I’ll start with a disclaimer. I do not recommend this. A good editor is like a fairy godmother. With a wand of a pen, they slash run on sentences, illuminate plot holes and turn the pumpkin that is your story into the carriage that is fit to ride to the publishers.
And that is why they are not cheap.
If you are limited in funds, however, you can still polish your book to a shine. You just need alot of motivation and a thick skin (to be fair, you need a thick skin to be a writer anyway).
1. First edit
Print out a draft of your novel, sit down with a red pen and play English teacher. This is more effective if you’ve taken some time after completing the draft. Keep a notepad with you while you slash and scribble and read and make notes of any plot holes, any ideas for strengthening the story and any character development. Make sure you note any inconsistencies that are bound to show up along the way.
Then go back to your file and make the changes. Run a spell check when your done.
2. Beta Readers
Send your second draft to readers you trust. People you know will give you an honest and constructive review of your work so far. Do your best to choose readers who are well read in your genre. These can be friends or family members but keep in mind that if they like you they may not be as objective as you would like.
If they give it back to you (which is a big if in my experience), go over their notes and suggestions and decide what is helpful, what is not, and keep in mine that YOU are the writer. They may have some great ideas, but you are not obligated to take any of them. What you are looking for here is more of an overall impression on what does and doesn’t work for your story from a reader’s perspective.
3. Review boards
There are numerous pages and forums dedicated to sharing work between authors to get objective, professional opinions. I love the Online Writing Workshop for Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror where you get review points that allow you to upload your work, chapter by chapter. I have gotten excellent feedback on my chapters and found some authors that I have established a good back and forth with. Another that uses an incentive system is Critters Writers Workshop.
There are many others but prepare yourself if you haven’t done it before. No one is more critical of writing than another writer. And at this point in your editing process, that is exactly what you want. Most author reviewers will be respectful but not gentle so thicken that skin up and be prepared to feel like your draft sucks. Then get over it and really read their suggestions. Some of them will not mesh with what you are going for. Some of them will provide that light bulb moment that gives you what your story was lacking. The more you do it, the more you will know how to discern between the two.
4. Other resources
There are apps, articles, magazines, blogs and books. There are local workshops and writing conferences. Do not let yourself off the hook. Anticipate the bad reviews and get ahead of them. Know that there will always be readers who don’t love your work. Just be sure that when those readers vocalize their feelings on it, you can be assured it is because the story wasn’t right for them and not because the story wasn’t right.
Have you self edited? What tactics and resources have worked for you in the past?