Elizabeth: Self-Publishing 101 – Editing

publish_buttonSo far in our Self-Publishing series we’ve talked about the Benefits of Self-Publishing,  Book Covers  (the first and oftentimes only chance for a book to make an impression on a potential reader) and Taglines, Loglines and Concepts (those tantalizing bits that hint at what your story is all about).

Spending all that effort with an eye toward attracting readers will be for naught, however, if those readers give up on your book a few pages in due to grammatical errors, inconsistencies, uneven voice and the like.

Which brings us to today’s topic:  Editing.

In a perfect world, you’d finish revising your story, do a read-through to correct any errors, and be all ready to move on to the next story.  Reality, however, doesn’t work quite that way.  It can be incredibly difficult to clearly see errors in your own writing.  Your brain will fill in missing words, fail to notice incorrect punctuation, and even overlook story inconsistencies.  I can (and have) made dozens of editing passes through things I have written and repeatedly found things that needed to be fixed that I’d overlooked previously.

Fortunately, there are professional editors out there who are experts at seeing those things we tend to miss.  So let’s talk about the different types of editors your manuscript may  encounter before it’s ready to take its place out in the world.


Copy-editors are vocabulary and usage experts.  Reference books like the Chicago Manual of Style or Elements of Style are likely to be on their bookshelf.  They will read through your manuscript line by line, word by word, and look at a number of things including:

  • punctuation
  • spelling
  • grammar
  • word usage
  • consistency
  • changes that may be needed for clarity
  • fact checking
  • copyright issues (e.g., if you are quoting things)

Copy-editing is typically done when your manuscript is in a word processing format and copy-editors often use automated tools as part of their process.    Finding things that need to be changed in your manuscript at this stage in the process is preferable (and less expensive) than finding them once your book has already been formatted for publication/distribution.

If you are interested in learning about automated editing tools, this post at The Writer’s Life provides some good information.  If you want some hints about how to find an editor, check out Jane Friedman’s post here.


In addition to language and usage aspects, a copy-editor may look at the content of your writing (e.g., characterization, pacing, or plot), or you may chose to separate those functions.

While not editors, beta-readers can be invaluable when it comes to getting “fresh eyes” on your story.   Their reader’s perspective of your manuscript (hopefully they haven’t read it multiple times already) can uncover content inconsistencies, pacing issues, sagging middles, and even an unsatisfying HEA.    Beta-readers should be considered an addition to your editing toolbox, rather than as an alternative to a copy-editor.  If you plan to enlist beta-readers, it may be more effective (and less expensive in terms of time and money) to do that before engaging a copy-editor.


While a copy-editor will look at your manuscript from a style and usage perspective, the proof-reader will focus more on the presentation and formatting aspects.  Proofreading happens when your manuscript is in its final form, just about ready for publication.  You will have already formatted (or hired someone to format) it for publication (print or digital) and made changes based on the copy-editing and beta-read phases.  The proof-reader will look for the following types of things:

  • Typographical errors
  • Language errors that may have been missed previously
  • Formatting issues
  • Line, word, and page spacing
  • Word breaks and widow/orphan sentences
  • Font inconsistencies

Proofreading is commonly done when your manuscript is in a publication file format (e.g., PDF or epub)

Once you get to the proofreading stage, your rewriting and revising should be complete since anytime you touch your manuscript there is the potential to introduce errors, which would require another round of proofreading.  Definitely something you don’t want to do (or pay to do) multiple times.

* * * ~ * * *

Over the next several Wednesdays we’ll be talking with a professional freelance editor (fingers-crossed) and getting some first-hand information, so stay tuned for that.  We also have some interviews with a few self-published authors in the queue, so we can learn from those who’ve already gone through the process.

In the meantime, have you ever had an editor (or proof-reader) go over your work?  If so, what was that process like?

10 thoughts on “Elizabeth: Self-Publishing 101 – Editing

  1. Not only have I used a copyeditor, I’ve been one. In my former life, I was a technical writer and often augmented my income doing copyediting. A good copyeditor (IMHO) will print your work and read it on paper, rather on the screen. I always find more mistakes in a printed version than I do an electronic one. Even now.

    On average, I could do about 10 DS pages an hour. Seems like not much, but you have to remember that most readers who are reading for pleasure skim. Copyeditors don’t. We have to read every single word. It’s time-consuming and tedious and requires an immense amount of concentration. (After a few hours of copyediting, I always felt like a wet dishrag.)

    I’ve also done copyediting/beta reading and typically take two passes at that. One pass for the beta read (and I’ll catch egregious typographical errors at that time), then a second pass for a more detailed copyedit.

    Copyediting isn’t cheap, either (for a good one…as with most things, YGWYPF). Expect to pay 1/2 cent a word min. But it is definitely money well spent. There’s no better way to look like an amateur than to have mistakes in your manuscript. Even “famous” authors I’ve read have mistakes in their work (more typically in the ebook than the printed copy). What it tells me is they went too fast, too quick.

    I know, especially in self-publishing, you want to get your book to market, but take the time to do the copyediting and especially proofreading right (you’d be surprised the formatting errors that can happen in an e-version of a book…in fact, I caught a missing paragraph in a book a famous author self-published about writing. I emailed him about it and he made the correx quickly — the advantage of self-publishing — but a good proofer would have found the mistake).

    Copyediting and proofreading is an investment, to be sure, but remember, you’re investing in your career. Do you want to be taken seriously? Or do you want to be pegged as an amateur?

    • You’re right Justine, it is money well spend to have your edited. Taking the time to get things right before your book is out there for the world to see seems like a no-brainer, though that’s probably not always the case.

      I know I’ve been thrown out of more than one story by mistakes. I still remember story where the main character walked to town at the beginning of the scene and then got in her truck and drove back home at the end. It had me looking out for other inconsistencies in the story, rather than being engrossed in the story itself. As you mention, it made the author seem like an amateur, rather than a professional.

  2. I took copyediting classes in college, and got to apply them as a department editor of the school newspaper. And I have to say, it just isn’t my cup of tea. Really hard work, but very necessary work, and well worthwhile to 1) learn how to do it and 2) pay someone to make sure you’re doing it right.

    IMO, Getting an experienced, professional editor who has the confidence of her/his employers is one of the big perks of publishing with a mainstream publisher. (Of course, people say that’s a crap shoot, too. You might get the editor who on the way out to a new job in marketing or something.)

    I can’t say enough about having the proper tools available. Most writers of non-fiction in the US are going to want a good dictionary (I’ve seen Merriam-Webster recommended, and I like it very much), and a copy of the Chicago Manual of Style. I also recommend Steven Pinker’s The Sense of Style. I feel it establishes a dialog with The Elements of Style, and drags grammar and usage into the 21st century. Elements of Style is very fine, very concise, but definitely more of a talisman than a reference for a working writer, I feel.

    We also had a very good self-editing book that Jenny recommended, but I can’t remember the title offhand. I’ve read it twice, and I plan to read it once every year. OH, Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, by Renni Browne and Dave King. I’m about due for my re-read.

    And the other thing: don’t be lazy. If it doesn’t look right, look it up. If you can’t remember the title off-hand, fucking google it. (The last sentence is directed right at my lazy-ass self in the previous paragraph.) If you can’t remember if it’s offhand or off-hand: dictionary, baby. (MW says it’s offhand.) Hyphens and commas could send me straight off the diving board of sanity into the deep pool of streamofconsciousness.

    • Thanks for the reference recommendations, Michaeline, and I definitely second “google it.” As a matter of fact, when I was writing this post I had to do that to confirm whether copy-edit was one word or two (answer: depends. Ugh!).

      My local university offers a certificate program in editing. I was thinking of doing it, not so I could set out my shingle as an editor, but to get a better understanding of language and usage, to help improve my own writing.

      As for hyphens and commas, they don’t bother me, but inappropriate use of “there’s” and a book is likely to get the heave-ho if it happens too many times.

      • I’m very much in the “punctuation and grammar are there to help us communicate” camp — I won’t get stop reading just because of some fewer/lesser mistakes, or it’s/its — I notice them of course, because they are both bugaboos in my own writing, so learning to edit my own work has made me a little hypersensitive.

        But if the writer betrays me in some other way (bad characterization, stupid plot twists), then suddenly those typos and mistakes become simply unbearable!

        I do get a kick, though, out of people who accidentally write “defiantly” instead of “definitely” — both are strong words to express an opinion, and “defiantly” just makes things more rebellious and edgy! “I am defiantly going to get my shit together this week.” Suck that, lazy id! LOL.

        Oh dear, I seem to have gone off track again. How do I wind up in these places?

  3. I have had someone copy-edit my work before, and it is fantastic to have another set of eyes to catch things an author misses when going through their work over and over again.
    Beta readers are also the best, especially if you don’t know them at all, and they are alright with giving you completely open and honest feedback. I have found some of the best beta readers on Goodreads.

    Lara @ http://larawhatley.com

    • Absolutely. Having a fresh set of eyes on your work is a big help. It’s so easy to miss things, especially if you’ve been looking at your work for a while. Congrats on finding good beta readers – they can truly be worth their weight in gold.

  4. I’ve spent more on editing than I have made on my book. I wasted $400 on my newest manuscript (should have known I was in trouble when the editor wrote, “I completed chapters 1 threw 13”). It’s not about the money you spend, it’s about the quality of the editor, and I don’t know of a good way to find a good editor before they begin. For example: I went through my own work eight times–I know there are mistakes, because it is impossible to properly edit your own work–she returned the first chapter with no corrections (still charged me, of course). I wish I had found this blog two weeks ago, but now I know better. Anyway, this was great information. Thanks for the help.

    • Hi Randy. Sorry to hear you had an frustrating editing experience. Finding the right editor can be a real challenge. Just like finding a repairman, doctor, etc. that you trust, getting personal recommendations from existing clients can be very helpful when looking for an editor to work with. Good luck on your search and your writing.

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