People often ask if hiring an editor is necessary
for a self-published book. It depends on your skills as
a writer – do you have trouble with grammar and punctuation?
Do you know how to use a style guide? Are you able to pick
up your own errors?
The writing and editing in your self-published book
must be the best you can do, and then it should be
even better. The last thing you want is readers noticing
mistakes or poor writing and then saying, ‘Oh well, it’s
only self-published’. You know yourself how
offputting it is to read a book that has obviously
not been given that critical eye and final polish.
If you decide to hire an editor, or even just to
ask someone to read the manuscript whose opinion
you value, you should edit it yourself to the best
of your ability. This will save everyone time, and
save you money. Achieving the required distance from
your writing is difficult. In order to do this, you
should put your manuscript away for several weeks
to help you gain a ‘fresh eye’ for
it. Then begin by looking at the following aspects:
- Have you found that perfect title yet? If you’re
still wrestling with several choices, road-test them
with friends and acquaintances to help you select
the best one.
- Does the opening catch the reader’s interest?
Are they going to want to keep reading, drawn in by your
first words? In a children’s book, the first sentence
should get them in. Your first poem in a collection
should be one of your strongest.
- Does your book fulfil its promise? In fiction,
all those elements of character, plot, theme, dialogue
etc. should be working together in a sound structure.
In poetry, you should have weeded out all the weaker
poems and given careful thought to the order. Poems
wrongly placed can alter the whole tone and sense
of the book. A non-fiction book should tell the
reader concisely and clearly what they want to know,
with effective use of headings and sub-headings.
It should be well organised, with material in the
- Does your conclusion work?
- Is your material accurate? Even in fiction, if
you have errors in your background material, such
as a street out of place or the wrong king’s
name, you will undermine that ‘suspension
of disbelief’ which allows
the reader to enter your fictional world. In non-fiction,
errors will undermine the credibility of your whole
book. Where possible, check your facts and figures
in more than one source. Don’t rely on the
internet – go
to primary sources where possible. You might find
three or four different versions of the same incident
or details. If you can’t ascertain which
is correct, choose the one that correlates best
with your other information and add a note, perhaps
a footnote, regarding the other versions. Use your
judgement about anecdotal material, especially
where you might offend someone.
- Are your paragraphs working? Are your sentences
well-constructed, of varying lengths to avoid dullness?
- Is your spelling, punctuation and grammar correct?
Have you stuck to your style guide? Use your spell
checker and dictionary. It might pay to ask a friend
to help with your corrections if you are planning
to hire an editor. It will save time and money
- Is your manuscript printed out on clean paper,
with clear print and double spacing? This makes
it much easier for everyone to read.
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There are several ways in which you can get critical
feedback. If you are in a writing group, ask for a
higher level of workshopping and comment than you would
perhaps normally receive. You may only be able to ask
them to look at two or three chapters, but you can
apply their comments to the rest of the work. You can
also ask friends with experience to read your manuscript
and comment. Don’t ask people who don’t read, or aren’t
capable of separating the text from you personally. This usually rules out
family members and close friends!
Ask them to be specific in their comments. They should point out what isn’t
clear, any queries they have, what they didn’t like and why. Ask them
also to be brutally honest but don’t argue or get upset when they are.
Take a few days to calm down, then look at the manuscript
critically with their comments in mind and consider all
aspects. Remember that these people are all your first
readers, your sample audience, and they can help you iron
out problems before the book goes out to a wider audience
who will be paying for the privilege and want their money’s worth.
If you have no one who can give you good critical feedback,
one option is a reputable manuscript assessment service.
Assessors are anonymous but all are professional writers
or editors. They will assess fiction, poetry, children’s
books and non-fiction. Rates vary, but you are looking at a minimum of
$300.00 for a 100,000 word novel. For your money, you
will receive a written assessment (on average 4-5 pages)
which will tell you where your strengths are and what
isn’t working. Most importantly, the assessor will say whether
your book is ready to submit to a publisher, which for self-publishers
means it is good enough to stand up in the marketplace. This assessment
does not include editing; it is a general critique.
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Using an Editor
You may wish to hire a professional editor, particularly
if you intend to compete in the commercial market with
your book. This could be expensive so get quotes first.
Freelance editors should look at the manuscript first
so they can estimate the number of hours required to
edit properly. If your manuscript is in a mess or needs
lots of work, it will cost you more. The recommended
rate is $30-40 per hour, depending on the complexity
of the job and the experience of the editor.
sensible to provide prospective editors with a brief
outlining your requirements.
A common question is “If my manuscript is 200 pages, why does an editor
quote on an hourly rate rather than by the page?” This is because every
manuscript is different. For something that is well-written and doesn’t
need much editing, an editor may be able to work at 8-10 pages an hour. But
for a manuscript that has a lot of errors and needs extensive copy-editing,
an editor may only be able to complete 3-4 pages an hour. Consequently, the
difference could be an extra 40 hours of work – that equates to
The Tasmanian Society of Editors provides a very handy online brochure
that details how to approach an editor, what to expect, what to ask
called “Why Do You Need an Editor?” - http://www.tas-editors.org.au/SocEdbroch.pdf
Links to the Society of Editors in each state (their sites will give
you local information and information on contacting freelancers)
are at http://www.publishers.asn.au/
An editor will give you professional, independent, unbiased criticism.
They will point out inconsistencies, repetitions, ‘woolliness’ and disorganised
material. When you are too close to your writing, there are many things you
just can’t see for yourself. If you have devised your own style sheet,
make sure your editor has a copy of this. Discuss your needs with your editor,
decide what you want done and confirm it in writing, including the maximum
cost. Don’t be overawed --- make sure you find an editor to whom
you can talk confidently and freely, who understands what you want to
You can obtain a register of freelance editors from the Society of
Editors in each state. New Zealand also has an official Association
of Manuscript Assessors that includes editors - http://www.elseware.co.nz/NZAMA/
and a Local Publishers’ Forum site that has links to freelance
editors - http://www.lpf.org.nz/
Most sites will list editors in your geographical area as well as
those who edit specialist publications. The Society’s register entries
will tell you the qualifications of each person and what other publications
they have worked on. Some editors are also able to provide design and
typesetting services, or can refer you to reliable professionals they
have worked with.
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Other Editing Elements
While you are in the editing process, make sure you have
started to gather all the other material you will need,
such as photos, diagrams, maps, etc., and don’t forget to apply for any permissions needed (be aware of copyright
laws). Keep a record of what you need and mark each item off as you receive
it, then store it carefully. You may want to write your captions and chapter
headings now, if you haven’t already done so, and begin compiling
your bibliography, glossary, appendices etc. Check that you have the
correct information to write captions for your photographs. Family photos
are notorious for including anonymous people whom no-one recognises.
Check spellings of all names, places and dates.
Probably the most important point to keep in mind about writing
and editing your book is to put your ego to one side. You are
publishing for a buying audience, and in order to make them feel
their money was well-spent, your writing and editing must be
topnotch. It is a job that very few people do well on their own.
If you don’t intend to sell your book, you will still have readers
with expectations – they will not take your book seriously if it’s
not up to the standard of other things they read.
Note: If the book which is being published is an anthology from
your writing group or club, you should work out how the selection
of material and editing is to happen. Some contributors may need
much more editing than others --- how will this be handled tactfully
but firmly? If the policy is that everyone gets to have a piece
of writing included, try to ensure a high level of quality. You
should compile a style sheet that every piece in the collection
will adhere to. This should include preferred spellings (eg:
recognise or recognize) and formatting of dialogue, just two
areas which can be problematic.
Will you appoint one or two people as supervising editors? Someone
with the final say might be useful, as long as everyone respects
their judgement. Try to sort out and agree to all these details
before you start, and maybe avoid bloodshed! Or at least a feud
which might last for years (I kid you not).
© Sherryl Clark, 2007.
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* Self Publish Australia is hiring suitably qualified editors, please contact us with your resumé