Anyone can write a book and, these days, anyone can publish one, but not everyone can do it well. My experience as an Awesome Indies reviewer has shown me just how difficult it is to produce a quality self-published book without professional help. It’s also shown me that authors can’t trust small independent presses or self-publishing providers to do comprehensive edits. They’ll tell you that they’ll edit your books, but what kind of editing will they do? Unfortunately, I’ve seen too many that cut corners in their editing. And, like many self-publishers going it alone, they miss out the all-important line edit.
If you want your book to be as good as mainstream books, you have to have it comprehensively edited.
We cannot fully edit our own work.
We simply don’t see it the way others do. We know what we’re trying to say, but our readers don’t, so someone with no prior knowledge of the story must do the final edit.
But we can self-edit as part of the writing process.
The more editing we do ourselves, the less someone else has to do, and the less it will cost us, but we need to learn the necessary skills. Paying a professional editing service to do a comprehensive edit on your book will do more than just bring your book up to professional standards, it will also—if the editor explains why they do what they do—make you a better author. The editor should then have less to do on your next book and, if they charge only for what you need done, it should cost you less.
It’s true that you’re unlikely to make the money back in the short term, but it’s an investment in your career that you can’t afford not to make. Consider it education. When you go through the edits, look closely at them, and learn from them. If you don’t know why something has been done and the editor hasn’t told you, ask why the changes have been made.
There are four kinds of editing and each requires a separate pass of the manuscript.
Most indie authors employ an editor, as in one person, but since each stage of the manuscript is a separate pass, you’ll most likely get a cleaner end product if the copy edit and final proof are done by different people, so consider employing a team of editors rather than a single person. It shouldn’t cost more. At least make sure that the final proof read is done by someone who has never read the book before. This is how mainstream publishers work.
Note well: A line edit and copy edit are not the same. A copy editor, does just that—a copy edit. We see many books that have been diligently copy edited but the prose is still too poor to pass Awesome Indies approval because it hasn’t been line edited.
Make sure your book receives all the following levels of editing.
Structural/conceptual/developmental edit: This is the big stuff—plot, character, structure, concept, world building and so on. A manuscript appraisal or beta readers who are writers or editors can fulfil this stage of the process. There are plenty of books on writing that cover this area.
Line edit: This stage cuts the clutter and improves the prose. It’s the least understood area of writing and the form of editing most lacking in indie books. Every author should pay for a professional line edit at least once in their career—preferably early on. Once an author has the skills they can do most of this themselves and then they can have the line and copyediting done at the same time.
Copy edit: corrects grammar, punctuation and spelling, and checks for consistency.
Proof read: checks the above and picks up typos. This should always be a different editor to the one who has done the previous edit.
Though it’s true that many readers don’t notice sloppy writing and poor editing, most book bloggers and certainly the major review sites do, and in this highly competitive market, only the best authors will survive in the long term. Readers are becoming more discerning, and eventually sloppy writers will fall by the wayside. If you’re planning on making a career out of writing, and if you want your book to look professional and meet the standards of mainstream books, then your book needs to go through all of these editing phases.
This article has been adapted from The Elements of Active prose: Writing Tips to Make Your Prose Shine by Tahlia Newland. Tahlia is a line editor for AIA Editing.