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Learn from my Mistakes: Editing

This fall I reached out to several authors to learn more about their self-publishing process, and I learned a lot. Their answers were all over the board because self-publishing offers authors a wide variety of choices, none of which are the correct choice. Naturally, I decided I should go through and share my approach as well in a series of blogs, each digging into a different decision or set of decisions self-published authors have to make along the way. My goal is to help other authors learn from my choices/mistakes. Self-publishing only gets better the more open we are about our approaches.


The first process question I asked the authors I interviewed regarded editing and what services they used. All the authors I interviewed worked with different types of editors in different ways, and no one way is the correct way. I am going to break down the different types of editing and share which services I enlisted.


Definitions


Note: Some people have different definitions for certain types of editing. It is always important to clarify expectations with any editor you consider hiring.


Beta Reading: Beta readers are readers who read through an early draft of your manuscript, offering feedback on plot, character development, prose, themes, and general enjoyment. Sometimes these people are volunteers. Other times, you may have to exchange manuscripts with another writer or hire a beta reader. If you are looking for feedback on specific things, you can always ask your beta reader to focus on them.


Sensitivity Reading: A sensitivity reader is someone you hire to read your manuscript when you are writing about experiences outside of your own social identities (race, socioeconomic class, gender identity, gender expression, religion, ability status, etc.). Generally, you will look for a sensitivity reader with similar identities to the characters you are writing about. As writers, we have to use research and our imagination to develop characters who experience life differently from us, however our own implicit biases often make it difficult for us to see when we cause offense. If you are writing outside of your experience, I suggest you find a sensitivity reader. This should be done late enough in the process that your story is well-formed, but early enough for you to be able to make adjustments.


Developmental Editing: Developmental editors help writers hone plot, develop characters, work on general prose, and tighten the stories they have developed. They may help with anything from pacing to fixing plot holes. They will not focus much of their time on typos and grammar unless there are repetitive issues. Essentially, they are there to make sure the story you want to tell is actually the story you are telling. As they are there to help you with content, they are typically hired to help with an earlier draft.


Copy/Line Editor: When your story is solidified and the characters are where you want them to be, a copy or line editor can help you make sure the language you are using serves the content well. They can help with sentence structure, word choice, clarity, flow, and several other prose-based concerns. They are not there to help fix plot holes or make sure the story is well-constructed. They are there for the prose. They will also help with grammar and typos. Some people have different ideas about the role of a copy editor vs. a line editor, but in my experience, they operate in the same way.


Proofreader: You may think that a copy editor should be enough because they are looking for grammar errors and typos, but a proofreader is there to polish your manuscript before publication. They will not be focused on helping you elevate your prose as much as they are focused on pointing out and correcting mistakes. With a good copy editor, your manuscript will have a lot of changes after they go through it. Use a proofreader to make sure your final product isn’t full of small mistakes.


Beta Reading


Now that we have a common understanding of definitions, let’s talk about the path I took, starting with beta reading. I didn’t have a plan, and I didn’t know what I was doing. So I went through a bunch of YouTube videos, followed someone else’s plan, and reached out to friends and acquaintances asking them to beta read. I gave them a rigorous timetable with a demanding feedback sheet, and none of them stayed with me for more than a few chapters. Don’t do that. Be careful with what you demand from people’s time.


My second attempt was better. I went on author exchanges, asking to swap manuscripts and beta read for each other. I got some good feedback, but ultimately this wasn’t for me either. You will find some amazing writers to connect with, but you will also find many people who need a lot of help and time. It is hard to find a good balance, and I didn’t have a schedule that allowed for me to take that kind of time.


In the end, I found it easier to hire a couple of beta readers off Fiverr for $50/reader. Each had a detailed feedback sheet they sent me and gave me much needed insights. I may return to volunteer beta readers once I have a readership to pull from, but for now, hiring off Fiverr helped me control the timetable and get the information I was looking for.


Sensitivity Reading


The Malitu trilogy centers around protagonists of color, fighting for their survival against a colonialist regime. They have experiences, genders, sexual orientations, ability statuses, and more that fall outside of my experience. I found it very important to work with a sensitivity reader to lessen any potential harm in my work. I believe that sensitivity readers are an important part of the process.


My sensitivity reader for book one was great. He walked me through his thoughts, but he didn’t go into as much depth as I was looking for.


Emeric Davis, the sensitivity reader I worked with for book two, picked my manuscript apart with a detailed report of potential pitfalls and suggestions around language. Ni (neo pronoun) looked up every made-up word I had in the manuscript to see if it could have an offensive meaning. One was an obscure abbreviation of a hate group I didn’t know about. The report offered suggestions and thoughts, but it is my decision what to put on the page.


This is an important point: no one else is responsible for what you do or don’t put on the page.


In the end, my sensitivity readers for book one and two cost about $400 a piece for the length of my manuscript.


Developmental Editing


After all the time I spent drafting and redrafting, I didn’t feel the need to spend money on developmental editing. I solicited enough feedback and felt comfortable with the content of my story. This varies for everyone, but I had to be thoughtful about my budget. A 125k word manuscript would have run me between $1,250 and $2,000 for developmental edits.


Note: You can find a cheaper editor. Make sure they know how to edit or you could end up with bad feedback and less money in your bank account.


Copy Editing


I care a lot about my prose, and I think I am a pretty talented writer, but I wanted to make sure that I had a good copy editor to help me bring my craft to the next level. I went to Fiverr because I didn’t have any connections and picked someone based on rating and cost. This was not a good idea. I paid for two rounds of edits. The first round was a bad proofread. The editor didn’t comment on how the writing fit the story and didn’t offer any suggestions outside of some grammar errors. When I spoke with her about this, she said that wasn’t a part of copy editing. After some back and forth, she agreed to take another look based on my feedback for the second round. When the deadline came and went, she blocked me on the platform. Luckily, I got my money back, but only in Fiverr credit. For those that are interested, this cost me $1,000.


This is why it is so important to have a conversation about expectations, because people have different ideas about what these types of editing entail.


I used my Fiverr credit and found someone else. She did a sample edit of my first chapter and in the first chapter alone, provided me with more helpful feedback than the previous editor had after the entire book.


Fiverr has some great people, but it also doesn’t vet people.


Proofreading


I went above and beyond my copyeditor’s suggestions, and I knew I had plenty of typos and grammar errors. So I reached out to some self-published authors I had connected with on Twitter and asked them for suggestions, which is what I should have done to find my copyeditor. I got a slew of great suggestions, eventually going with Tori Gross.


Tori was amazing, and I couldn’t recommend her more. She had extremely fair rates at $1/page, and she went beyond proofreading, offering some helpful tips around sentence structure and flow. This won’t happen with every editor. I will continue to work with Tori.


Note: No copyeditor or proofreader is going to find every error. It is your responsibility to double check.


I purchased ProWritingAid, an editing software during their Black Friday sale. This software helped me go through and pick out the remaining typos. However, with any software, you have to pick and choose which suggestions to take. This software is not meant to maintain your voice. It is meant to be consistent with grammar rules, which voice sometimes doesn’t fit in.


Overall, including the software, I spent about $2200 on editing. This is a huge chunk of my budget, but I want to make sure that I put out a product that I could be proud of, and I am fortunate enough to be able to budget for this cost. There are definitely corners you can cut, but you will have to decide how to do so.


What will I do differently?


For book two, I have hired the same beta readers and a new sensitivity reader for similar rates. I am going to work with Tori as my copy editor, and I am going to find a new proofreader through author references. If nothing else, I would suggest that author references are extremely important to find the right people.


I am planning to run my manuscript through ProWritingAid before copyedits and proofreads in order to give my editors the cleanest manuscript I can. The better I can make it for them, the better feedback they can give me on my path to a final product.


Hopefully, this was helpful. I will continue this series in the coming months, diving into several aspects of the self-publishing process.


If you are interested in reading what I came up with after all of these edits, you can pre-order No Heart for a Thief on Amazon. Paperbacks coming soon.

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