Some notes on editing a self-published book.

As well as being a writer, and a publisher of other writers, I used to present a radio show called “Book Club” on The Voice, a local community radio station in North Devon
(as a volunteer).
I see lots of self-published books. Most are reasonably well edited, but one or two have come to my attention which appear to have been written for school homework and not even marked. One of the worst had an error in the dedication and multiple errors on the first page. That book and, many like it, are not just embarrassing to the author, they also give the world of self-publishing a bad reputation that the rest of us have to work twice as hard to shake off. Sorry if that sounds overdramatic.

I know a few authors who do a passable job of self-editing although I would never recommend it (few of us are blessed with the ability to see our own mistakes, as a cursory glance over the articles in this website will illustrate!) Many more will pass their manuscript over to a trusted friend or family member who has a talent for spotting mistakes, but by far the best option is to get a professional editor. It need not cost the earth, and is money well spent if you aim to sell beyond your closest circle of friends.

There are three broad types of editing as follows. Unfortunately, the terms used and their definitions are not universally agreed on, as a brief serach of the internet will reveal. I am using the following terms and will explain each below.

  • Structural/developmental edit
  • Line edit
  • Copy edit
  • Proofreading

A structural edit or developmental edit will look at the overall structure of the book. If it is a novel, the editor may suggest removal of entire paragraphs or even chapters, adding new chapters, changing the sequence of chapters, changing the ending, the motivation of the main characters, removal of excessive characters, speeding up the pace by removing description, changing “tell” to “show” etc etc.

N.B. We’ve never consciously done this at Blue Poppy Publishing partly because our authors are already pretty good at telling their story, and partly because we don’t work to a formula. That’s not to say we will never go down this route, but I don’t expect to any time soon. What almost always happens, however, is that the author will send their first draft to a few trusted Beta readers who will, sometimes, read it and provide feedback. If the author agrees with the feedback they will make changes, usually before we see the M/S.

A line edit is more about checking for things like overall sentence structure, e.g. avoiding run on sentences, clunky grammar, etc. , consistency, e.g. do the heroe’s eyes change colour, or does a supporting character change name part way through the book? The line edit will also correct spellings, grammar, and punctuation as it goes through but this is also considered in more detail at the copy edit stage.

The copy edit, also sometimes called proofreading, is the final nit-picking stage. This is where, we hope, the last stray spelling error, abberrant
or superfluous comma, and missing full-stop is corrected. I say “we hope” because while we aim for perfection, I suspect that typographical errors are a little like bacteria; you can only reduce them to an acceptable level, and never eradicate them completely. As an example, after three passes of editing, and during the formatting stage, I noticed that “St. Pancras Station” in London, had been rendered as “St. Pancreas”! I corrected that, but we still found four or five things that were arguably incorrect after printing. The book concerned currently has 55 reviews and an average 4.4 stars on Amazon, so I think we got away with it.

Proofreading, this is a specific stage which does exactly what the name suggests. This is the stage of reading the proof copy. This used to be a physical printed copy but these days it is more likely to be a PDF. There shouldn’t be anything wrong by now, but there always is. The proofreader will catch most of those sneaky bits that got through every other stage. They will also note anything that doesn’t look quite right in the layout. A single word on a new line when it could be re-jigged to get it on the line above, for example.

In the main, because we have to work to a tight budget, we usually get a general line edit and copy edit rolled into one, then a proofread before printing, just in case. 

You should anticipate costs of at least £10 per thousand words for a decent job of editing. More if your manuscript requires it and a LOT more if you also need a structural edit. The better your own editing is, the less it’s likely to cost.

Most editors will edit a few pages of your MS and give you a clear idea of their costs once they know your style and the work likely to be involved. This will also give you a clear indication of the sort of improvements they are likely to make.

Recommended editors.

We have used a number of editors in particular Sarah Dawes thankthecat@gmail.com who edits all of my (Oliver’s) books.
Sarah is a member of the Chartered Institute of Editors and Proofreaders and is always my first choice.
I can wholeheartedly recommend Sarah. She will not only pick up obvious typographical, punctuation, grammar, and spelling errors, as you would expect, but will also fact check all sorts of things, from historical details and anachronisms, to foreign words and phrases (she sent my Latin to her old Latin teacher for marking! Oh the shame!)
She will also pick up on continuity errors, and will frequently rewrite clunky sentences in vastly better prose than I could conjure up. (Her experience as a ghostwriter probably comes in useful here).

 

Helen Baggot edited “And the Wolf Shall Dwell”. Her website is helenbaggott.co.uk/
It is worth noting that Helen works a little differently from most editors usually doing a series of passes for a lower rate per thousand words, and then passing the MS back to the author for approval. This is a useful method for self-published authors on a tight budget because if they feel confident enough in their work that they can get away with only one or two passes of editing, then they may save money. It also allows them to spread out the cost of editing; usually the largest single expense apart from printing, over a period of time.

Another lady who has edited and helped to publish other authors, in Ilfracombe and North Devon, is Paula Good at PG Office Services who offers a range of services beyond editing including formatting and print services.

You may want to check out Susan Sugden. She sent me a lovely email and CV in search of freelance work, but I don’t produce enough to keep one editor fully occupied. Here website is here.

It is worth noting that all good editors are ruthlessly efficient, but don’t be afraid. They are on your side! I will add others here as and when.

In a perfect world, with unlimited money, you would have three or four separate pairs of eyes, one for each stage of the editing process, but we don’t live in a perfect world, and writers like to eat food just like normal people. You can get a good full editing job done with one editor for around £10-£20 per thousand words (at the time of writing).

Formatting

Formatting is still partly editing, but is also a separate stage in which the priority is no longer correcting mistakes. This is the part where your raw manuscript, possibly still typed out in double-line spacing and the default font of your word processor, is turned into a beautifully laid out book and exported as a PDF ready for printing. There is a cheap way of doing this which involves pouring your text into a formatting software app and accepting whatever comes out the other side. The better way is to format it properly by human hand and eye. You can learn to do this yourself, or pay someoen like me to do it for you. At the moment I cahrge £1 per 1,000 words, so even if it’s a massive tome of 100k words, you’ll only be forking out a ton. If money is really tight (I know the feeling) then I’ll be writing a “how to format” article soon.

Proofreading

Strictly speaking, the term “proofreading” refers to the process of reading the “proof” copy and checking for any last minute errors, in particular any errors which only manifest themselves when the book is printed. This could include abberrant punctuation or spelling errors that somehow got through the entire process of editing, but it is more about making sure the gutter is wide enough, the pages are all actually assembled correctly* and that everything looks as it should before we give the final instruction to the printer to proceed. This is a step which most self-published authors probably miss but if you can take the time at least to check every page and the front and back cover for any last minute inconsistencies then it may save you an expensive mistake on a long print run.

*Yes, we once had a consignement of books in which the last 64 pages were in the wrong order – not our error, thank goodness!

 

How do I Self Publish my book in the UK?

A famous quotation goes something like “Everyone has a book in them.” and, although the quote goes on to say, “…and in most cases that’s where it should stay.” we at Blue Poppy Publishing think that there are still a lot of great books, both fiction and non-fiction that could and should be published.

Cost of Self-Publishing

Anything from nothing to a few thousand pounds is usual.

You can publish a book for zero cost, but you should be careful. A great deal depends on what your hopes and aspirations are for your book, but even if you only want to print off a few copies for close friends and family, you should at least take the time to ensure your book has been properly edited, even if that just means re-reading what you have written and trying to correct obvious spelling mistakes. You will also need to format the book and create a cover. If you are good at these things already, or are willing to learn, you may be able to do them yourself, although there is an art to book cover design that arguably extends beyond what can realistically be taught.

If you have ambitions to be a professional or semi-professional writer, then you really do need to spend some money to make sure your book is up to scratch. But how much should you spend and who can you trust in a minefield of companies who are out to take your money?

We have certain trusted editors, illustrators, cover designers, and printers whom we have used on previous occasions and I will provide their details. We also offer formatting and cover design and preparation in-house, although I make no claim to being a top cover designer I don’t charge much.

Yes, but how much?

How long is a piece of string? Well here goes.

Basic editing costs, as a rough rule of thumb, £10 – £20 per 1,000 words.
If your book needs a structural edit and major rewriting then it will be more because that is a separate stage. For more on editing see here.

Formatting is something you can do yourself, but if you don’t want to learn how, we can format a typical digital manuscript in ‘Word’ for about £100 (for a straightforward novel). Things like illustrations and indexing can push the cost up.

For cover design, again, most people can do this themselves, but if you can’t or don’t want to, you can spend anything from £10 for a plain one-colour cover with the title and author name, to several thousand pounds on a fancy production from a famous cover designer. We would suggest you don’t spend more than about £500 though. You need to consider how you are going to make your money back. 

Printing; of course you don’t have to do a print run at all. You can use a Print on Demand (PoD) service, such as Ingram Spark and or Amazon KDP. We like to do a print run if we can though because the unit cost per book works out cheaper; sometimes a lot cheaper. The quality is also higher and we can have nice little extras like foil embossing or Spot UV for example.

UK book parameters.

How big should your book be? What type of paper? Which font should you use? These are all questions that plague new self-publishing authors. The problem is there is no single correct answer to any of these type of questions, but there are at least a few possible guidelines you might want to follow. The cost will typically be between a quarter and a half of the retail price. This depends hugely on how many copies you have printed at a time and where you go. I tend to have runs of about 300 and expect to pay a third of the RRP per copy. Of course, I set the RRP but it HAS to be competitive, so a typical novel will be around £10-£12 at time of writing (2024) which means I am paying about £1,000 for a run of 300 books. Inflation will affect all these figures if I don’t update this page. 🙂

Size matters

One option is to take a ruler into a bookshop and measure books similar to the one you have written. I did that. I felt stupid.

Novels

If you are talking about a novel, there is one best size for UK distribution. It’s 198mm x 129mm. Other sizes can be used, but this is the size of most paperbacks you can buy in bookshops and it is important to conform to the norms when you are on the periphery to start with. Someone like Liz Shakespeare who has a well established reputation as a local bestseller can go for a different size and be sure that bookshops will stock her, but you can’t.

While on the subject of novels, there is a lot of dispute about how many words constitutes a novel. NaNoWriMo accepts 50,000 words as a full length novel and I’m going to accept that, although a great many novels are from 85-100k words these days. I think that fewer than 50k is a novella, and 10k is a short story. But the most important thing is to tell your story. However many words that takes is the correct number. You only have to conform to a word count if you are pitching to agents. 

Non-fiction

There are a range of sizes in non-fiction which can include the standard novel size, mentioned above. This is ideal for memoirs and narrative non-fiction for example. Other sizes, such as A4, A5, 9″ x 6″, 10″ x 8″ etc. are also common. A lot will depend on things like how and where you expect people to read the book. A coffee table book will want a large format, whereas a pocket guide to cheese will need to be, well, pocket sized. Who you choose to do your printing may also be a factor in your choice. This would be a whole blog post in itself. 

Children’s Books

With younger children’s books (3-7+ years) all bets are off. They can be all sorts of sizes. That said, a square format 8″ x 8″ is a good starting point. 8″ x 10″ in either landscape or portrait can also work, as can A4 or A5.

Novels for older children (6+ years) will usually fall into the same category as novels for adults. Rules for children’s non-fiction are equally reflected in those for adults.

Paper quality

If you use a PoD publisher like KDP then you don’t get much choice. (you get more with IngramSpark) You can’t usually print hardback editions either. You can now! If you use a printer you have far more parameters. It’s a minefield of options for different purposes, but the first and biggest choice you have to make is whether to use white paper or cream (or beige or whatever they call it). The choice is relatively simple.

  • Novel? Cream
  • Non-fiction? White
  • Kids’ picture book? White

The paper will typically be between 70gsm and 100gsm and honestly there are too many qualities to choose from. The weight alone is not the only factor either. Different printers offer different ranges that don’t always have an obvious equivalence. It is probably best here to ask the printer to send you some swatches and give you their recommendation. It may not always be worth a few pence extra per book for a slightly nicer paper, since readers don’t really seem to mind. 

For younger children’s books I tend to prefer a heavier paper. Little hands are more likely to tear pages by accident. The heaviest I have used is 150gsm with a 350gsm cover. But that’s maybe too much. Again, asking the printer is usually a good idea. They are the experts. 

Fonts

This begins to fall under formatting, which is a whole separate subject in itself. As a very rough guide, print books for regular readers should use a “serif” font. I use Garamond I have switched to Minion Pro (because it has a far greater range of weights and widths and has a stronger look that pleases my eye) for adults and young adult books or Century Schoolbook for children’s books, although others, such as Times New Roman, Georgia, or Palatino are just as good. Note that different fonts look larger or smaller than each other for a given size. Of these Garamond is the smallest, which is why I usually use it at 12pt. Century schoolbook is the largest of those shown here, and I tend to use 12pt for older children (8-12) and 14 point for younger readers (6-10).

Different serif typefaces shown in size order from smallest, Garamond, to largest Century Schoolbook. The fonts shown are Garamond, Times New Roman, Georgia, Palatino, and Century Schoolbook.

For very young children, beginner readers, I prefer to use a simple sans serif font with ‘single story’ A, and G etc. however, following the golden rule of never using ‘Comic Sans’ I searched for alternatives.

Please don’t imagine there are any hard and fast rules for children’s books, but I like to try and give them a fighting chance of reading for themselves by using a familiar and fairly regular font which resembles how they are first taught to write. That said, many of the best selling picture book use a serif font so, whatever people say, there’s no one correct answer. To the above list I have added Cormorant Infant, and several others besides. I tend to list the typeface used in each book on the copyright and credits page.

If you want to get creative, do it in the headings.

Fonts for reading are clean and simple. It is never a good idea to use any fancy font for the main body text. If you want to use a fancy font on the cover, or in the chapter headings go for it. But even then, don’t go too crazy. Keep it relevant to the genre.