Editing in the Self-Publishing World – Let’s Discuss

Posted July 16, 2015 by Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction in Let's Discuss / 25 Comments

Now that my vacation is over, I’m switching back to my series of RT 2015 inspired discussion posts. These are thoughts that were inspired by specific panels, or by books from RT, or just by random passing things that happened there. So far, I’ve written posts on Faith in Blogging, Reading and Writing Diversity and how meeting an author makes you so much more eager to read their booksI love that events like this help me to think critically about books, blogging and the publishing world in general! 


Today’s post is about editing in the self-published world. I attended a really informative class called Your Proofreader Is Not Your Editor, which I thought gave some fantastic information, but I left feeling like it was a bit unrealistic when it came to the self-publishing world. (It was run by an editor at Carina Press, who did a fantastic job and is obviously very knowledgeable – but perhaps not so much on the realities of self-publishing?)

First off, let me say that I am a firm believer that self-published authors should hire an editor. Of course, I’m a little bit biased because I am an editor (and I work with self-published authors), but I truly believe that you can tell the difference between a book that’s gone through the editing process and one that hasn’t. We’ve all read self-published books that have definitely been lacking and thought, This author could have had a great book if they’d only hired an editor! 

Most of the time, though, when people are lamenting the fact that a self-published book hasn’t been edited, they’re really complaining that it hasn’t been proofread (or at least copy edited).

There are actually four stages of editing (and I took these stages directly from the class, though they’re pretty standard, even if not everyone knows their names):

Developmental Edit – This is the stage where true editing is done. A good developmental editor will help the author with things like voice, consistency, plot holes, timeline issues, pacing – and they’ll point out the good things in the story too! The editor will point out places where the story could be strengthened or the characterization could be solidified. The editor is NOT just looking for grammatical and spelling mistakes. Often the Developmental Edit is done simultaneously with the Line Edit (the next stage).

Line Edit – Like I said, this is often done at the same time as the Developmental Edit (even in the traditional publishing world). This is where the editor helps the author with awkward phrasing, POV shifts, misused words, overused words, etc.

Copy Edit – The third stage of editing is where the eye for detail comes in. This is where all of the little punctuation and grammar errors get fixed and any remaining issues with misused words and such get caught.

Proofreading – Proofreading is really just a final read after formatting has been done to make sure that nothing has been missed or introduced in the editing process (you’d be surprised how often the accept/reject changes process introduces little issues like skipped words, etc.). The proofreader actually shouldn’t have all that much to do!

Now, here’s where I thought that the panel got a bit unrealistic for self-published authors. The editor who ran the panel said that you should have separate people for these jobs (well, the developmental edit and line edit could be done by the same person, but there should be a separate copy editor and proofreader). I definitely understand where she was coming from – and in an ideal world this would be true, but I just can’t see it being all that practical for most self-published authors because of the costs involved. I would love it if I could say, “I do developmental and line editing only, and you’ll have to go to someone else to make sure that all of those commas are in the right places.” (Let’s face it, the nitty gritty details are the least fun, right?) But I don’t think most authors would go for that – and I don’t really expect them to. The costs quoted also seemed like they’d be pretty disheartening to most self-published authors – I think that she mentioned that a good developmental editor would cost somewhere around $1000 for a 90,000 word book (which seems high to me). I know you get what you pay for and all, but I would imagine that most self-published authors were thinking at around that time, $1000 PLUS the cost for a copy editor and a proofreader? 

It just doesn’t seem feasible.

When I edit, I do all of these stages myself (though I do have my mom do a final proofread in addition to myself – just for a second set of eyes). I usually read the book through once to get an overall feel for it, then do the developmental and line edits in a first pass (with some copy editing thrown in – I can’t just ignore incorrect punctuation – it goes against the very grain of my soul!). And then I do a second pass after the author has made edits based on my feedback (sometimes this ends up going back and forth a couple of times). Then there’s a final read-through for the proofread (which I do on my Kindle, so it’s as much like “regular” reading as possible). This means I read the book at least three times. I admit it – in an ideal world, someone else would do those last steps for me. But then I’d have to pay them, which would mean I’d have to charge more.

So, I’m curious. For those of my readers who are authors –
Do any of you use a separate developmental and copy editor and/or proofreader?
For my readers who are … readers –
Do you feel like you can tell the difference between a book that’s been edited and just proofread?
I want to know!


25 responses to “Editing in the Self-Publishing World – Let’s Discuss

  1. I also freelance edit as well as book blog and our processes seem very similar. I pretty much do whatever the author wants- copy edit, content edit, or some combination. In my most recent project, a combination, I just read through once for content, then once for copyediting (I happen to love all the nitty gritty details. I am one of those people who gets tingles whenever there is grammar involved), and a third time for anything I missed. I basically just do it all and then the author and I work out the details.
    I totally agree that it’s way more feasible (and not necessarily the worst option!) to have one editor for self-published works. And as an editor I get extremely frustrated when I read an ARC- self-published or not- that definitely needed an editor, or at least a better one. I was on a blog tour for a book the other day but I actually had to back out because I couldn’t give the book 3+ stars due to lack of editing. It just made it near impossible to read the book.

    Alicia recently posted: Jesse’s Girl by Miranda Kenneally
    • Yes – it’s very hard for me to read an unedited book! Almost painful! I’m glad to know you’re another freelance editor – I think it’s great to have contacts in case there’s a project I can’t take on or need help with! 🙂

      • Wonderful! I was glad to find you were an editor as well. And I don’t come across many unedited books, thankfully, but with ARCs more and more seem to slip through with errors. Hopefully they catch them before publishing.

        Alicia recently posted: The Dreamer by E.J. Mellow
        • Yeah, I notice it a lot with ARCs lately too, and I always tell myself, “They will find and fix this issue!” (Hopefully.) I wonder if ARCs are coming out earlier in the process than they used to?

  2. Ohh I like this! I admit, I don’t know much about the editing side of things, so I feel like I learned a lot by stopping by today 😉 But yes, I think it’s pretty easy to tell when a self-pubbed book hasn’t been properly edited. I read a book once that actually had pretty decent bones and characters but was such a MESS that I couldn’t give it more than 2 stars. Like you said, it wasn’t JUST the proofreading part (though that WAS a disaster- I feel like my 20 month old would have caught that stuff!) but the cohesion of the book was so “off”, there were redundancies, inconsistencies… and I couldn’t help but think that if there had just been a little more effort (and yeah, maybe a little more time and money, but hell, if that’s what it takes..), it could have been a really good book, which is quite a shame.

    Also, I am pretty sure my mind would never allow me to be an editor. I think I would probably try to gouge out my eyes and then throw things. You must have a solid amount of patience and diligence!

    Shannon @ It Starts At Midnight recently posted: The Event Reveal (and Help Wanted!)
    • Ha! Yes, patience and diligence are definitely key! I didn’t know much about the editing process before I started doing it either (or at least before I started studying up!). I find it all fascinating, though – even the grammar! (I know, I’m strange.)

  3. I’m a proofreader and you wouldn’t believe the amount of people that don’t know the difference between the two! Almost everyday I have to explain to people why they must have their book professionally edited BEFORE the proofreading stage. They just don’t understand how different the two jobs are.

    In my opinion both are equally important and if an author really cares about their book they should try and hire different people to do each job. I can tell from a mile off if a book has been proofread by an editor. There will still be a ton of typos and errors that they didn’t pick up on. Why? Because its not their job! Their focus is on improving the novel as a whole.

    Thats just my two cents anyway 🙂

  4. I am a steadfastly firm believer that self-published authors need to hire an editor if they want a successful book that gets self-marketing from readers. When I first started blogging, I pretty much only had self-published authors sending me review requests. You can definitely tell those who took the time and spent the money for an editor, and those who didn’t. However, I have seen one book come through NetGalley that obviously did not have an editor of any of the stages you’ve outlined. The content was bizarre with no cohesion, rambling and oh my lanta commas everywhere. An editor really makes the difference in an author’s work. I don’t know too much about the processes, but $1000 doesn’t sound feasible to me for a developmental editor, plus the cost of the others.

    • Unfortunately, costs are often a big factor for many self-published authors. The fact is, that it takes money to make money, but there’s unfortunately no guarantees that you’ll even make back your investment, especially for new authors who don’t know the ropes of marketing themselves. It’s a conundrum, to be sure, but it’s definitely still worth doing if the author can find someone who will work with them. When I first started out, I let my main author pay me on an extended monthly payment plan because that was the only way she could afford it. Her first trilogy never did sell incredibly well. But now, I’m happy to say, she’s a best-selling author and she doesn’t need my payment plans! 🙂

  5. I’ve been pretty lucky with the self-published books I’ve encountered. All the authors I’ve read seem to have a good support system to help them take care of many of these steps. I think the book abandoned last night after 50 pages was the first book that made me want to start marking up my copy line by line. It made me feel awful because there are all these glowing reviews on GoodReads and Amazon for it. I almost want to finish it to give it an honest review.

    Terri M., the Director recently posted: Scenic Sundays 41: The Return and Terry Pratchett
  6. You know before I hired you, I did not have an editor. I only used critique partners, beta readers, and proofreaders, all who were different people. Which was a nice, budget-friendly way of doing things. But I was also primarily writing scifi romance which I’m stronger at than contemporary. I think it’s really just about knowing your limitations. I got help because I knew I needed it, and I looked around a long time before I settled on you! But yes, I always have someone with fresh eyes do a proofread. It’s very helpful.

    S. J. Pajonas recently posted: Sunday Update – July 19, 2015
    • Yes! I actually meant to add (before this post already got REALLY LONG and I forgot about adding in anything else) that a really solid group of critique partners can sometimes be just as good as an editor – as long as you have people who are willing to be totally honest and really serious about their critiques (so often people have Mom and Aunt Martha critique their books and . . . well). Very good point!

  7. I’d say that typos and grammar errors are giveaways that a book was not proofread. As far as editing goes, there are books I’ve read that I thought could use editing–usually because I thought the story needed tightening, but the author wrote an article talking about how self-published writers needed to use editors, so I assume she did.

    RAnn recently posted: The Perfect Son--My Review
    • Yes, I suppose, no matter what, there are differences of opinion on what makes a book really “good.” And an editor isn’t a magic fix, of course. There have been times when I’ve read traditionally published books, even and wondered how on earth a whole team of people read and approved it! 🙂

  8. Thank you for this very clear summary of editing roles and purposes. I do hope this will clear up some of the confusion out there! I’m a part-time editor myself and though my title is actually “managing editor” (there’s another term for you to explain), the tiny nature of our enterprise means I end up taking on many other roles from editorial to design to marketing. I do find that if I try to do EVERYTHING, the project suffers. I try to farm out at least one aspect so I get another perspective and the mistakes that have eluded me through too much re-reading can be caught.

    Lory @ Emerald City Book Review recently posted: Ten Bookish Characters
    • I don’t do design at all, and I only do the barest minimum of marketing (help with blurbs – and featuring the books on my blog, of course). Those are skills I DO NOT have. Kudos to you for being a Jack of all trades!

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