This is article 4 of my Author Series. Previous articles covered Copyright, Publishing Avenues, and Contracts. If you’re not interested in publishing as a topic, come back on January 28th when I move back to more generic topics.


Editing. I have a lot to say on editing. I’ve made some gaffes when it comes to editing and I’ve learned a bit from my experiences. I hope that I can share this bit with you and give you some tips to keep you from making the same mistakes.

Before I talk about how and when to edit, I want to provide some broader context by talking about the types of editors out there and what they do.

One term you may have heard is “Acquisition Editor”. These aren’t “editors” in the traditional sense that they edit things. Instead, these are people typically authorized by publishing houses to find and sign new talent. When your agent (if you have one) pitches your book to a larger publisher this is the person they usually speak with.

“Developmental Editor” and “Content Editor” are other terms you may have heard. These are typically employed by larger publishing houses. They both do very similar roles. They, essentially, serve as a type of type of writing coach and review the book for errors with plot, characterization, and pacing. For Indie Authors who self-publish the Beta-Readers that preview the work typically serve in this capacity. I feel like it’s worth mentioning here that Beta Readers often aren’t in the publishing business themselves. They feedback they give can be confusing, contradictory, or vague. Beta Readers work best if you give them something specific to provide feedback about. This is best done through the use of a survey. Some Beta Readers may be shy about giving candid feedback. This can be addressed via anonymous survey. If you have a Gmail account, then you can use Google Drive to create a “form” and use that to collect feedback from your beat readers anonymously. The downside to this method is that if their feedback is unclear, you won’t be able to ask follow-up questions.

A “Copy Editor” is someone who focuses primarily on grammar, punctuation, spelling, fact-checking (sometimes), and formatting. This is the type of editor that most people think about when they just say “editor” without specifying.

A “Line Editor” is essentially a Copy Editor and a Content Editor rolled into one. They go through the entire manuscript line by line and check everything from grammar to character development and plot.

A “Proofreader” is someone who reads the manuscript after the editor has read it. They look for glaring mistakes that have either been missed by the editor or were introduced during the editing process.

A “Critique Partner” isn’t an editor, per se. They are more like a Beta Reader, but they are typically another author that you’ve developed a working relationship with. They might be able to provide valuable insight that Beta Readers miss.

Now that we have some understanding of the types of editors that are out there, let’s talk about when and how to edit. Let me start by saying, yes, your book needs to be edited. You shouldn’t just write a draft and then click publish. If, for some reason, you are doing that, stop. Editing provides a level of quality control. You wouldn’t play a video game that’s full of glitches. You wouldn’t want to watch a movie that’s badly edited or has the audio and video out of synch. Why would anyone want to read a book that’s not been edited? Further, consider the idea that your author name is a “brand”. Microsoft. Apple. Stephen King. Isaac Asimov. You. Like it or not, you are a brand. If you release books that are badly edited, you end up hurting your brand image. And that ends up hurting sales.

Books should be edited multiple times. Early drafts by Beta Readers and Critique Partners. Later drafts by actual editors. You want to edit your book before you send out query letters. If an agent or a publisher reads a manuscript that’s full of errors in the first few pages, they will be deterred from accepting the book. Part of it is cost. I knew an acquisition editor who told me that he passed on a 7-book sci-fi series. Each book was 90-110K words. But he passed because the book was full of run-on sentences and the entire thing would have required large amounts of editing.

The first and most important thing to remember about editors; they are only human and they will make mistakes. Just because you hired someone to edit your book doesn’t mean that your book will be entirely error-free. It’s more a question of what is an acceptable error rate? 1 mistake in 1,000 words? 1 in 10,000? For me, 1 in 5,000 seems a pretty reasonable rate. A 50,000 word book would have no more than 10 errors. I can live with that.

The best bet is to hire a professional editor, as I’ve learned the hard way. This is the most expensive route, but the cost is typically worth it as a professional editor knows what you want and has experience in the field. There are a lot of affordable editors out there if you look.

There are also “discount” editors. They don’t call themselves that, that’s what I call them. These are editors who contract their services through discount websites like Cragislist Ads or websites like Fiverr. I have had mixed results with using editors like this. I hired an editor off of Fiverr for my book, Skin Deep, and I’ve noticed that there are way more errors than I find acceptable, so the book will need to be completely re-edited. Not only does that hurt my brand image, it’s an added expensive – paying to have it edited by a discount editor twice costs about the same as paying a competent editor to do it once. And paying a professional editor and a discount editor is definitely more expensive than just hiring a professional editor. In retrospect I should have simply paid a better editor from the start. But, that being said, even the “discount” editors are better than trying to do it yourself.

As a general rule for about 99% of you reading this, you should not try to edit your own books (unless you have an English Degree or something like that). Most people don’t have the technical chops for editing work. But even if you do, there’s still the problem with familiarity. You know the story. You know what it’s supposed to say. You’ll read the sentence and your brain will transform the words. Errors of omission are particularly difficult to catch in your own work. This is where a word was omitted from the sentence. You don’t see it because you know what it’s supposed to say. Duplication Errors are also hard to catch. This is where a word is repeated in succession (the the, for example). “I had to catch the the train”. One way that you can combat these types of errors is to have your book read aloud to you by a computer. The computer will catch these errors and sometimes when you hear the word omitted or repeated your brain understands better.

I know a lot of authors who try to do their own editing with the help of automated editing software the likes of either Grammarly or ProWritingAid. I have used both programs. They are not perfect. Both make absolutely ridiculous suggestions from time to time. They may help with minor edits, but I wouldn’t trust either program with a final edit. Perhaps their reliability will improve at some later date, but for now they don’t pass muster.

If you are still insistent on trying to do your own editing, then I would recommend spending the time to invest learning how to do it professionally. There are a lot of ways you can accomplish this. I recently enrolled in a 9-month Copy Editing Certification Program. Even after completing that, I still probably won’t edit my own work. But if push came to shove and I had to for some reason, I’d be much better prepared to do so.

If you’ve been shying away from a professional editor due to cost, remember that you technically don’t have edit the entire book at once. You already have your book broken into multiple chapters. Just send the editor one chapter at a time and have it edited that way. It’s much easier to manage the costs, albeit much slower. The only problem this may cause is if you wanted the editor to also check for content editing (continuity and consistency). It’s harder for the editors to do that properly when they only have one piece.

Thanks for stopping by. Hopefully this article was insightful. Next week I’m talk about Price and Profit in Self-Publishing.

On Editing
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