So I wrote a non-fiction book! Self-Publishing for the Broke Author: How to Edit Your Manuscript, Format Your Book and Craft a Killer Cover on Little to No Money is a guide for would-be indie authors who are intimidated by the book production costs reported by many a self-published author and self-publishing expert. In this book, I break down the steps involved in self-publishing and show you how it can not only be done, but done well–all on a shoestring, and even without spending a dime.
Broke Author should be available at your favorite e-book retailer by February, but here’s the (unedited) first chapter for you to read right now.
Chapter One: Editing and Proofreading
I can’t stress enough how important a good edit is for your book. I tend to raise an eyebrow when I see independent authors publishing a new book every couple of months or so. I can’t help but wonder how much time they spent editing those books. And when I bother to read them? Often the answer appears to be, not very much time at all.
Look, I get it. The competitive nature of self-publishing tends to reward those who can crank out the most books in the least amount of time. And a lot of readers, depending on the genre, don’t really care how well a book is edited as long as it entertains them or has good info.
But there are also a lot of readers out there who DO care, and who won’t hesitate to shred a badly-edited or, worse, completely unedited book in the review section.
I also concede that there are authors out there who can pull off such a fast draft-to-publication turnaround without compromising on editing. Some such authors have a good rapport with their editors and have a carefully-honed and smoothly-oiled system in place for producing books quickly without compromising on quality. And there are some authors who are simply good at producing clean first drafts that don’t need that much editing to begin with. I’ve even managed to be such an author once or twice in my career.
But most of the time, my own manuscripts require two to three times as long to revise and edit as they did to write in the first place, and they are always, ALWAYS better for having gone through the editing process.
If you want to be the kind of author who consistently gets positive reviews and has a devoted readership who is happy to evangelize about your books to others, then don’t skip or skimp on the editing process. And if you have any money to spend on book production, this is where I most recommend you spend it.
Does this mean you have to spend money to hire a professional editor? No, it does not. But before I get into the budget-friendly options, let’s first talk about the stages and types of editing.
Stages of Revision
Ideally, a manuscript will go through several stages before it’s ready to be published. The first, of course, is the drafting stage, wherein the book actually gets written. No duh, right? Let’s move on.
The second stage usually encompasses your own revisions. This is the part where you read through what you’ve written—preferably after you’ve had enough of a break from looking at it and thinking about it that you’re seeing it with at least semi-fresh eyes—and fix the problems that you yourself are capable of spotting and identifying, and polishing your prose as you go. By the end of this stage, you’ll have what amounts to your second draft. Simple enough.
Now this is where it can tricky. Do you send your second draft to an editor, or do you send it to beta readers first? Or do you show it to a trusted first reader and complete a third draft based on their feedback before showing it to anyone else? Depending on how much time you have and on the budget editing strategy you settle on, there could be any number of additional passes at this stage. Let’s say, at a minimum, you want to have beta readers look it over before you send it to an editor.
Why not just send it to the editor first and let them fix everything? Because regardless of whether you are paying cash money for a professional editor’s services or you’ve convinced your high school English teacher to look it over in exchange for helping her grade essays, your editor will be able to do a better job if you have already cleaned up your manuscript as much as possible on your own. Speaking as someone who has done her fair share of freelance editing, I can promise you that an editor is better able to focus on what can improve your story and the overall quality of your prose when she’s not bogged down in correcting grammar, punctuation and sentence structure.
Also, contrary to popular belief, it’s not actually an editor’s job to fix your book. It’s an editor’s job to point out problems and, when appropriate, offer suggestions. It’s still your job to fix said problems. Exactly how much hands-on revising an editor does depends on the type of edit she’s been hired to do, which we’ll get into in the next section.
But the point is, between the second draft and final pass of your manuscript, you want to have as many eyes that are not yours on your manuscript and gather as much feedback as possible—all of which leads to the final stage: proofreading, which should be the absolutely last pass of your manuscript, after all other revisions have been done. Why? Because every new revision and editing pass creates opportunities to introduce new errors and typos. The final proofreading pass is for the purpose of hunting down and zapping these errors out of existence, as far as humanly possible.
Types of Editing
A lot of writers aren’t aware that there are different types of editing, each of which serves a different purpose. Let me break them down for you.
Developmental Editing – Also known as substantive editing, this type of editing is typically done early on. It looks for potential problems with the story itself: pacing, plot holes, inconsistencies, lack of character development, scenes that put the reader to sleep, that sort of thing. A lot of these problems can be identified and worked out with a good team of beta readers; but if you’re stuck and feel like you need professional help to get yourself out of a hole, this is a good type of editing to invest in.
This type of edit can range from a critical analysis of your manuscript, in which the editor simply makes suggestions and leaves it up to you to make the changes; to hands-on editing that rips out the parts that aren’t working, rearranges scenes or sections for better flow and also offers suggestions that you, the author, can choose to implement.
Copy Editing – Also known as line editing, this type of edit looks at the writing: sentence structure, awkward phrasing, grammar and syntax issues, etc. If you invest in this type of edit, look for an editor who is willing to provide a sample edit and make sure they will actually improve your writing and not simply stomp all over your voice and style. Ideally, a professional editor will simply point out things that need to be fixed and, although they may offer suggestions, ultimately they’ll leave how to fix it up to you.
Proofreading – This type of edit searches your manuscript with a fine tooth comb to spot and correct errors of spelling, typing, punctuation, grammar, syntax, formatting, etc. As mentioned previously, this should be the absolute final edit, and it should be done by someone other than yourself, and it should involve more than simply running spell check.
How much can you expect to pay for these types of edits? It will largely depend on the type of edit you’re getting, the size of your manuscript, the quality of your writing to begin with, and the experience and reputation of the editor. In general, for a full-sized novel or non-fiction book, you can expect to spend anywhere from several hundred to several thousand dollars.
Obviously, if you’re reading this book, that’s an unrealistic proposition. Before we move on, I should point out that most freelance editors worth their salt will let you pay in installments, and some even offer financing. However, I don’t recommend or advocate that you go into debt in order to get your book edited. The sad reality is that, unless lightning strikes and you turn out to be the next E.L. James or Hugh Howey, you won’t make your money back—at least not on this one book.
So where does that leave you? Fortunately, with a few options.
Editing on a Budget
Whether you’ve got a little money to invest in editing, or you’re working with no money at all, don’t fret. Editing is not an all-or-nothing proposition. You’ve still got options.
If You Have a Little Money…
- Ask for a partial edit. Most freelance editors will be happy to edit a single chapter or even a few pages. Send in the roughest or most problematic section of your manuscript and request a line edit. You can then use that edit as a guide as you self-edit the rest of your book.
- Ask for a professional critique, which typically costs substantially less than an edit. If you can afford to send in the entire manuscript, great, but if not, again, most editors will be happy to provide a partial. I’ve worked with critique clients that have sent me one or two chapters at a time, as they could afford it, which I critiqued and provided feedback as we went.
- Give a new editor a chance. Someone who is just starting out and trying to establish an editing business, who doesn’t yet have a body of work or experience in this field, will likely charge much less than an established editor. Depending on how eager they are to build their portfolio, they might even be willing to work for free in exchange for referring their services to other writers in your network.
- Try Fiverr. Fiverr is a freelance marketplace that got its name from the initial idea that freelancers would provide their services starting at only five dollars. The site has grown up quite a bit since then, but while you can expect most service providers to charge substantially more than a fiver for their work, you can find a wide range of services and experience levels that make it fairly easy to find editing and other publishing-related services that fit your budget (side note: if you have some kind of service to offer, Fiverr could also be a good way to start your own side business that will help pay for your editing). Click here to check them out. [Disclaimer: These are affiliate links and if you use them to sign up to Fiverr I’ll get a commission. But I’m a long-time Fiverr user and I recommend it because I love it — I even sell services there.]
- Save your money for the proofreader. If you feel confident that you’re able to work out story issues with the help of trusted beta readers and polish your prose to a level that leaves both you and your readers satisfied, then you’re better off hiring a proofreader anyway. And proofreading typically costs quite a bit less than substantive or line editing.
If You Have No Money…
- Join a writing or critique group. Whether you meet with one in person or online, a writing group can provide valuable feedback on your manuscript. While it won’t cost you any money, it will cost quite a bit in time, as you’ll be obligated to return the favor by reading and providing feedback on the other members’ work.
- Assemble a team of trusted beta readers. Look for people who not only have a good grasp of grammar and sentence structure, but who are well-read and familiar with the genre in which you’re writing. Be sure to recognize that they’re giving up their valuable time to do you a favor, even if they seem excited to read your book. Provide them with deadlines, but don’t hound them or guilt them if they’re not able to deliver. And be sure to compensate them in some way, whether that’s thanking them by name in the book’s acknowledgments, providing them with free copies of the final book, or baking them cookies to show your appreciation. For more information on working with beta readers to edit your book, download my free booklet, Seven Steps to Self-Editing for Indie Authors on a Shoestring.
- Barter or trade for editing services. Do you have editing skills and know another writer who does editing on the side (or vice versa)? Offer to swap manuscripts—you’ll edit hers if she’ll edit yours. Editing skills isn’t the only thing you can trade. Can you help a freelance editor improve her website? Is there someone local to you for whom you could provide a more hands-on service such as yard work, house cleaning or babysitting? See also my previous example of helping your old English teacher grade papers. Get creative. There are a lot of different ways to “pay” for editing services that don’t involve money.
As you can see, not having a budget set aside for hiring an editor is not the end of the world, nor is it the end of your self-publishing ambitions. With a combination of creativity, time and sweat equity, there are plenty of other paths you can take to achieve a polished, publishable book.
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