Some notes on editing a self-published book.

As well as being a writer, and a publisher of other writers, I 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 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

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.

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.

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.

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 my top recommendation.
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.

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!

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