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How to Edit a Book for Self-Publishing Success

Understanding the book editing process and how to find a good editor could make all the difference and lead to self-publishing success.

There are more than four million books available on Amazon and a lot of them are crap. They’re poorly written, more like a list of ideas and readers get through less than half the book on average. It’s why the majority of self-published books sell less than a few hundred copies, not in a year but over their entire lifetime.

Why? Poor editing.

Anyone can write a book. Even if your grammar is less than perfect or you often misspell words, you still have a great story that needs to be told.

The problem is that it’s too easy to self-publish. Anyone can write a book but not everyone takes the time to write a good book.

Editing not only fixes bad spelling and grammar but will help your readers get everything they can out of your book. It will help get your message across and make you look like a professional author.

How do I know? Because I was always an average student in English and writing classes, nothing special. I’ve self-published ten books. None have an average rating less than 4 ½ out of five stars and have received over 300 reviews.

Believe me, if my books hadn’t been meticulously edited, I would have seen it. I’ve seen other books that were not edited and readers are brutal in their reviews.

So, editing is critical to publishing a successful book…but you can’t edit your own books!

We’ll cover what editors do, how to find a good editor and some tools you can use in this article but that doesn’t mean you should do it yourself.

So I know talking about editing isn’t exactly what you love to do during your free time. It’s not the fun part of self-publishing but it’s so important to making your book successful.

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Types of Editing You Need for Your Book

We’ll get to why you shouldn’t edit your own book in a minute but first let’s talk about the types of editing a book needs and the process before it can be published.

Editing isn’t just looking for grammar mistakes and misspelled words. A book usually goes through at least three types of edits and sometimes several edits for each type.

  • Story or developmental editing is the first step after you’re done writing. This edit is to make sure the story flows well in a fiction book or that a non-fiction book is laid out in a way that effectively teaches the material.
  • Copy editing is what most people think of when they think of editing. This is where an editor will look for grammar mistakes and spelling problems.
  • Proof editing is the final stage of editing and is completed after the book has been formatted.
self publishing book editing process

A developmental editor will look at the book first to make sure it makes sense for readers.

In a fictional story, are the characters developed well and does the story unfold well? Is it interesting and has the author left anything out that helps the reader understand characters’ motives or actions? Does the story have plot holes or make factual sense?

In a non-fiction book, the developmental editor will make sure the chapters are structured to best teach the material to readers. Are important points left out that readers need or does the book leave questions unanswered? Is the material factually accurate?

Working with a developmental editor usually means at least a round or two of editing and rewriting before you can send the book to the next stage in editing.

A copy editor will check the writing style, grammar, spelling and word usage in a book. No, just using the spellcheck in Microsoft Word isn’t enough. A good editor will find awkward sentences, misspelled words that word processing software missed and will help you make your book more easily readable.

After your book has been checked by a copy editor and revised, you are ready to have it formatted for different types of media. This means putting it into a layout that can be viewed as a digital ebook, printed or listened to as an audio book.

After you book has been formatted, a proof reader will take one final look at each format. This usually covers the same points as the copy editor, but the proof reader is just making sure nothing got changed in formatting. The proof reader will check each format of your book individually, so they’ll be reading your ebook, paperback and listening to the audio version.

Don’t neglect this last proof reading step. You’d be surprised how many spaces get deleted, how many sentences get moved or removed and just how many little problems can come up through formatting.

Why can’t you just use the same person for all your editing? Is someone that can tell you if the book reads well and makes sense going to be the same person that can spot all the grammar and spelling problems? Probably not.

Finding different editors for your book will take advantage of each one’s specific talent. It will also avoid the burnout that comes when one person tries to read the same book several times for different types of edits.

Why You Shouldn’t Edit Your Own Book

You’ve spent months writing this book. Now you’re looking at having to read through it multiple times for editing and proofreading.

It’s not going to work. You are just too close to the book to do a good job editing.

In the developmental edit, you’ll assume too much. You know the material so well that you won’t be able to see what’s missing. You’ll be reading the book, but your brain will automatically fill in all the missing pieces from your experience.

In copy editing, you’ll have a tendency to read too quickly and won’t catch the mistakes. You’re pretty sure you didn’t make many mistakes so probably won’t find that many, right?

Nobody speaks in perfectly-placed grammar, but most people think their writing style is good. The problem is that your own writing and word usage is so natural that it feels right even if it sounds awkward to the average reader.

Finally, by the time you get to proof reading, you’ll be so tired of reading your book that you’ll just skim through and assume everything looks good.

Finding Editors to Review Your Book

There’s nothing wrong with asking friends and family to check over your book. If you’ve got people in your network that do editing for a living or are just really picky when it comes to grammar, even better.

Understand that getting someone to edit your book as a favor might be different from getting someone to do a good job editing your book. We want to do favors for our friends but we’re all busy. The temptation will be there for your friends to agree to reviewing your book but then just go through the motions when editing.

The best way to solve this problem is by breaking the book into sections and asking people to review a few chapters. Give someone only as much as they can read in 40 minutes and they’re more likely to do a better job editing.

This is harder to do with developmental editing because the person reviewing the book needs to check it from start to finish. My suggestion is to find one or two people that are really excited to support you and use them for your developmental edit. You can then find a few people to check sections of the book for copy editing.

For the developmental edit, make sure you ask your editors questions and talk to them about the book. We’ll get into this more in the next section on how to work with editors but having a conversation about the book is a great way to understand if your editor understood the material and got everything out of it.

Even if you have several friends that are willing to help edit your book, it’s still a good idea to hire at least one professional. A professional editor is going to know what to look for and common mistakes writers make. They’re also going to approach the job as something they want to do well so they can get more of your work in the future.

I’ve used Upwork for a lot of my book editing and formatting. Upwork is one of the largest freelancer marketplaces, connecting people with tasks to freelancers around the world.

Finding a freelancer on Upwork, or any freelancer marketplace, is easy. Finding a quality freelancer is not always so easy. For editing and other tasks where English proficiency is critical, I would recommend being strict in your requirements for the project. Demand that applicants be fluent or native in English and you might just want to limit your search to countries where English is the native language.

Using Upwork is fairly easy. You start a job, describing what you need and how much you are willing to pay. You can pay by the hour or on a project-basis. I recommend offering a set price for the project.

how to find a book editor

Once your job is live, freelancers will start to bid on it. Most will place a bid at or close to the price you offered but some will go higher and lower.

Costs for different types of book editing are going to vary depending on a few factors.

  • Do you need someone with years of experience or can you get by with a novice editor? Using friends and some basic online editing tools can help take some of the burden so a novice editor will suffice.
  • Is your book in a complex subject and targeted to experts? If you need an expert for your developmental edit then you may have to pay more for that expert’s time.
  • Do you need it done yesterday? You might get an editor to rush your project to the top of their list but it’s going to cost you.
  • How good a writer are you? The more work an editor has to do, the more they are going to charge you. Again, using online editing tools and a few light edits by friends will help clean up your rough draft.

In general, copy editing will cost from $0.005 to $0.015 per word. Developmental editing and proof reading usually costs a little less, between $0.0025 to $0.0075 per word. These numbers are from the Editorial Freelancers Association. They are a little high by my experience but not by much.

For a standard 35,000-word book (around 170 pages), that means $175 for developmental editing and $350 for copy editing. For an experienced editor from an English-speaking country, I would try offering $150 for your developmental edit and $250 for the copy editing. If you don’t get any qualified applicants, you can always increase the offer.

Another great resource for finding editors is college job boards and Craigslist pages for cities with a university. Offering a college student $200 for copy editing is like giving them a year’s worth of Ramen noodles! Look for students with a major in your book’s topic and offer $100 for developmental edits or students with an English or writing major and offer $200 for copy editing

How to Work with Book Editors

Make sure to ask your editor to turn on ‘Track Changes’ in their word processing software. This is under the Review tab in Microsoft Word and will note any changes they make when editing the draft. They’ll be able to add comments or questions in the margin. You’ll also be able to approve any changes they make or delete their change and return to your original draft.

Make sure you check your editors’ work. Nobody is perfect, especially if you’re hiring less experienced freelance editors. Besides catching your editors’ mistakes, you might also want to ignore some of their changes and use your original copy.

Professional developmental editors will have suggestions for your draft but you’ll want to have a list of questions you ask to see exactly what they got out of the material. Ask them to describe sections or concepts in their own words. For fictional stories, ask them why they think the characters made certain decisions. You’re basically becoming an English teacher here, testing your editors to make sure they understood the material.

Make sure to run your book through a spelling and grammar check one last time to catch anything that might have been changed or missed.

After everything is done, put the book down for a week. Then come back and do one last read through.

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Using Editing Tools to Check Your Book

There are several tools online that will help you edit your book. I would recommend using at least one of these, especially if you have friends and family do your editing, but even if you hire a professional editor. The tools are inexpensive and can help catch those last few mistakes that would have ruined a reader’s experience.

AutoCrit is specifically for fiction writers. The program checks dialogue, word choice, repetition and will help steer you away from passive voice and clichés. You choose the genre of book and upload your draft for nearly-instant feedback. The $29.97 monthly membership gives you unlimited access to the software.

Hemingway App works a lot like AutoCrit but works for non-fiction as well and includes some great additional features. The app gives you a ‘Readability Grade’ that breaks down estimated read time, paragraph length and writing style. After uploading your draft, the app uses color highlighting to easily show mistakes and suggestions.

You download the Hemingway App so it’s just a one-time cost versus a monthly fee like other tools. You can use it off-line and the app lets you publish directly to WordPress, Medium, Microsoft Word or to HTML.

editing tools for self publishing

Grammarly is the most popular grammar checker but will also spot word usage problems and awkward sentences. The program includes a plagiarism checker that will search for duplicate content on the internet, a good tool if you have some of your book written by freelancers. Grammarly costs $29.95 per month but you can get a discounted price for paying quarterly or annually.

Thorough editing will mean the difference between self-publishing success and a book that gets slammed by readers. It’s one of the easiest steps in self-publishing but also one that gets neglected by too many new writers. Unless your Uncle is an English teacher, it’s going to cost a little to get professional editors but it is money well spent.

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