OELN — Editing

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Should I Hire an Editor or Do It Myself?


Well, let me clarify–the first major edit that your book goes through once finished should definitely be performed by you. These are called First Edits. To hand off your work to an editor with simple mistakes not only looks bad, but costs you more in the long run. Here are some tips for performing your first edits:

Let. The. Manuscript. Rest.

I cannot stress how important this is! You have spent an inordinate amount of time with your work and you can no longer see the forest for the trees. Don’t argue this–just set your book aside and do anything else for at least a week. Some authors take this time to celebrate completing their book; especially if it’s the first one! I like to let my own manuscripts sit for at least two weeks, but a month is better for me. I spend about eight months writing each one, so I tend to get tied up in them. Some authors let theirs rest for several months, or even a whole year! When your first few pages feel only vaguely familiar is when you’ve let it rest long enough.

Search and Replace is your friend

Guys, I am so serious about this. No matter how careful you are, you’re only human–writing while distracted, half-conscious, or while you are supposed to be doing something else comes with the territory. One of the most frequent errors I see are with doubled words. Conjunctions and prepositions are major offenders here, and they are more difficult to catch because your brain already knows the story well enough to gloss over them–even if you let it rest like in the tip above. Bring up the Search feature of your favorite word-processing program and check for classics like:

  • She She
  • He He
  • They They
  • Is Is
  • So So
  • And And
  • When When
  • What What
  • Why Why
  • That That
  • Then Then
  • Who Who
  • How How
  • A A
  • I I
  • Of Of
  • We We
  • You You
  • Me Me
  • Up Up
  • In In
  • On On
  • To To
  • For For
  • From From
  • If If

[This is in no way a complete list. You’ll find others on your own.]

Read your story out loud as you edit

This seems like a silly step, but it changes the way you think about your story. You moved it from your head to screen word by word, and your brain remembers that. When you read it aloud you not only trick your brain out of glossing over what it is actually reading, but you also can hear if your dialogue sounds right. If your characters’ conversations are stilted, unnatural, or even boring, this is a good opportunity to fix it. Some people print out their entire manuscript and do edits by hand–and that is another method that circumvents brain glossing–but that doesn’t help with conversations like I find reading aloud does.

Do I Really Need to Hire An Editor?

OK. You have to ask yourself several questions–and answer them honestly:

For Line Edits:

  • Do I know the rules of grammar, punctuation, and sentence structure well enough to realize any mistakes I may have made?
  • Am I familiar with The Chicago Manual of Style or The Elements of Style? If not, am I willing to purchase and study either one of them?
  • Am I willing to read my story from start to finish several times in a row? Possibly until my eyes bleed?

For Story Edits:

  • Am I able to go through my story as a reader rather than as the author?
  • Am I able to distance myself enough from my own work to see where changes in the story are needed?
  • Is it worth it to rewrite or remove scenes/characters I worked hard on to improve the flow or readability of the story?

If you answered no to ANY of these, you need to hire an editor.

What if I Decide to Self-Edit Anyway?

I can’t stop you–but I advise against it unless you are absolutely certain of your skills. If you can do it, you are amazing. Seriously! First impressions are critical and if there are major errors within the first few chapters of your book you can lose a potential reader within the space of your sample pages. On sites like Amazon your book can be removed from sale for being “low-quality”, meaning your work had so many errors and/or formatting issues that it was impossible for anyone to read. When self-publishing there really is no place you can cut corners if you want people to buy your book. And if you’re offering it for free? That isn’t an excuse for lousy editing. If cost is an issue there are many reasonable options you can take advantage of, which I’ll detail in the next paragraph. [Ha! Segue!]

How Much Does Editing Cost?

That depends. Some editors price per word while others give a flat price. Editing of a 35,000 word manuscript by a professional, established service can cost as little as $700, [2¢ per word] or as much as $4000 [12¢ per word]. The median is more in the range of $1,000 to $1,500, or 5¢ to 7¢ a word. If you go with a freelance editor or a newly opened editing service looking to prove itself, you may be able to get your entire manuscript edited for under $300. [Which is a steal!] You can even find people offering editing services on sites like Fiverr–and their pricing is more than reasonable!

So I Should Just Go With the Cheapest Editor?

Quality editing doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg, but make sure to see samples of any potential editor’s work. An editor that is a poor match for your story will do more harm than good. Don’t give your comedic fantasy to someone that only works on [or reads] gritty future dystopian novels unless they prove that they can edit your work without being subjective. [There is nothing that will raise your hackles faster than someone telling you to change your character’s fantasy-flavored names because they prefer their book characters to have familiar, plain names like Jack or Linda.] Find an editor that will be good for your story, then worry about the cost. The right editor will coax wonderful things from your hard work, and make your words shine!

What About Beta or Advance Readers?

Of course! Beta and Advance Readers are a fantastic resource that will often come to you if you look in the right places. There is a slight difference between the two though…

Beta Readers

After edits, these are the people you send what may be your final copy to for feedback on the book as whole. Some authors just send a copy and let them come to them with suggestions for improvement, but I like to send out a checklist in the back if I am looking for feedback for specific things. These are your readers, and their voice is the overall voice of your intended audience. If they come back with good remarks, your other readers should enjoy your work as well. On occasion you will have a beta reader that never gets back to you. This can be due to various reasons–life got in the way, they didn’t like the book and are embarrassed to criticize it, they forgot they offered to beta read–and so on. I give my betas a month to submit feedback. If I don’t hear from them after that, I drop them from my beta list. A fast reader can devour a 100,000 word [Roughly 400 pages] book in a matter of days. Slower readers can take several weeks. I’ve had success with the one-month deadline, but you may want to give more time depending on your publishing schedule. [However, I would not give less time than that unless you know your betas read fast.]

Advance Readers

These are people that you send Advance Copies to. [Commonly abbreviated ARC for Advanced Reader Copy.] These are specially marked copies of your book that you release before it goes on sale. These could be sent to anyone from your best friend to someone online who has expressed an interest in your story. The goal is to get people talking about your work. Word of mouth is a powerful marketing tool and if a lot of people are talking about your story then that’s fantastic! ARCs are a great pre-sale tactic, and are often sent to book reviewers for this purpose. For self-publishers, ARCs are where the majority of your first reviews on vendor sites [Amazon, Smashwords, etc.] come from.

Now that we’ve covered all that—and you’re still interested–let’s move on to the final section: Self-Publishing!

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