There are two things I always suggest to authors looking for self-publishing advice. The first is to hire a cover designer, and the second is to hire a professional editor. The reason these are the first two things that always come to mind is simply because since working at Lulu, I’ve seen so many wonderful books get written off (pun intended) because the cover was phoned in or the spelling and grammatical errors are too numerous to ignore.
Hiring a cover designer is straight forward enough, and we’ve created loads of content around achieving cover design success and even how to use your book cover as a marketing tool. The second tip, however, can be a bit more nuanced.
Editing is essential to any successfully published book, whether it be traditionally or independently published. There is nothing that can take you out of a story or destroy credibility faster than misspelled words and grammatical errors. Hiring the right editors and employing the right editing styles for your project is paramount to reaching any level of success with your book.
Okay, so I think I got the point across. Edit your manuscript. Simple, right?
Well, in theory, yes. But in real life, maybe not. There are several different things to consider when making your foray into editing. For starters, what type of editing do you need? How many are even out there? Can’t your mom just do it? These are all great questions and we’re going to dive in to help you answer all of them.
There are three main types of editing that you will come across in your search. Those are developmental, copy, and line editing. These will be the focus of this article but just in case that doesn’t satiate your appetite for editing, I threw in a bonus round at the end. Let’s get started!
First up – developmental editing!
Developmental editors work to improve the structure, content, and focus of your book. Developmental editing is also where problems of inconsistent tone or unclear target audience surface. A developmental editor is going to look at the big picture of your book and see if all the pieces make sense. It’s important to note that this process will look different for works of fiction vs non-fiction. For fiction, this step will include evaluating character development, plot, and pacing. For non-fiction, the focus will be on the organization of content and if the message is clear and engaging throughout the manuscript.
Developmental editing is usually the first on the list in the editing process because it will help you cut out or revise any big issues with the manuscript. No point in formatting or grammar correcting a section that’s just going to end up on the cutting room floor, right?
Moving right along, next on our list is line editing! As the name suggests, line editors work line-by-line, tightening up sentence structure so the language is sharp and clear. Line editing ensures that the sentences in your manuscript are as effective as possible.
Line editors are attentive to your individual style as an author and approach your manuscript as a careful reader. They look closely at how your word choice and syntax contribute to the tone or emotion of your writing. Finally, a line editor is concerned with the overall pacing and logical flow of your manuscript.
Up next is copy editing. And while this one might sound similar to line editing, there are some important differences to be aware of. Line editing takes into account your style as a writer. Copy editing is the heartless monster indiscriminately slashing through all of the spelling, punctuation, and grammar mistakes in your manuscript.
A copy editor will also look at basic fact-checking, usage, and style inconsistencies. They want to make sure every element of your story is consistent, cohesive, and complete.
Depending on your budget, timeline, and goals, you can choose to employ one or all three of these editing styles for your manuscript. If you’re on a limited budget or interested in choosing just one editing style, I would recommend copy editing to start.
I promised a bonus round, didn’t I? While not technically labeled as editing, proofreading can play a valuable role in perfecting your manuscript. Proofreaders are individuals endowed with the power to find mistakes, often in places others have missed. After you have gone through all of the other editing steps, it’s time to put the final draft to the test with a proofreader. This person is the last stop before your book hits the press and will weed out any leftover spelling issues, grammatical errors, or inconsistencies in the story.
Personalizing The Process
As with everything else in publishing, there is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to editing a manuscript. Be sure to do your research and get really clear on your goals for the project before moving forward with hiring an editor. A good tip for when it comes time to find the right editor (or editors) for your manuscript is to draft a brief for your project outlining your expectations, timeline, and budget so you can ensure your conversations are as productive as possible.
Chelsea Bennett is the Brand Engagement Manager for Lulu.com and is constantly researching and developing new resources for independently published authors. Her areas of expertise include self-publishing, Print-on-Demand technology, building an author brand, direct sales and marketing for authors and entrepreneurs. When not thinking about publishing, Chelsea can be found playing disc golf with her husband or having in-depth conversations about the universe with her cat, Batman.
Of course publishing is complicated. Marketing the book is even worse. Why do you think so many authors prefer to chase professional agents and publishers who eat all the money?
It is only when you haver written a book that the real work begins, whether you self-publish or not. Not even Lulu can offer you both choice and simplicity.
As a seasoned technical author, I can confirm unreservedly that if you want high quality writing then all these editing stages are necessary. Nowadays I am able to put on each hat in turn and do most of it for myself. But you need more than one proofreader, so I still call on others to do a narrative and/or technical edit and yet others to do a line and/or copyedit.
But sometimes it is just not worth it. The hassle and, if you are stuck for expert friends then also the cost, will be wasted unless the book sells well. And that means it needs to be marketed well, which involves more expertise and more cost. So for some books I just publish and be damned once it has reached an adequate quality for my purposes, and get on with the next one.
I was paid and wrote a technical book published by a technical book publisher. I found the technical editing (not mentioned here) to be so-so but I was blown away by the line editor. I’m a good writer, very accurate speller and very good with grammar but the line editor, having line edited dozens or hundreds of books (and very quickly, too) could bring all her experience to suggest improvements to individual sentences. My sentences were good but she seemed to be able to see all the different ways that a sentence could possibly be structured (since she had so much experience) and say, “What about this phrasing?” I didn’t necessarily use her suggestion verbatim but pointed out sentences to focus on and wordsmith on.
Because I believe that family and own stories have a message/lesson/point, usually poignant, these stories still need editor(s) to help ensure these messages are well said and consistent to get across.
If you’re planning to sell a book, an editor is money well spent. If you are publishing something like a family history or your own story, you don’t need an editor.
Self publishing in Lulu is too complicated.
Besides, I don’t have the money to hire an editor and cover designer.
This will be too expensive for me