You’ve completed your book—how does it feel? If you’re like most people, you feel as if a huge weight was just lifted off your shoulders. But don’t relax just yet, it’s time to roll up your sleeves and polish your manuscript.
Many writers fear or dread the editing process, but if you approach it in the results-driven manner you did when writing your book, you’ll quickly realize that it’s not that bad. In fact, it’s kind of fun.
Here are the steps you should take to turn your manuscript into a professional book that readers will appreciate.
Your Daily Editing
We talked about this in the last article, but I want to go over it again to drive home the point and tell you why it’s so important. As you begin your day writing your book, start by doing a quick edit of what you wrote the day before. I can’t tell you how much this will help. The reason is that it allows you to edit the chapter while it’s fresh in your mind. This helps you identify inconsistencies and other glaring mistakes. It won’t be your final edit, but if you use the first 30 minutes of every writing day, you’ll substantially reduce the amount of editing work you have to do later on.
Read it Again
Once you’ve completed your book, it’s time to read it again from start to finish. This will serve as what I call a logic check. Are the chapters in an order that makes sense? Do the steps you outlined flow in the proper order, or if you’re writing fiction, is the plot timeline in a logical sequence? Do you need to work more on character development?
Read the manuscript from a reader’s viewpoint and make notes along the way using your software’s highlighter function. As you read the book, things will jump out that bother you. Don’t ignore your gut, but make the necessary changes to clarify your words, or make the changes needed to give readers the best possible experience.
Do it Again
Once you’ve gone through the entire book, make the changes in whatever program you’re working in, and then print out the book. You’ll need to read the entire manuscript again, looking for the same things. Because you will be reading the manuscript in black and white, rather than on a screen, you’ll see things you didn’t see the first time. As you read through it, make notes in the margins and once you’ve completed it, enter the changes into your computer file.
Think about a Structural Edit
If you’re a first-time fiction author, you should seriously think about hiring a structural editor at this point to evaluate your plot and look for inconsistencies or plot problems. I hired one of these editors for my first fiction book, and the feedback I got was invaluable. But after that experience, I didn’t feel the need to hire her for subsequent books because I was able to take what she told me on the first book and apply the same logic to the others.
These editors will look at your manuscript as a whole and assess it. After they’ve conducted a structural edit on your manuscript, they will provide you with a report that can range from only one page to a big stack with dozens of pages. Your job is to go through those suggestions one by one and determine whether or not they make sense to you. Most authors don’t automatically make every change suggested, but it’s important to take each suggestion seriously and consider it. For instance, my editor suggested that I eliminate some of the descriptive language I use in my fiction books, and I chose to ignore those suggestions because I felt that doing so would take away the uniqueness of my writing style. But she made other suggestions, such as more clearly defining the setting in the book, and I took them to heart and made the changes.
We’ll talk about how to find a good editor at the end of this article.
Use Beta Readers
As an alternative to a structural editor if you’re writing a fiction book, or as the next step if you’re writing a non-fiction book, you can use beta readers to help point out plot inconsistencies or areas of your nonfiction book that need attention. The trick is to gather a group of people, 5 or 6 should do the trick, and ask them to read your book as if they don’t know you. You need to form a group of people who will tell you honestly if they find a problem in the book, if they feel a character needs further development, a key point in your nonfiction book
needs to be explained more, or any number of other things. Basically, this group of people act like a structural editor but work for free.
I believe that anyone who has never published a fiction book before should use a structural editor at least once. And whether this is your first nonfiction book or your tenth, you should definitely form a beta reader group.
Find the group by asking friends, family, acquaintances, co-workers—anyone who will read the book with neutral eyes and give you honest feedback. You can also use members of your writing group, online writer’s community, or anyone else who will give you honest feedback.
Once you’ve received all the feedback, compare it to determine which areas you need to address. For instance, if one person out of six told you they didn’t like one of your characters or couldn’t understand an important point in your book, you should think about their feedback, but not necessarily act on it. But if you got the same feedback from a few of them, you need to go back to work. Use the information to make the changes you need to, and then move on to the next step.
All of the above steps should have produced a manuscript that you can be proud of. You’ve written the best book you can, you’ve sent it to either a structural editor or a beta group, and you’ve made all the changes you thought were necessary. By this time, you probably feel that you’ve written the book a few times.
But don’t get comfortable just yet because the work is just starting. Now that the book’s structure, format, and content is decided, you’ll need to ensure that it’s grammatically correct. Trust me; readers will let you know if it’s not. One reader left a review for How to Work from Home and Make Money saying that I’d typed “an” when I meant “and” a few times in my book. Although he gave me a five- star review for the content of the book, he still felt it was necessary to point out the grammar issues, which can reduce its credibility in the eyes of people who are considering buying the book. As soon as I saw the review, I used the “find” function in word and looked at every “an” that appears in the book. And sure enough, I found two instances of it, which I changed immediately. But if I had found those “an’s” in the editing process, that review wouldn’t have marred my review section.
Your book must be proofread before you hit the publish button. And you can do that one of two ways. You can hire a proofreader, or you can do it yourself. Here’s a bit of information for both ways.
Hire a Proofreader
Hiring a proofreader is the easiest way to proofread a book, but it will cost you some money. Proofreading fees are all over the map, but if you look around, you can find a quality proofreader without breaking the bank. For instance, Danisellis works on Fiverr and gets great reviews, Reedsy offers a list of pre- screened and qualified editors, Invisible Ink offers great prices and every type of editing service, or you can look for proofreaders on sites like UpWork.
If you plan to go this route, be sure to check out the “Don’t Hire an Editor Until You Read This” section at the end of this article.
Do it Yourself
If you’re already a professional writer and have the skills, you can probably proofread the book yourself. Now, I realize that many people are staunchly against this method, but many successful authors do it. In fact, even when you hire a professional editor, there will still be errors in your book. It’s just not possible for a human to catch every single error in a manuscript.
I proofread my own books. And yes, I missed two “and’s” in my book, and probably have some other errors that I haven’t found yet, but if you’ve read “How to Build a Writing Empire in 30 Days or Less,” then you know that I’ve edited other writer’s work for years. If you have those skills and want to save some money, self-editing is a legitimate course of action in my mind. (By the way, if you find a typo in this book, I’d love to hear about it. Contact me at [email protected].)
And it’s really not that difficult. Here’s how I proofread my own books.
- Once you’ve completed all the previous steps, print out your book again. Then read through it with your eye on grammar, not structure. Read it slowly and carefully and mark any errors you see with a red pen. Enter those changes into your file.
- Now it’s time to run it through a software program to try and catch any mistakes you may have missed. I use ProWritingAid and am happy with it. You can try it yourself for free before you decide if it’s the right program for you. I’ve also heard good things about Kutools for Word, which offers a free basic version. Whatever program you decide on, keep in mind that it’s not a human that is suggesting the changes, so some of them will be unnecessary, or worse, wrong. I use this software to catch obvious mistakes that I’ve missed. Be sure to check each suggestion before you make any changes. Once you do, update your file with the changes.
- Now it’s time to print your manuscript again, but this time, you’re going to read it out loud. Find a quiet spot and slowly read your book out loud. You’ll be amazed at how many additional errors you’ll catch.
- Finally, after you’ve updated your file with all the new corrections, it’s time for the ultimate proofreading test. Print your new file again, and this time, read it backward. Yep, you heard me correctly. Start at the last page, and read each sentence starting with the last one. This allows your mind to concentrate on one sentence at a time, and you won’t be distracted by thinking about what comes next. It’s the absolute best way to edit your manuscript.
If you’ve taken all of the above steps, you should have a manuscript that’s ready for publication. But before we go to the next chapter and talk about whether or not you should pre-release your book, let’s go over some basics for hiring editors if you’ve decided to go that route.
Don’t Hire an Editor Until You’ve Read This
If you’re not an expert at editing, then you’ll need to hire an editor to ensure your readers get the best experience they can. But it can be intimidating, can’t it? After all, you’re putting your masterpiece into the hands of a stranger and hoping they’ll care for it as much as you do.
Let’s talk about that. Most editors are hardworking people who honestly earn every penny they get. They work tirelessly to help authors perfect their manuscripts, so they’ll become successful. But as in any industry, there are bad apples, unqualified editors, and editors who are in over their heads.
How do you ensure you select the right one? By following a few simple rules when deciding which editor to hire. Here are some general guidelines to help you pick the right editor for your book.
- Look in the right places. If you google “book editor,” you’ll be overwhelmed at the choices you have. But along with the potentially great editors you’ll find that way; there are also some who should never lay hands on your book. Instead, ask for recommendations from your author friends, investigate the places I listed above, and contact the organizations in your country such as the Editorial Freelancers Association, the Association of Freelance Editors Proofreaders Indexers, the Institute of Professional Editors in Australia, and in the UK, the Society for Editors and Proofreaders. Finally, Kindlepreneur offers an exhaustive list of vetted, recommended freelance editors that have varying prices.
- Beware of scams. Some authors post reviews for bad service they’ve received from editing companies. Before you hire an agency, be sure to google their name, plus “reviews” to determine whether or not other writers have had bad experiences with them.
- Ask for References. Any editor worth his or her salt will be able to provide you with a list of books they’ve edited. Pay attention to the genres to determine if the editor is a good match, and contact the author and ask for an honest evaluation of the editor’s work.
- Ask for a free sample. Many editors offer a free sample so you can judge whether or not they’re the right editor for your book. I highly recommend this, and in fact, would not consider hiring an editor without it. Here’s why. When I set out to hire a structural editor for my fiction book, I asked for samples from three editors. The first one wanted to impose her own style on me (not good), the second one missed things she should have caught, and the third one was a perfect match. But if I hadn’t had samples to go on, I easily could have picked the wrong editor.
- Pay attention to the price. Just because an editor charges a high price, that doesn’t mean he or she is the best. There are plenty of horrible editors charging outrageous fees, just as there are some professional and competent editors charging lower ones. Determine your budget before you begin your search, and look for a great editor that can work within it.
- Is it a genre fit? If you write romance, you don’t want an editor working on your book that specializes in military thrillers. Instead, look for an editor who has a good understanding of your genre. By working with an editor in your genre, you’ll get more out of the service.
- Do they have reviews? When you think you’ve found the right editor, ask which books in your genre they’ve worked on in the past. Once you have a list, go to Amazon to check out the book. In the review section, pay attention to the comments. Is the author dinged for poor grammar? Do the reviewers talk about plot inconsistencies or poor character development? If so, this is a sign that you haven’t yet found the right editor.
- Review the contract. You should never agree to an editing arrangement until it’s been put in writing. The contract should specify what you’ll be getting for your money, the way the payments are to be made, and the due dates for each aspect of the project. It’s common to pay an editor the fee in thirds: one third when starting, the second third at the halfway point, and the balance when the project is completed. Also, be sure the contract clarifies who will be doing the editing. Sometimes editors outsource their work without revealing it in the contract, and those authors may not get the expertise they thought they’d paid for.
With all this talk about editors, it’s easy to forget that you’ll have many choices when it comes to what kind of editor you hire for your book. Here’s a breakdown of the different types of editors and how they can help shape your book.
- Structural editing. We talked about this earlier and decided that if you’re a first-time fiction author, you should take advantage of this service. These editors look at the big picture and help with the plot for fiction and structure for nonfiction books. This is also referred to as developmental editing and content editing.
- Line editing or copy editing. This type of edit concentrates on the individual sentences in your book to ensure they’re styled correctly so that the book comes across as professional and polished. It also checks for grammar, punctuation, spelling, consistency, and whether or not the facts in the book are correct.
- Proofreading. This is the last type of edit done on a book, and it looks for any missed typos, spelling errors, or grammatical mistakes.
Just think: by this point you’ve written your book, edited it and now you’re ready to upload it to Amazon and start selling.
Or are you?
Actually, there’s much more to be done before you put your book up for sale. For starters, you need to decide whether or not you’ll offer it as a pre-release before officially launching it. Let’s move on to the next article and talk about that now.