This post, the third in my ongoing series about my self-publishing experience, is a deep dive into the process of book editing. But let me cut to the chase: You need to hire a professional to edit your book.
Many self-published authors forego editing. I get it. It’s expensive. And I understand the feeling these authors have: “I reread the damned manuscript three times and I even gave it to my wife. This puppy is ready to go!”
This post is going to go in-depth on the whole process of editing, but let me cut to the chase right up front: You need to hire a professional to edit your book. This is not up for debate, because if you don’t hire a professional editor, someone is going to buy your book and the first thing they’re going to complain about on Amazon is that you didn’t hire someone to edit your book. That’s not going to help you sell books.
I am a professional writer and editor, and yet everything I write (including this article) is edited by a professional. I make mistakes all the time (even though I read every one of my own damn manuscripts three times and I even torment my wife with them).
Here’s the thing: You can’t find your own mistakes. You’ll find some, but you can’t find them all. You literally can’t see them. And let me tell you from experience: you’re overlooking some really dumb mistakes. (I’ll show you some of mine so you know it’s not just you.)
No, you can’t rely on the Microsoft Word spell-checker. No, you can’t rely on Grammarly. (I’m not knocking Grammarly. It’s a great tool. You just can’t have that be your editor. There are too many things it doesn’t recognize.)
As I mentioned in my first article of this series, my BookBaby Publishing Specialist explained that about 10 percent of the orders he receives are from authors looking to republish their books, and most of those are people who made the mistake of not getting editing the first time around.
OK, so that’s out of the way. Let’s go into the weeds, so you’ll know what kind of editing you should get and what to expect.
There are several different kinds of editing in the publishing world, and there’s a lot of confusion about the differences because different companies offer different variations on the classic themes. If you are shopping around for editors, make sure you read their definitions so you know exactly what you’re getting.
BookBaby offers two types of editing: line editing and copy editing.
BookBaby defines copy editing as a “check for typographical errors, spelling errors, and issues with consistency; correction of grammatical and linguistic errors, attention to punctuation.”
At a traditional publisher, copy editing would include fact-checking, if pertinent. If you are writing a nonfiction book, you’re going to want to make sure your editor is also fact-checking your manuscript. I’ve been writing history books for Audible, and even though I’ve done a ton of my own research, their editors have caught a few mistakes in all of my manuscripts, so I can tell you this is essential.
Line editing at BookBaby includes copy editing, but it also focuses on the overall readability of your manuscript. You’re basically hiring a professional to make you a better writer on a sentence and paragraph level. Here is what they say on their website:
- Correction of awkward sentence/paragraph construction and suggestions to make sentences crisper and tighter by eliminating redundancy.
- Review of key aspects of your manuscript, including narrative, vocabulary, structure, characterization, style, and development.
- Editor’s notes and general comments.
Which type of book editing should you choose?
In an ideal world, you should get both editing services, because after your line-editing rewrite, you’ll need to do another round of editing. In fact, here is how the ideal self-publishing process would go, in terms of book editing.
- Write your first draft. Make it as good as you can, but then…
- Set it aside for two months. Seriously. Don’t think about it at all. You need to be able to come back to your book with a fresh mind, and that takes time. If you still have creative energy, spend it on a new project.
- Rewrite your manuscript.
- If you are satisfied with this rewrite, proceed to step five, if not, set it aside for a month and repeat step three.
- Send it out to a developmental editor or hire several beta readers. More on this in a second.
- Rewrite your book again.
- Send it out to a line editor.
- After yet another rewrite, send it to a copy editor.
- You’re now ready to publish your book.
(At a traditional publisher, there would be another step after copy editing, which is proofreading. Technically, the publisher prints a few copies, called galleys, and the proofreader compares the printed copy to the manuscript to make sure no errors have been introduced or overlooked.)
I say “ideal world” above because editing is expensive (no matter where you get it), and most authors will blanch at the thought of hiring two (or three, if you include developmental) editors for their book. So, if you can only afford one, should you choose line or copy editing? I can’t answer that for you, you have to figure out how strong your writing is. If you are confident you know how to write, choose copy editing. If you think your writing could use some help, choose line editing.
Developmental editing and beta reading
I want to take a moment to discuss two editing services BookBaby doesn’t offer: developmental editing and beta reading. A developmental editor is someone who takes the proverbial 30,000-foot view of your manuscript and looks at things like structure, plot, character arcs, etc. They are not concerned with spelling mistakes or your ability to craft good sentences; they are looking at how good of a storyteller you are, or, for nonfiction, how well you are able to make your ideas connect with your target audience. They can answer the question every author wonders to themselves: “Is my book any good?” What’s more, they will tell you what’s wrong, why it’s wrong, and how to fix it. I highly recommend you hire a developmental editor for your book.
Or, you can do what I did, and go to Fiverr.com. For $160, I hired three beta readers and got incredible feedback from two of them (usernames austingragg and ask_fee.) and decent feedback from a third. (For more info on beta readers, check out “How To Solicit And Act On Feedback From Beta Readers.”) I’m not saying beta readers are a replacement for a professional developmental editor, but for less money, you can get good feedback from more people, which may be what you need.
I spent a couple of weeks implementing the feedback I received from my beta readers and then I contacted BookBaby and ordered copy editing.
Once I had my quote, the ordering process was easy. Patrick helped me upload my manuscript, and about eight days later, I got my edit.
What I got was two documents, one showing all the markups, and the other was a document with those markups already accepted, in case I decided to just accept all their edits. Honestly, I don’t know why they bother with this, because you’re going to go through all the suggestions your editor makes. Most of them you’re going to accept. Some of them you’re not.
OK, so I promised I’d tell all and expose my own dumb mistakes. Here’s what my BookBaby editor found that I missed on the multiple passes through my own document.
I, like a lot of people, tend to make homophonic errors, where I write out a word that sounds the same as another word but is spelled differently. To/two/too is the classic example, although I didn’t make that mistake. (Frankly, most people don’t.) But on three different occasions, I wrote “reigns” when I mean “reins.” I wrote “you’ll be father from home,” when I meant “farther.” There were about a dozen other errors like this.
(Once, I wrote “yeah” when I meant “yell.” This isn’t quite a homophonic error, it’s just plain silly. What’s sillier is that I introduced this error in my very first draft and failed to find it during the countless rewrites. Like I said, you simply can’t see every error you’ve made.)
Commas are tricky bastards. I can look at your manuscript and point out all your comma errors, but I absolutely failed to find dozens of my own. Thankfully, my editor didn’t.
Ellipses are weird. Most of the time you’re going to have a space before and after them, but there are exceptions, and I managed to screw that up on a few occasions.
Also, according to the Chicago Manual of Style, which is what I and BookBaby editors use, there are no spaces before or after em-dashes, and yet, for some reason, I decided to insert a few. [Note: the BookBaby Blog style includes spaces around em-dashes.]
The upshot: I was satisfied with BookBaby’s copy-editing service. They found mistakes I missed and even found the few I inserted just to see how good they were.
Learn from my mistakes
If I have a quibble with BookBaby’s editing service, it’s with their quoting process. For some reason, they charge by the page, as opposed to the word. Charging by the word is idiot-proof. Charging by the page … well, I managed to mess it up. Twice.
(Editor’s Note – Good point, Scott. We’re working on a word-to-page converter in the quoting process to make it easier for authors. Look for this in September, 2019!)
In order to properly quote your editing project with BookBaby, you need to format your manuscript like this:
- English language only.
- File Type: Microsoft Word format (.doc or .docx).
- Page Size: 8.5” x 11″ (This is how I made my first mistake, so double-check that your page is set up properly. This is the default setting, so you shouldn’t have a problem. Me, on the other hand…)
- Pages Margins: Set to 1″ on all four sides: left, right, top, and bottom.
- Font Type: Times New Roman.
- Font Size: 12 pt.
- Line Spacing: Double.
The second time I screwed up my order was because I didn’t realize that Word doesn’t instantly count up all your pages. So, my estimate was off by about 30 percent. So, when you are getting ready to quote your editing project, don’t be like me: give Word a good couple of minutes to count your pages.
BookBaby charges $7/page for copy editing and $10/page for line editing. So, it really pays to trim your page count down as much as you can. I managed to figure this out on my own, but Patrick (my PS) did make sure to tell me to do this very thing, which is nice.
I know your book is already beautifully formatted, with lots of returns at the start of each chapter, and maybe a page for dedications, and one featuring an inspirational quote from Yeats. That’s great. But you don’t want to pay to edit all that. Create a new version of your document and get rid of everything that doesn’t need to be edited. Lose all your extra returns and cut that manuscript down so it’s at the lowest page-count possible. I was able to trim my 73,000-word manuscript down by 20 pages, so it adds up.
That’s it for this installment. Now that I have my edited document, my next step is to call Patrick and place the rest of my order!
Read the rest of the series:
Stay tuned for more adventures in self publishing. Still to come: design, printing, POD, my Amazon consultation, and more. Comment below if you have any questions about any part of the publishing process, or if you feel like I left something out. And keep an eye out for my humorous YA fantasy novel, The Dragon Squisher, coming this Fall.
(Follow me on Instagram at authorscottmccormick!)
What Type Of Book Editing Do You Need? And When?
If you don’t pay for book editing, it’s going to cost you
Is Your Manuscript Ready For Editing?
How To Solicit And Act On Feedback From Beta Readers
How To Work With A Self-Publishing Company