How to Edit a Book as a Self-Published Author


I’ve been in the writing game for nearly three years now so I like to think that I’ve made enough mistakes to know what not to do when it comes to writing, editing, publishing, and marketing a book. Despite having some unfavourable reviews as every seasoned writer does, I’ve used them to my advantage (here’s how). So many things can go wrong along the part to success and, with experience, you very quickly learn that there is a right way to do something and a wrong way to do it. Editing a book is no exception.

Thanks to the ease of publishing in this new electronic world, many self-published authors write their book, edit it themselves, and then throw their creation in front of the eyes of readers. There are exceptions to the rule but – in most cases – being the sole worker on a book production line leads to harsh comments and poor reviews.

To avoid this fate, some authors choose to go down the traditional publishing route. And while this can’t guarantee having a perfectly edited manuscript (as there are just as many incompetent editors as incompetent writers out there) in many cases it does improve their work.

This is how traditional publishers edit a book:

    Stage 1 – The Developmental Edit (Or Structural Edit)

    Whatever you want to call their process, the developmental editor is often the first opponent in an author’s editing gauntlet. Their job is to work out any ‘big picture’ problems that manuscripts might have. These can include plot holes, characterisation, word choice, chapter lengths, genre issues, and pacing, amongst a minefield of hazards. After recommendations are made, the author then has to redraft their entire book and come back for a potential second or even third developmental edit until all of the major creases are ironed out.

    Stage 2 – The Copy Edit (Or Line Edit)

    I consider the copy editor to be the accountant of the literature world. They are extremely precise about minute details to the point of being anal, and can talk for hours about something as unexciting as a comma. Relax, I can say this as I’ve worked as one myself and – in a really nerdy way – really enjoyed the process. Copy editors go through the manuscript line by line after the developmental editor has (hopefully) fixed all of the major weaknesses and faults in the plot. They then check more specific things like typos, spelling, grammar, punctuation, and whether “storm trooper” is one word or two. They will do the job of polishing the manuscript, turning a great idea into publishable literature.

    Stage 3 – The Proof Read

    If you don’t know, the easiest way to distinguish proof reading from copy editing is that copyediting is usually done on screen whereas proof reading is usually read from a physical, printed copy of a book (A.K.A. a proof) after the copy editing stage is complete. Usually, this is done by multiple proof readers who are trained to pick up any mistakes missed by the copy editor plus any layout and formatting errors that might be obviously visible on the printed book but not so easy to notice on a screen. When they’re done with it, the author will be sent a proof copy which they will, in turn, be given the opportunity to proof read themselves to flag up any final issues before the book is launched.

    So is all of this necessary in self-publishing?

    Well, the short answer is ‘yes’. And the truth of the matter is that editing is expensive – sometimes as much as £3000 (about $4600) for a novel if necessary. Some successful writers have managed to cut costs without reducing the quality of their work by harnessing things like crowd editing and beta readers and by collaborating on projects with other writers (I’ve explained why writer collaboration can be great in a previous post. There are loads of other benefits!). These methods, however, can also be problematic as not everyone’s input will be valid, and on the internet everyone has an opinion and will stick by it regardless of their ability or qualifications. The biggest challenge when using this approach would be choosing which readers to trust and which to ignore. It can be a classic case of too many cooks spoiling the broth.

    In the past, I have been lucky since I have friends who are English Literature graduates who have offered to help me edit my past manuscripts. Having said that, this can never compete with the level of polish professional editors can provide. As a result, I have started moving onto the more expensive route – and you should, too. My reasoning is as follows.

    It appears that all of the most successful indie writers working today say that the difference between a professional, bestselling author and a good amateur is professional editing. And, due to the exponential curve that is author earnings, having a perfectly polished manuscript that has been through a developmental edit, a copy edit, and a set of proof readers is the only thing that gives a writer’s career the rocket engine boost it needs to climb that ever steepening curve.

    So, even self-published authors need to follow the three stages of editing. Of course, editing is just a tiny cog in the great publishing clock. Others include writing clever plots and making the most of social media sites like Twitter. There are countless other cogs, each of which needs to be fitted into place by an author with as much care and precision as its neighbours. Mastering the function of all of the cogs leaves a writer with only one conclusion… success is only a matter of time.

    If you want to be the first to know about updates on my blog, events, and free giveaways then you can sign up to my Newsletter here. I would really appreciate you sharing this on all forms of social media. If you have any questions or comments then you can tweet me (@dkparsonswriter) or leave a comment down below. In the future I’ll be writing more on authors, publishing, and writing as well as a variety of related topics. Come back any time. In the meantime, happy writing!