If you only get to choose one collaborator to hire for your self-published book, I recommend that you get a copy editor.
A paradox of editing your work is that you won’t be as effective as an outside perspective with fresh eyes. Even if you are a trained editor (and most authors aren’t!), you’ll skip over many of your errors because you’re too familiar with your writing.
You can hire editors at different levels, but I’ll focus on the copy editor: an editor who handles everything from typos and grammar errors to the structure and organization of the manuscript.
The task can be daunting if you have never hired a copyeditor. After all, you’re subjecting your beloved book to scrutiny. Moreover, it can be painful to look over all those editorial changes. If you don’t know what to expect, you may even take it personally and take it out on the editor.
Since professional copyediting is integral to a professionally published book, I’m here to give you some tips on approaching the copyediting process and handling it with grace. If you approach it with the right mind-set, you may become your editor’s dream client, and your book will come out better.
- Know what scope you’re looking for
Different copyeditors have different levels of scope and expertise.
For instance, one editor may provide mechanical editing, which concerns spelling, grammar, and style. A mechanical edit will often leave the nature of your story or chapters alone but may home in on a specific compound word’s hyphenation, for example.
Mechanical editing often overlaps with line editing, but some editors carry out line edits as a distinctive service, paying extra attention to word choice, word flow, concision, and the organization of sentences and paragraphs.
As you go higher in level, you’ll encounter substantive editing, which concerns the craft of words on the section and chapter level. Then there’s developmental editing, which focuses on the big picture of a book. The most extensive developmental editing may involve adding, deleting, and rearranging entire chapters.
As I’ve hinted, the boundaries between each editing level can get fuzzy, with two editors defining the same service differently. So that you don’t end up surprised at what you pay for, take time to understand the type of services that each copyeditor provides and ask questions for clarification.
- Be prepared to pay accordingly
As you shop around for copyeditors, you may find that the best charge a lot. Even cheaper editors may charge hundreds of dollars for a book-length manuscript.
Here’s the thing: if you want to sell books, you must invest money. Traditionally published authors don’t have to pay their in-house editors because the publishers are the ones investing. (Even so, some trad authors hire an editor to brush up a manuscript before submission.) If you’re self-publishing, you’re footing the bill in exchange for the benefits of self-publishing.
Thus, don’t skimp on your editing budget. A well-paid editor will be able to spend more time and care improving your manuscript, and you may even need to pay more money to cover unexpected costs, such as your line editor alerting you to high-level issues with your story.
If you don’t have a large budget, go with the editing level you can afford. If you’re friends with prospective editors, you may even be able to negotiate, such as bartering some of your writing services for your freelance editor’s business.
- Receive editing suggestions with humility
When you receive your manuscript back, you may want to sit down. Depending on the editing level, you may have many correction marks and comments on your manuscript. An editor may even leave a query questioning the existence of an entire scene or chapter.
Don’t take it personally. If an editor is a true professional, any corrections or suggestions are made to be improvements for your manuscript, not as an attack against you as a person. Published authors have survived the editing process, so you will too!
Take a moment to understand why an editor might’ve made a particular comment. More times than not, the editor has a point, and you should take that advice.
- . . . but know when to stand your ground
At the same time, you don’t have to accept every single edit. You shouldn’t reject everything, but you do get the last say as the self-publisher.
Also, editors are human too. A commonly accepted line of thought is that an editor has a 5 percent margin of error; that’s about five missed errors for every ninety-five corrections.
Recognize when a copyeditor makes a wrong correction or misses an obvious error, and bring it up when discussing the edits.
Side note: That 5 percent margin is why most publishing houses hire multiple editors for a project, often including a proofreader for the remaining errors. You may want to look into proofreading services too.
Beyond the first edit
If you’re fortunate, you may have a great experience with your copyeditor, and you’ll become a regular collaborator.
A writer-editor relationship can be wonderful. As you give an editor more manuscripts, that editor learns more about your style and how to better reach your book’s ideal version. A repeat editor is also helpful if you write a series, as having the same person working on subsequent installments will increase consistency and continuity.
A copyeditor is worth it if you want to make self-publishing a career. I hope you find the editor to stay with you your entire career.
Over to you: What’s YOUR experience with working with copyeditors? What advice do YOU have for other authors for editorial collaboration?
ABOUT ELIZABETH JAVOR: With over 20 years of experience in sales and management, Elizabeth Javor works as the Director of Sales and Marketing for Outskirts Press. The Sales and Marketing departments are composed of knowledgeable publishing consultants, customer service reps and book marketing specialists; together, they all focus on educating authors on the self-publishing process to help them publish the book of their dreams. Whether you are a professional looking to take your career to the next level with platform-driven non-fiction or a novelist seeking fame, fortune, and/or personal fulfillment, Elizabeth Javor can put you on the right path.