Polish Before You Publish – Editing

Welcome back! Last week I gave a brief overview of the three things every self published author needs to do before they hit the publish button. Today I’m going to talk a little more about editing, and why it’s one of the most important steps to take before you publish.

What does an editor do?
So let’s start with the basics. What exactly does an editor do? The answer is, quite a lot! In the traditional publishing model, a manuscript typically goes through the hands of three different editors. First on the list is the Developmental Editor, who works with the writer on content, organization, and presentation. This editor assists the author with the overall style, structure and flow of the manuscript, and points out any plot holes or areas where the writer may need to do more research. Next comes the Line Editor; this time around your manuscript will be checked line by line for grammar and spelling errors, and your word choices will be examined for possible ‘crutch’ words. Last in line is the Copy Editor, who will examine your manuscript for inconsistencies in theme or style, and ensure that you have the proper permissions for any copyrighted material you may have included.

There is quite a bit to this step, and as you’ve probably already guessed, it takes a lot of time. A good editor will pore over every detail, more than once, to ensure you have a quality story that readers will love. The editor isn’t just the author’s best friend; they’re an angel to the reader, and the track that keeps the story train running straight and true. Because of all of this, editing services can be rather expensive. I won’t lie; the current cost for a full edit of a 95,000 word manuscript, performed by a seasoned editor, is well over $1000. (For more information about current editing rates, check out the Editorial Freelancers Association – http://www.the-efa.org/res/rates.php) This is likely a daunting figure for any self-publishing author to consider, but take heart; shopping around can net you lower rates. Independent freelancers or small presses (like Sudden Insight) often offer editing services at lower rates in order to build up their portfolio or library. You’re still going to need about $200-$500 dollars for an edit, but know that it’s money well spent. A good edit can transform your book from the story everyone passes on to the story everyone raves about.

Software programs and computers do not make good editors
“But Dawn,” you say, “I have spell check! It catches everything! I don’t need to spend money on an editor!” Spell check is indeed a great tool, and I think everyone should run their manuscript through it at least once. However, it’s not so good at catching all of those wonderful words that are spelled several different ways and mean several different things. Take the following sentence: I wood bee happy to wash you’re hare. It’s pretty obvious to my human eyes that this is not what you meant to say, but spell check will let this pass because all of those words are spelled correctly. It’s not smart enough to know that what you really meant to type was: I would be happy to wash your hair.

Editing software is there to assist you with the editing process, but it’s only one small piece of the puzzle. At this time there is no software program or computer that can replace a set of human eyes reading through your manuscript. A software program doesn’t understand flow or emotion. A software program isn’t going to catch the glaring plot hole that makes your readers think they’ve lost their minds. Computers are smart, but also very lacking in the the common sense department, so don’t count on them to properly edit your book.

Get the right editor for the job
Now that I’ve (hopefully) steered you in the direction of obtaining editing services, let’s talk about finding the right editor. As with anything, if you’re going to spend any amount of money, make sure you’re spending it wisely. You need to find an editor that works in your genre, and who fits your style. I know an author whose fantasy book received an edit from someone who typically worked on New Age projects; the editor had no knowledge of weaponry or battle terms, and frequently wrote “This might need to be changed; I don’t really know much about this genre.”. This was obviously an incredibly bad matchup, but also a lesson to be learned. A good editor will assist you in making a perfect match by offering to perform a sample edit of your work. This will generally be the first two chapters of your manuscript, and should always be free; if you find someone who wants to charge you for a sample edit, tell them thanks but no thanks. Once you receive the sample edits back, you’ll know fairly quickly whether or not they’re the editor for you. Do make sure to push your ego out of the way when it’s time to go over your editors suggestions. It’s important to remember that they’re not trying to rewrite your story or destroy your self confidence; they’re just trying to help you put out the best book possible.

Tips for the author on a budget
So, what do you do when you can’t afford to hire an editor for your book? My first suggestion is to start saving money, because this is honestly not an area where you can afford to be cheap. However, if it’s absolutely impossible to come up with the funds to pay for a proper editor, you do have a few options. If you’re not fortunate enough to be friends with, or related to, an editor, your next best bet is beta readers, or local writers groups and online author forums (Goodreads is a great place to start). You’re going to want several sets of eyes going over your manuscript if you go this route, and you’ll want to make sure that these eyes can be trusted with your unpublished work. Network within local writers groups, or on any of the many online forums for self published authors, and spend some time finding the right beta readers for your book. You need to find people who are willing to be brutally honest with you. They need to have a good command of the language you write in. Ideally these will be people who prefer to read books in your chosen genre; once again, a sci-fi lover is not going to be able to help the historical romance writer, other than to say “I don’t read this kind of stuff”. Most importantly, listen to what they have to say. Go over their notes with a fine toothed comb, then do the same with your manuscript. You’ll be amazed by what another set of eyes can do for your book.

Next week we’ll talk about formatting your manuscript for print and ebook, and how this is an area you might be able to tackle yourself. Stay tuned!

Dawn Marshall is obviously not a writer. She is, however, the resident Book & Graphics Designer at Sudden Insight Publishing, and a big fan of indie authors. You can find her design work and read her smarmy tweets at dear23.com.

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  1. […] back, everyone. Last week we talked about editing, and why it’s one of the most important steps to take before you publish. This week we’re going […]

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