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Writing: How To Choose And Use Editors For Your Self-published Books

Writing: How to Choose and Use Editors for Your Self-published Books

headshot of Karl Drinkwater

Karl Drinkwater, indie author and editor

If you want your self-published book to meet professional publishing standards (and you should), it's important to have it properly edited, but choosing the right editor and getting the most from your investment can be tricky, especially at the start of your career as an indie author.

Karl Drinkwater, who recently posted here about how to polish your manuscript before editing, now shares his top tips as an indie author and freelance editor on how to choose the best editors for your books and how to work with them to best advantage.



Decide Which Type of Edit You Need

Apart from the kind of editing you do yourself, there are three different stages in editing:

  • developmental edit (also called structural, literary, content, or substantive) to flag up the “big picture” story, character and prose issues.
  • line editing to fine-tune the language
  • proofreading to pick up typos and any errors missed or introduced since the line edit

Common advice is that it's better to have multiple editors rather one to do all three stages. The second and third of these processes are generally cheaper and quicker and generate less work for you than the first.

Use an Editor to Match Your Genre and Region

  • photo of finger pointing at remote island in world map

    (Photo credit: Kelsey Knight at Unsplash)

    Seek an editor who is comfortable with your genre. Editors who specialize in a particular genre are more likely to know its tropes and the reader's expectations. They may also have their special strengths in particular aspects of writing – one may be great at dialogue, another at structure, another at developing mood.

  • Nationality/region
    Make sure they are familiar with your preferred use of spelling and idiom. If your book is heavily tied to a region or subculture, ensure your editor understands the nuances of its language or dialect.

Set Editing Criteria

If you use a particular style guide or have developed your own house style, tell your editor. If you don’t, that’s fine, but try to develop one during the editing process. Your editor will raise points such as when numbers need to be written as words. Note down the conventions you agree, and these will form the basis of your style guide for the future.

Test with a Free Sample Edit

Before you commit to a particular editor, ask for a sample edit. Most editors will edit a short sample of your work for free, and provide a quote based on that. If you disagree with their suggested changes, or you feel like you would not enjoy working with them, go elsewhere.

Try a Paid Partial Edit

If you suspect your work has problems of style and repeated errors, then you could save a lot of money by getting an editor to edit a few chapters initially. See what common errors they pick up on (mistakes of style, grammar, sentence structures, overuse of passive voice, speech tags, punctuation etc.), then go through rest of book yourself fixing them before submitting the whole, revised manuscript. Not only will you then really understand the errors and be less likely to repeat them in future, you'll also save money on editing costs.

You could get a developmental editor to look at just the areas you feel are weaker, such as the opening of a novel. I did this once with a short story collection where I knew most stories were good since they’d been polished in the past. Some had even been published already and just needed a few tweaks. Other stories were brand new, more experimental, and I was less sure about their strengths. In that case I just paid a developmental editor to work on the new stories.

Consider Loyalty vs Variety

  • If you work with the same editor over time, they get to know you and your style, you build a rapport, and your writing can be taken to the next level. You may also earn a better rate once they realise your work won’t contain basic errors any more.
  • If you work with different editors, you will learn different things from each of them. It's like having different teachers in school.

I adopt a mixed approach: I have my favourite editors, but when they are busy, I never mind trying a new editor.

Consider Each Book in the Context of Your Career

When you work with an editor, you are not just working on that single book. You are learning things that you will take forward and apply to future works. I always learn a huge amount from my editors, and I have worked with a lot of them over the last ten years.

You will need more editing at the start of your career.

photo of sharpened pencil

Photo credit: Jess Watters via Unsplash

Early in your career, money spent on editing is as an investment in your writing future. When I left paid employment to become a full-time writer, I invested most of my savings in my business, from buying ISBNs and software to going on writing courses and setting aside the money for editing and proofreading costs for a number of books.

I work on the assumption that an author needs to write 5-10 novels, in a reflective way that involves feedback from others, to become fully proficient in the craft side of writing.

The art side is a different matter, but in both cases good editors speed up the process.

Keep Learning

Over time, an author’s style and writing improves, especially if they’ve worked with good editors. Eventually their first drafts need far fewer tweaks. To make the most of this growth in skill, consider going back to previous books and revamping them. I’ve done that with my early works, applying new skills, choosing new covers, reformatting interiors, and writing new blurbs. A lot of the rewriting was easy because I had learned more in the interim, having worked with other editors.

OVER TO YOU Do you have further tips on how to find and use editors? Any cautionary tales? We'd love to hear them, so join the conversation!

How to choose the best #editor for your #selfpub book - by indie author and freelance editor @KarlDrinkwater Click To Tweet

From the ALLi Author Advice Center Archive

Author: Karl Drinkwater

Karl Drinkwater Karl Drinkwater is originally from Manchester but has lived in Wales for half his life. He's a full-time author, edits fiction for other writers, and was a professional librarian for over twenty-five years. He has degrees in English, Classics, and Information Science.

He writes in multiple genres: his aim is always just to tell a good story. Among his books you'll find elements of literary and contemporary fiction, gritty urban, horror, suspense, paranormal, thriller, sci-fi, romance, social commentary, and more. The end result is interesting and authentic characters, clever and compelling plots, and believable worlds.


This Post Has 6 Comments
  1. Thanks for this insightful article, Karl. As a ghostwriter for people who want to self-publish I can’t sing the praises of using an editor, or editors, enough! Passing this along.

  2. I loved the talking points of this article and some of my eBooks on Amazon have paid a high price for poor editing.

    I have been slowly editing 7,000 pages of my eBooks to make them the best I can.

    No writer wants a poorly written book.

    But a professional editor/grammar service will cost me $550-$1050 per eBook and I have 29 eBooks.

    So, doing the math, they will charge me $11,000 to $33,000 to be generous and happy to edit my eBooks.

    As a disabled veteran writer I do not have the money they are anxious to take.

    So I will use grammarly.com and slowly read OUTLOUD my eBooks as I fix the grammar and try to fix typos or misuse of words.

  3. Thanks for pointing out that new writers need more editing than seasoned ones. Too many experienced authors speak about writing as if it should be easy, even saying that all you need to do is “read through” your work again to polish it up. They must have forgotten the years they spent learning how to build a story out of coherent characters. But then newbies try to follow that sketchy advice and end up frustrated with their results. We all need lots of constructive critical feedback while we’re learning and then some more as we go on to keep us from getting lazy!

    Thanks for a great post!

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