hear from readers about some of the iterations you go through when editing (and how you edit your books). I’m sure I left out a few things. How do you edit your work and how many times do you edit? (Feel free to ask questions, too, of course).

Lisa Tener

Lisa Tener is an award-winning book writing coach who assists writers in all aspects of the writing process—from writing a book proposal and getting published to finding one’s creative voice. Her clients have appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show, CBS Early Show, The Montel Williams Show, CNN, Fox News, New Morning and much more. They blog on sites like The Huffington Post, Psychology Today and WebMD.

Reader Interactions


  1. Joanne Mazzotta says

    I have a book that I’ve edited more times than I can recall. A professional editor (I thought) that I found online did not mark up the book, but rather sent me 125 pages of the 354 pages I sent him. What I saw was a skeletal remnant of what I wrote. I found spelling errors as well as a succession of possibilities I had no intention of addressing. My editor digressed so much he bored me!! After that,I felt intimidated and unsure of my ideas. After a great deal of money was spent with no good result, I knew I had to rescue my original story.

    My own editing began with the help of many websites and researched writer sites, and having my husband read it out loud. My problem is, the editing never seems to end. Every time I reread the manuscript, I see more problems with it. Now, I’m in the mire of words, punctuation, grammar and showing. The art of editing is not my expertise. Talking on paper is, and for this reason I am happy I signed up for this news letter and blog. I’ve already learned a few things I didn’t know before. Thanks. Looking forward to Lisa Tener’s class in January.

    Joanne M.

    • lisatener says

      Thanks, Joanne, I am looking forward to having you in class. It seems your comment leads to the need for another post–how to hire a book editor (what to look for, red flags, what to ask, etc.).

  2. Mauricio Sicily says

    Hello Lisa, I all ready publish in English and Spanish, my first book in Amazon.Kindle and is selling at $4.95 ” Techniques Anecdotes and Taboos of Love ” I have receive positive and negative comments about it. Women s that read it, like it. Man complaint of the poor quality in editing the book and do not agree with the content. My native language is Spanish. So first I wrote it in Spanish and than translate it to English. Because of the content of the book is not to many people in my family circle that I can show it and ask for help, like my Daughters, well educated in the English language. My dear wife read it in Spanish and like it and help me doing some corrections but with English the only help I can obtain free on line was from the automated translator to support my academic limitations with English.
    Please advice me how to obtain affordable help to present my book decent in Edition and English. Now I m Writing my 2Nd. one. Regards,

    • Lisa Tener says

      You might try Be sure to get references for the person before you hire them. Good luck.

      • Mauricio Sicily says

        Thank you. I will let you know the outcome. Also I am following your training and is helping me. Thanks.


  1. […] 1) Every book you’ve ever read has been edited. The more famous the book is, the more likely it is that it’s been edited up to a dozen times. Even with all of those eyes, even mega-sellers like Harry Potter have typos here and there. There’s no way to make it perfect, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try! Editors can’t promise to make your book a bestseller, but they can help you look more professional. So how many times should your be edited? Book writing coach Lisa Tener suggests at least ten times (note number ten!). […]

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