So, you’ve written a book and have a good cover, but everyone keeps telling you to hire an editor. Well, 90% of the writing population can’t be wrong, right? You look into hiring an editor for development, grammar, punctuation, readability, plot, formatting, and more, but find out it will cost you thousands. Oh shit, now what do I do? For most people, you either can’t afford that, or you save really hard until you can. But both of those options suck, and you know it. What if I told you there were ways to make editing cheaper? Ways you can shave off the pounds and keep costs down? I’m not saying it will be cheap as chips, I’m saying I could potentially show you ways to take something that originally cost thousands and make it into hundreds. Editing is the most expensive part of the publishing journey, and I won’t claim to be a wizard and fix that. But here’s how you can make it cheaper for yourselves with some effort on your part.
NOTE: This guide will give suggestions on how to reduce the cost of editing for self-published authors. I work mainly with fiction, so it’s geared towards fiction authors.
First things first, let me say that working with a development editor will be invaluable to the quality of your story, your confidence, and your writing abilities, but they cost the earth. As a development editor, I’m here to tell you that not everyone needs a dev editor. I’ve worked on plenty of manuscripts that have never needed even a smidge of development editing. This is one cost that is probably the easiest to avoid. First things first, beta readers. Make use of them! There are millions of readers out there who will jump at the chance to read a pre-release book in exchange for some feedback. The trick is to find them. Ask your local library, chat to your neighbours, family and friends, and use other writers. Think outside the box! Make sure you use them correctly, though. I see so many writers who use two to three beta readers and hang off every word they say. This is not how they’re intended to be used. It can also make the editing process take longer if you’ve used a beta reader to correct grammar. I spend a lot of time correcting beta reader’s “corrections”. All beta readers are supposed to do is read and provide feedback on the story. Make sure you ask them pointed questions, probe them to explain things better, and have a good relationship with them. Use them collectively. If one or two are saying something is wrong, but the other twelve are not, you can probably assume it’s reader preference; but, if ten out of fourteen are saying that your character is flat, you can be safe in the assumption that it needs addressing. Use beta readers collectively and efficiently.
Secondly, get to know the ins and outs of story development. Understand what it means to have a professionally structured story. Read books on story structure. There are lots of varying types of story structures for all different genres and target audiences, explore them and see what works for you. A well-structured book is a well-paced plot. 90% of issues I see in development editing are due to lack of good structure, and therefore pace. Start doing your research. You wouldn’t start taking basketball as a sport without looking up techniques, rules, and fitness tips, would you? The same can be said about writing. Writing is a skill. There are people with talent, but every great writer started out needing to hone that skill. Yes, even Stephen King. Use blogs (like my one on Story Development), textbooks (like Story Engineering by Larry Brooks), talk to other writers through online and in person groups (like Ninja Writers on Facebook), and use Google! Google is this generation’s most amazing invention. It gives you everything you need at the click of a button. Make use of it and learn how to use it well.
Lastly, be willing to accept feedback and alter your story. If you’re a first-time novelist and have never studied story development, then be prepared to rewrite and restructure your book. All first drafts suck, and they all need improving. My own drafts are practically illegible and I would be horrified to show them to anyone.
Copy and Line Editing:
This is one cost you probably won’t be able to avoid, at least not if you value the quality of your work; but, there are ways to make it cheaper. Editors, like myself, charge based on how long they think it will take to get through your work. That’s why we always ask for samples from multiple sections of the manuscript, so we can judge that time well. So, if you’ve taken the time to pass it to your grammar-Nazi friend or your English teacher, you’re likely to get a cheaper quote. Also, make use of grammar programs. WARNING: they are not to be used as a replacement for an editor, they’re not programmed with the ability of judgement and emotion (we haven’t gotten that far in tech development yet). However, they make good assessments on your basic grammar and spelling according to a set of rigid rules. This can reduce the cost as it can massively reduce the time it takes an editor to complete your work by reducing the time spent on silly mistakes. This will depend on the writer, though. If your grammar is already pretty good, then you’ll likely not get much out of them. If, however, this is the beginning of your writing career, they might help you. I personally recommend ProWriting Aid as it works pretty well and has some advanced functions that others do not. It’s not free, however, so if you’re looking for something free, Grammarly might be your best bet (just don’t hang off its every suggestion, it makes tons of mistakes).
Research how to punctuate and structure your dialogue! This grinds my brain so much, because it’s just not that difficult a skill to develop. Dialogue is easy to punctuate once you’ve taken the time to look up the rules and done a little practise. I feel bad about this one, because at school we’re not taught how to do this, because no-one assumes a novelist will be made in their very classroom. So, no-one leaves school understanding the rules for punctuating dialogue like they do structuring an essay. Here’s a good link that shows you how to do this:
Just learn how to do it yourself. If you’re only planning on releasing a few books, then I understand why you would hire someone. Formatting is complex and time consuming, and a right pain in the ass if your skills in MS Word are not up to scratch. However, it’s a massive cost you can save if you just take the time to try it out yourself, especially in the long run. Think how much money you’d save if you new how to format all of those books you’ve got planned? It would work out to be thousands of pounds. Amazon have good guides on print book and ebook formatting, as do other POD places, such as BookBaby, IngramSpark, and Lulu (all publish to Amazon and more!). These guides will tell you the rules and provide general advice. If you then need to know how to do something, just Google an MS Word guide—there are MS Word guides for every single function, available free on Google (I told you it’s our biggest asset as a writer).
General Money Saving Tips:
There are other things you can do, and I’m going to bullet list them here.
Find an editor who can do multiple types at once, rather than hiring separately. It will save you so much money. Personally, I do line and copyediting together, as well as doing my development assessment at the same time. This saves me time and, therefore, the client money. It does always make me require two rounds minimum, though. But even with that, it still saves time. WARNING: if your manuscript needs structural and pacing assistance, the development will probably need to be done first, before anything else. Otherwise scenes that are cut will get edited unnecessarily, and scenes that get added might get left behind.
If you’re willing to possibly compromise quality, then go for a less experienced editor. It doesn’t take a genius to understand that the more experience and professional qualifications an editor has, the more they charge. Grab some free samples from less experienced editors, or cheaper ones, and see what they’re like. They’re free samples, what do you have to lose?
Do not settle for a bad editor! I repeat, do not settle for a bad editor! This will do more damage than good. A simple way to find out, is to see what the norm is. Ask around 10-20 editors for free samples and see how they work. You’ll soon see a pattern as to what’s normal and what’s not. Some things that stick out as bad to you, usually are. Go with your gut. If you choose a bad editor, you’ll likely have to pay for a good one to correct them.
That’s all for today folks! I hope this has helped you understand the editing process a little more and has helped you find ways of improving your self-editing procedure. Stay tuned for more blogs from Penmanship Editing and My Life as an Editor!