and How to Choose One
By Audrey Owen
You've chosen your topic, finished your research,
and done your
writing. You may even have contracted graphics and layout. You believe
you are ready to publish, and self-publishing technology, like Print on
Demand or e- book production, make it possible for you to rush in and
do just that.
There's good news and bad news.
The good news is that you absolutely can publish what and when you
The bad news is, so can anyone else, and discerning buyers know that.
Many are rightfully wary of self-published material.
So how do you make your work stand out in the self-publishing world?
You provide an excellent piece of writing and you present it flawlessly.
That is where the editor comes in.
It's unfair but true that you are judged not on your brilliance at
developing plot and character, your gripping descriptions, nor on your
realistic dialogue, but on your spelling and grammar.
Think of a bride all dressed for her wedding. What is most important?
I'd argue it's the character and personality of the bride. But if she
shows up with ketchup on her dress or mud on her shoes, what will
everyone be thinking through the ceremony?
You may be the most brilliant and insightful person ever to publish,
but if your writing is less than pristine, you will not sell many
books. Sure, you may be able to get a few under the radar of people who
buy without chcecking the goods, but you won't get the repeat sales.
You won't get the unexpected gold mine of unsolicited reviews. And you
won't get the best recommendation of all, word of mouth.
Trade publishers ensure that their authors produce the best works
possible by hiring editors. Every trade book you have ever read went
through at least four stages of editing.
Once someone in acquisitions decides the book has potential, an editor
does a substantive edit. The editor reads the whole manuscript and
looks for ways to improve it on a global level. Did you include all the
information you needed? Is your point clear? If it's fiction, are
characters, plot, setting and theme working together in the best
possible way? The editor writes Fix Notes tor the writer, suggesting
changes. There may be several rounds of substantive editing before
The next round involves a line edit. The editor looks at wording, not
for grammar and spelling, but for elegance and power. The editor asks,
"Is this the best possible way to say this?"
When the writer and editor agree that everything is said as well as it
possibly can be said, the work receives a copy edit. This is when the
spelling and grammar are checked.
Finally, a proofreader double-checks for spelling, grammar, and layout
With all that attention to words in the trade publishing companies,
it's no wonder that unedited self-published books come out looking like
poor second cousins.
You can put your wrok in the big leagues by treating your words with
the same respect traditionally published authors treat theirs. Find a
If you go on-line to search for editing services, you will find
thousands of choices. Some of those will be for stables of editors who
work for companies that "outsource" the work, paying the editor a
percentage of the fee they collect from the client. (The editor may get
less than 50% of what you are charged, so many stables are full of low
quality editors.) How do you sort through and find a good one?
Does the editor belong to professional organizations? There is no set
standard for editors like there is for doctors or teachers. Anyone can
call himself an editor. Those who care about the profession band
together to set standards for themselves. Find an editor who cares
enough to join.
Does the editor offer a firm price based on your specific work? Editors
can charge by the word, by the hour, or by the job. Beware an editor
who offers to edit your book for a set fee without seeing your work.
Editing is an art as well as a science and each piece of writing is
unique. Be sure the editor sees the uniqueness of your project and its
Does the editor offer a sample edit? This will give you and the editor
a chance to see if you will work well together. Editing is a
relationship and you both should feel happy that you are working
together. The sample need not be long, but should offer the editor a
good idea of what your needs as a writer are.
Does the editor offer an educative edit? This is specific to the needs
of a self-publishing writer. In this type of editing, the editor works
on a very short section of the writer's work and goes beyond fixing and
moves to explaining why the changes are important.
The writer goes back through the entire manuscript and uses the advice
on the rest of the book. The writer actually becomes a better writer.
Then the writer submits a second section of work. The process goes on
until the writer and editor agree that the writer no longer needs that
level of support. (A writer should not need an educative edit on a
whole book.) With an educative edit you gain a life skill that you can
take into other writing projects.
Does the editor offer a guarantee? No one can turn a pig's ear into a
silk purse, but the editor should be able to tell you what improvements
you can expect. Does the editor have satisfied clients willing to give
references? Check them.
When you have found the editor you want, agree on terms. You can do
that through a signed agreement, or an agreement reached on-line.
It is common for editors to ask for at least half of the payment in
advance. If the editor has given you a free sample edit, you can assume
she will come through with the final edit as a professional. She has
bought credibility with her free service and you can pay with
confidence. If you have any difficulty with the editor and the editor
belongs to a reputable association, use the association to resolve the
When you have a good editor who loves your work almost as much as you
do, you stand head and shoulders above your fellow self-publishing
artists and your writing and marketing efforts will reap all the
rewards you expect.
© 2005-2008 Audrey Owen Used by permission. For permission to copy or
use this information, contact her through her Web site www.writershelper.com
Audrey Owen, a writer who is both self-published
and published by others in print and on-line, is an editor who
specializes in working with self-publishing authors. Her Web site, www.writershelper.com
, provides free writing tips and other information of interest to
Editors' Association of Canada,
Federation of BC WritersÑformer regional director,
Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators
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of Blackface, Editor
of The Urbania Magazine