How To Decide What Editing Work, If Any, You Need For A Self-Published Book

Getting professional editing is one of the biggest expenses a self-published author will face. By the time you’ve paid for a professional cover for your manuscript, editing and, perhaps, formatting you will have paid hundreds or even thousands of pounds or dollars. Will you ever sell enough copies of your book to make that money back, let alone make a profit? This is something you should think seriously about.

Deciding On Your Writing Goals

If you’ve written one book and are never likely to write another then the odds are that you will never make a profit from it. In that case, you might decide not to get any editing done and to create the cover and do the formatting yourself. You might want to self-publish a book to help people in some way, in which case you might give the book away for free so it reaches as many people as possible.

On the other hand, you might want to make a career from your writing and, in that instance, you will need to consider setting a budget and making long-term plans that include making your book look as professional as possible, so that readers will become big enough fans of your work that they will want to buy not just the first one but future books too.

Other Considerations

If you’ve written your first novel it’s tempting to get it copy edited to fix errors and then self-publish it. However, copy editing alone is a complete waste of money if you have a main character readers aren’t interested in or a plot that goes off on bizarre tangents.

You might love your book but simply not be able to afford to spend thousands of pounds/dollars on it. Should you do the formatting yourself or get the cheapest cover possible? Can you skip editing altogether?

Setting a Budget

My advice would be to, firstly, decide what you want from your writing. If you want to share your writing for free then you may not want to pay for anything. If you decide that you want to one day make a career from your writing then sit down and make plans. Set a budget and also think about how much time you have to devote to this work. You can learn how to format your books fairly easily but it does take up a bit of time, more when you’re doing it for the first time. Is your time or money more precious to you? You will also want to put time aside – preferably before you even start writing your book – to devote to finding an audience for your book.

Getting Free Help

You might feel half-way through writing your first novel that you’re getting lost and want some advice on characterisation and/or on drawing up a plot outline. I’m happy to help with this or you might want to find a good book on the subject.

Once you’ve finished your first novel then you need to be sure it works before getting any errors fixed. Giving copies for people you know to read is a great first step. Bear in mind that family members and friends will be reluctant to criticise something they know is important to you. You could look for a local writing group for more objective opinions or you might already belong to an online writing or reading group for your genre. This is often called beta reading. You will want to get as many different comments as possible and judge them, not by individual opinions, but by overall response. By this I mean that one person may love a book that another person hates, so you can’t place too much note on one opinion, whether positive or negative. However, if a lot of people say that they didn’t like your main character or thought the plot didn’t make sense, then there’s a definite problem that you need to fix.

It can also be invaluable to get expert advice. For instance, if you have written a historical novel you could find historians to read it who will recognise any errors about that time period. If your main character is a doctor and you aren’t then, as well as doing plenty of research on the subject, you would probably want to find at least one doctor to read it for mistakes.

When you’ve had some responses from others you might want to make revisions and this is a good time to do a first or second self-edit, reading the manuscript carefully for errors. Many editors charge an hourly rate – although I don’t – so you can save money by doing as much work as possible yourself.

Professional Editing

At this point you should consider getting a professional editor. If it’s something you just can’t possibly afford and you feel you have plenty of people to read your book and give honest opinions and help you correct mistakes, then you might decide not to get an editor. Similarly, if you only intend to write one book or give your writing away for free you might make the same decision. You can never know in advance how well your book will sell so it’s important that you never spend more money than you can afford to lose.

If you have long-term writing goals then check carefully what services different editors provide and what they charge. Different types of editing sometimes vary in cost and different editors can charge around £2,000.00, £500.00 or £200.00 for doing the same work. Some editors will read a manuscript 2 or 3 times and others will charge less because they will only provide one read-through, so this is something to consider when making your choice. The more times the editor checks the book, the less mistakes will be left. Try to find someone you’re happy working with and, if possible, get them to edit a free sample of your work so you can see the quality they are offering.

In an ideal world you would want both a structural edit and a copy edit and, if you do a number of revisions, you might even get more than one copy edit. Some editors offer a fact-checking service, for instance to ensure accuracy in a historical novel. However, if you can only afford one type of editing, then you will need to decide which one best suits your needs. If you have had 30 strangers read your manuscript and point out anything they liked and disliked and have made revisions before checking their opinions again, you might be happy with the overall story and decide to pay for only a copy-edit. If you have a couple of friends who are experts on grammar and spelling, you might decide to just get a structural edit.

In time, probably with the help of a mailing list, you might find a number of people who like your work and are happy to read it and give their opinions after you’ve written a first or second draft. If you want a long-term career as a writer getting comments from readers, as well as a professional editor, will ensure that your finished book is the best that it can possibly be.

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