Hello and welcome back to my series on getting started marketing your book!
In previous parts of this series, I’ve looked at why you need to get your book(s) in tip-top shape before you spend any money on marketing, and why it makes sense to write more than one book.
Getting the book into the best shape you can yourself via self-editing is part of that process, but the time will come when you need to involve other people.
So who do you involve, what exactly do you ask for, and how much will it cost? Here I’m going to walk you through some of the types of feedback and editing you can get from other people: some paid, some free. Hold onto your hat!
Before you consider spending money on a professional editor of any kind, it’s a sensible idea to give copies of your book to a few beta readers and get their feedback.
Beta readers are people who read in your genre, and are happy to read your book (for free) and give you feedback. They will be able to spot plot holes you haven’t, and identify things that do and don’t work. Their feedback will be at the macro level: they’ll help you with the story, rather than the prose (although I did have one beta reader who sent me a list of typos instead of story feedback, so I recruited him as an extra proof reader).
To get the most from your beta readers, follow these tips:
- Send them the book in the format they prefer. For ebooks, Bookfunnel will make it easy for them to download, or you could just attach it to an email. It’s up to you whether you’re prepared to send out paperback proofs.
- Make your timescales clear when asking them if they’re prepared to help.
- In the front of the book, specify what kind of feedback you’re looking for. Ask specific questions. This should be high-level: they aren’t editing your grammar.
- When the deadline for feedback is approaching, give them a nudge to remind them.
- Find beta readers who read in your genre. If you write thrillers and they only read romance, their feedback won’t be much use to you as it won’t reflect what your target readers will think.
- When you do receive the feedback, take time to digest it and consider it. Don’t take it personally. Better to get bad feedback now than in your Amazon reviews.
- Beta readers won’t tell you how to fix any mistakes – instead, they will identify the issues so you can fix them. Try to approach this with an open mind.
- But it is your book. If you vehemently disagree with a beta reader’s feedback, you can ignore it. However, if more than one reader says the same thing, you should listen.
- Be polite, respectful and grateful. You haven’t given your beta readers a free book: they’ve given up their time to read an unpolished book. It’s not an easy job.
- Don’t ask your mom. She won’t be objective.
For tips in getting the most from beta readers, I recommend Beta Reader Superhero by Belinda Pollard. It’ll help you get the most from your beta readers and includes advice and questions you can ask.
A developmental editor is, in my view, one of the most important editors you can hire. Sometimes called story editors, they will help you analyze the story and identify how you can improve it.
A book with wonderful prose isn’t going to get very far without a good story, and especially at the beginning of your career, this is something you’ll still be learning.
A good developmental editor will understand the book industry and the things that readers expect and enjoy, and will know how to translate this into an effective story. They’ll understand plotting, characterisation and theme, and help you to get better at them.
It’s tempting to skip the developmental editor, especially if you’re using beta readers. But beta readers don’t have the same understanding of the market, and they will only think about their own reaction to the book. A developmental editor will think much more broadly.
Note that a developmental editor won’t directly edit the book: instead, they’ll give you pointers on what you need to edit.
Line editing is the next level of editing down, and it will involve someone else editing your manuscript.
A line editor will go through your manuscript and improve the way you’ve written it. They’ll look for things like:
- Overused words or sentences.
- Content that can be tightened.
- Clunky dialogue.
- Tonal shifts.
- Too much exposition.
- Confusing narration or events.
- Words or sentences that aren’t clear.
The line editor won’t correct your spelling or punctuation: instead, they’ll improve your prose. Or they might tell you to do it, via a shedload of notes.
It can be disheartening seeing the number of changes they make (or recommend) to your manuscript, but paying attention to the changes made by the line editor and applying them to your writing for the next book will help you learn and become a better writer.
A copy editor will go through your book in more detail and make edits to the text. This will include spelling, grammar and punctuation, repeated text, incorrect use of dialogue, hyphenation, capitalization, and more.
Once again, you can learn from the changes made by your copy editor. I know I do.
In the UK, it’s less usual for indie authors to hire a line editor: instead, you might hire a copy editor who does a higher-level copy edit including aspects of line editing. You then might find that your proof reader picks up some of the stuff a copy editor might have corrected in the USA.
Different editors will provide a slightly different level of service: make sure you check first, and get a sample edit. Don’t get too hung up on the name: the important thing is the service.
Proof reading is the final stage and the one that many writers obsess about, mainly because it banishes the kind of errors readers are more likely to mention in reviews.
A proof reader will go through your manuscript and correct any typos, spelling errors, punctuation and capitalization. Part of this job may have been done by the copy editor, but it’s always a good idea to get your book proof read before publication.
I always like to read through the final version of the book myself as well; this is a process that is helped by having many pairs of eyes.
So you’ve decided you need an editor: how do you find a good one?
Firstly, ask for recommendations. There are plenty of writer forums on Facebook where you can ask other authors for recommendations. Or if you’re part of a writers’ group, ask there.
Here are some places you can find editors online:
- Reedsy is a curated marketplace for editors and cover designers. It’s not cheap but has people with impressive CVs.
- The Alliance of Independent Authors keeps a list of recommended editors (and other services) for members.
- The Creative Penn blog has a list of recommended editors.
- Jericho Writers offers various levels of editing; they will match you to an editor who works in your genre. This is how I met my own editor.
If You Have No Budget
So you want to get your book edited, but have no money? Here are some options.
- Save up. If you want to sell books, editing is an investment. A well edited book will garner you more positive reviews and more read-through to later books.
- Swap editing services with other authors, preferably people who write in your genre and have similar writing styles. This can be particularly useful for proof reading, as you don’t run the risk of finding someone else’s authorial voice invading your work.
- Ask a friendly editor or writer friend if they’ll edit your book for free – you never know!
- Consider co-authoring a book: that way, you’ll be editing each other’s chapters.
- If a beta reader gives you particularly insightful feedback, consider asking if they’ll help you with a more comprehensive developmental edit.
- Self-edit your book to within an inch of its life. The better shape it’s in, the less an editor will charge you.
When it comes down to it, publishing is an industry with very low barriers to entry. Setting up most types of business requires significant investment, whereas for a few hundred dollars you can get your book edited professionally and have a much better chance of success.
There are successful authors who started out with nothing, but they are a dying breed. If you do release an unedited book, it will need to be aimed squarely at a healthy niche market, and have a great story, if it’s going to succeed.
Hiring an editor isn’t just an investment in this manuscript: it’s an investment in your future. I learn something new from my editor with every manuscript, which means I can improve my writing skills.