How to Edit your own Book

Good, Fast, or Cheap. Pick Two.

Good, Fast, or Cheap. Pick Two.

Editing your own book is a long and difficult process. I find it to be the second most arduous piece of the process, but definitely the most painful one. There are many reasons why you might want to edit your own work. First, publishers appreciate a well-written book. If your book is hard to read it reduces the potential size of the audience. If your book uses poor spelling, grammar, and sentence construction, it will be more difficult to evaluate and more time-consuming to correct. This increases the publisher’s costs and reduces their potential profits.

Suppose you choose to publish your own book. Instead of the publisher bearing the cost of editing your book, you will have to pay the cost upfront. The cost can be prohibitive. There are sites where you can hire freelance editors, and pricing varies. Some charge $3.95 per page (in early 2015); this price seems about average. Most copy editors charge by the word, and prices vary based on the type of editing you need. Basic proofreading runs around $0.019 cents per word. Line editing costs around $0.025 cents per word. Developmental editing costs around $0.032 cents per word.

Let’s talk about the types of editing for a moment. Proofreading is about “grammar, punctuation, spelling, word choice and sentence structure.”[1] Line editing is about consistency and syntax. Developmental editing is about content and structure. Some people use the term copy editing in conjunction with proofreading, others in conjunction with line editing. When hiring a copy editor, make sure you know which definition they are using so you understand the pricing.

Good editing takes time. Time is money. A good editor has spent more time at their craft and, therefore, costs more. Also, good editors make more than one pass through the material. The second pass finds errors missed on the first pass or errors introduced in the corrections. The third pass ensures nothing was missed. If the third pass finds errors, a fourth pass is necessary.[2] If you hire an inexpensive editor, you will likely get someone who is inexperienced. If you hire someone with a rapid turnaround, you will likely only get one pass through the material. If you find pricing that is out substantially cheaper than the norm, or if the turnaround is quicker than average, you are not receiving a quality service.

Let’s quantify the cost of hiring a freelance editor. The trim size is only 200 – 250 words per page. Let’s say 225. If your book is 100,000 words, that comes to 444 pages. Hiring an editor at $3.95 per page comes to $1755. Let’s look at the freelance editors pricing by the word. Proofreading comes to $1900; Line editing comes to $2400; developmental editing comes to $3200.

On the other hand, you could use a service like CreateSpace; they offer a single round of editing for $0.016 per word, or $1600 for your manuscript. That’s just one round; you’ll need to pay for multiple rounds. Lulu.com charges $0.037 per word for line editing, $0.044 per word for content editing, and $0.081 per word for developmental editing. With Lulu, editing your hypothetical manuscript would cost between $3,700 and $8,100.

I write because I have to. I don’t write to get rich.  I did not set out to edit my own books, but I cannot afford to have them professionally edited. After self-publishing my first book, a reviewer I trusted told me the book was weakly edited.  I was well into writing my second book, and I had to learn some new tricks, and fast. Fortunately, technology is rapidly improving, and there are products on the market that can help.

As a professional writer, you cannot rely on Microsoft Word. Its spell-checker has a limited vocabulary. Its grammar checker is useful but rudimentary. You need something more.

Grammarly.com offers an interesting product. I have it installed as a browser extension, and it is constantly finding issues that I wasn’t even aware of. They also have an online service that you can either type in directly or copy text into. They have a subscription service that will do more than simple proof-reading. When I tried to use it on my book, the size of the file it accepted was too limiting. I wanted something more powerful, but also something that did not require a subscription.

StyleWriter 4, offered by Editor Software, is a powerful editing program that comes in multiple editions. The Starter edition does proofreading; the Standard edition adds checks for jargon and readability, plus adds style customization features. The Professional edition adds checks for how lively your writing is, plus adds the editor’s list. The editor’s list allows you to look as lists of issues such as spelling, word choice, etc. The professional edition also allows you to choose the type of manuscript you are writing and the type of audience. For example, you can write fiction for the general public, or you can write an Academic paper for an audience of specialists.

For various reasons, I use both products. I copy a few paragraphs at a time into Grammarly.com, correct any issues, and copy them back into my document. I then highlight the material in Microsoft word, open StyleWriter, and let StyleWriter import it from the Clipboard. StyleWriter then highlights and grades the text, and allows me to fix any problems. I then copy the corrected text back into my document.

These programs have certain weaknesses. For example, they both prefer modern plain English. They ruthlessly critique text written in another era. For example, StyleWriter had fifteen suggestions for the Gettysburg address; the final sentence was graded as having a “Dreadful” style. For this reason, I only use these programs to edit my text; I do not copy quoted material into the program. I can’t change someone else’s words, so why bother? There are times when a sentence should not be in the modern plain English style; perhaps you are copying the style from a quoted section. Perhaps the material demands a different style of writing.

I do not claim this method will replace a good editor. Nothing can do that. It will, however, improve your manuscript. These programs will often tell you why the change is necessary; incorporating these suggestions will improve your writing. It will help you simplify your writing, making it easier for your reader to follow.


Bibliography

Klems, Brian. 2013. “10 Things Your Freelance Editor Might Not Tell You—But Should.” The Writer’s Dig. November 5. Accessed January 9, 2016. http://www.writersdigest.com/online-editor/10-things-your-freelance-editor-might-not-tell-you-but-should.

Levine, Mark, and Lynda Lotman. n.d. “Mark Levine Interviews Lynda Lotman.” Book Editing Associates. Accessed January 9, 2016. http://www.book-editing.com/editing-articles/hire-book-editor.html.

Endnotes

[1] (Klems 2013)

[2] (Levine and Lotman n.d.)