Learn how to effectively edit your self-published books. Catch all of your mistakes. Spend little or no money on editors and up-front costs. Publish a professional, mistake-free book the first time!
Let’s be honest: self publishing has a stigma attached to it.
When we’re browsing books to buy, we usually assume that a self-published book will be written poorly, designed amateurishly, and most of all, have been edited very little or not at all. We greatly dislike reading anything that has errors strewn without. It ruins our immersive experience. We feel like we were ripped off and may not consider buying any type of self-published book again.
I understand this view and share it. It’s, honestly, harder for me to buy self-published books, too. I judge them even more severely than I do publishing house books. I don’t like it, and I know I’m doing it. I wonder:
- Do people really not know how to perform basic editing on their books?
- Are people impatient so they publish without carefully reviewing their books?
- Maybe people think they have to spend a bucket of money on a professional editor?
- Maybe people think that they are not capable of editing their own books?
- Are people intimidated and don’t know what to do?
- Or maybe it’s a mix of all of these things?
Note: I’m not arguing that a professional editor is never needed. It’s just that professional editors often come with a high price tag. My goal is to empower all of you to reduce how much you may need to spend on professional editing services of any kind.
That’s why I’ve written this article:
- To help you realize editing doesn’t have to be expensive,
- To empower you to take charge and publish a professional, mistake-free book,
- To show you that you don’t have to spend much besides your time, and
- To help reduce the stigma attached to self publishing.
There’s all sorts of blogs and videos about how to edit your book. I’ve read quite a few. They talk about where to get edits, types of editing, cost per word or page, etc. In this post, I take a different approach: my approach. I’m not going to talk about types of editors (proofing, copy editing, etc), or types of reviewing (plot structure, pacing, etc). Instead, I’m going to focus on the process I’ve learned over time writing, editing, and publishing my books to help you perfect your books from the start.
If you insist on hiring an editor after, this article will help you greatly reduce that expense, because you’ll have handled most of the work already!
Christina’s Method: Read, Mark, Edit, Repeat.
My method consists of several primary phases, with editing steps within each phase.
NOTE: I have a Kindle Paperwhite and use it for editing. If you don’t have an e-reader, simply adapt the steps below according. Follow precisely or alter to suit your style:
- Phase One: Initial Plot Edits
- Finish writing your book.
- Let the book sit for at least a week.
- Load the book onto your e-reader.
- Read the book completely through.
- Edit for the plot; NOT for grammar.
- After plot issues are marked, correct them in Word.
- Reload fresh book onto your e-reader.
- Phase Two: Grammar/Copy Editing, Plot Review
- Read again both for plot, but more so for grammar mistakes (copy editing).
- Highlight and note the mistakes in your e-reader.
- Correct in Word again.
- Phase Three: Final Grammar/Copy Edit Review
- Let the book sit for another week.
- Load corrected book on your e-reader.
- Repeat reading to catch remaining issues.
- Correct in Word again.
- Phase Four: Audio Book
- Record audio book.
- Correct any minuscule copy edit issues, plot issues, etc, that may arise as you record.
- Phase Five: Publish Audio Book, Paperback, and e-book!
These seem like a lot, but if you follow these steps, you’ll have a near-perfect book! Now I’ll break down my logic:
Phase One: Initial Plot Edits
NOTE: I do not discuss the definitions of copy editing and grammar. I use them interchangeably in this article for simplicity’s sake.
After you complete your book, let it sit for a week. Sometimes I let my book sit for two weeks. Why? Because I’m too close to the book when I finish it. I need time to “forget” little things about it, make space, distance myself. Then I can return with an objective eye.
Don’t focus on grammar or copy editing issues in phase one. Why? There’s no point fixing grammar if your plot has problems. In this phase, you’re fixing the big issues, possibly moving chunks of chapters around, rewriting sections, and deleting sections in your book. If you copy edit first, then correct plot issues, you will create more copy editing issues to fix. I’ve made that mistake, and made more work for myself.
When I’m ready to start my big edits, I load the book onto my Kindle Paperwhite. Why? For me, it’s harder on my eyes to stare at a monitor for hours. I’ve found that I overlook issues and miss edits on the computer. My Kindle Paperwhite has pearl e-ink technology. It’s very easy on my eyes. I focus better and catch more mistakes. Therefore, when I open Word, I spend less time looking at it then I would if I performed all my reading and editing together.
However, my goal is for you to save money; not spend money.
If you don’t have an e-reader, don’t buy one just for this process. But if you really want one, any decent e-reader brand with e-ink technology will work. If you go after a Kindle, consider purchasing a previous generation model.
I use my e-reader as my preliminary tool to highlight and note plot problems in one to two chapter chunks at a time. Why? The more highlights and notes I make, the slower the e-reader performs. Back when I was editing Revolutionary Rosanna: Resolution, I accumulated many chapters of highlights and notes. My Kindle crashed and wouldn’t load my notes. Amazon basically told me, “too bad.” Only because I have some technical coding skill, was I able to load the source note code file onto my computer from my Kindle and make sense of it. Most people won’t be able to do this, and may lose weeks of notes.
So, I now always chunk my book and tackle it in pieces, removing the highlights and notes in the e-reader as I fix them in Word.
When I’ve gone through the entire book, I export the Word document back into my e-reader and remove the old book. I don’t go into how to export a Word document for e-book in this article. But I’ll shortly be writing a non-techy, non-geek post about how to do just that!
Phase Two: Grammar and Copy Editing, with a little plot review
Your plot should now be good to go, but keep it in the back of your mind in phase two. Here, I focus on all the grammar and copy editing issues: incorrect spellings, incorrect punctuation, lack of punctuation, incorrect words (peaked/piqued, than/then, its/it’s, etc), and related items. I again use my Kindle for this, since I catch these issues better on the e-ink screen. As I go along, if I happen to discover more plot problems, I fix these, too.
When you’ve finished marking and making these corrections in Word, save off the fixed version and again load it into your e-reader.
Phase Three: Final Grammar/Copy Edit Review
At this step, your book should be in a “good draft stage”, but not quite “publish ready” yet. If you share it with friends, you shouldn’t feel embarrassed or worried that it’s full of problems.
Since you’ve just completed hefty rounds of edits (for me, it may have taken a month), let your book sit for another week. Clear your mind. Think about other things. Work on your next book. Do NOT think about your book during this week.
After the week, read through your entire book as if you’re one of your readers: don’t purposefully think about plot or editing at all. You should be reading naturally, and therefore, naturally catch a problem, if it arises. Why read like this? When you’re editing, you often become intimately close to little, individual pieces of the writing. You can’t see the big picture. As a regular reader, you’ll be enjoying and experiencing the story as a whole. If you stumble across a typo, your flow will be interrupted.
Fix any/all little issues in Word that you come across. You should not be fixing large things, like plot issues, at this phase.
Phase Four: Audio Book
The audio book phase is my most recently-implemented step. What I discovered was that, even with months of editing and re-editing, there were still a few, very minor things I would miss. They made me feel amateurish and embarrassed. With professional in-house publishing, a typographical oversight now and then still slides through into printing. But people are far more willing to accept such minor slights because of the source of the book. However, with self-publishing, people are far less forgiving and patient with any error or mistake of any kind. Even if you literally have only one typographical mistake in the entire book, people will be far quicker to judge you as an amateur, say that your book needs editing help, etc.
Therefore, even after I’d published a book and read through it six months later, and happened to catch a super slight thing (like one single quote instead of a dialogue quote), I knew I had to fix those mistakes.
To do so, I decided to make an audio version of the book. Reading my book aloud
- Enabled me to locate and fix remaining minuscule mistakes I missed.
- Allowed me to further gauge the flow of the book.
- Reinforced how serious I was about my writing.
- Helped me see my writing from a different angle.
- Improved my sense of patience during the editing process.
- Created another avenue of engaging the book for my readers, reaching out to more readers, and potentially selling the audio book on my website. It became a great source for marketing.
Recording an audio book may take you several weeks.
With my work and schedule, I try to tackle 1 chapter a day. Even if I manage that, it would take me 17 days if the book has 17 chapters. Then, if I want to try to distribute the audio book, I’d need to listen and edit each chapter. The basic premise is that it takes a good chunk of time to read the book, and vastly more to edit the audio.
- Just Read It: If you only read the book to catch errors, that’s more than enough! You won’t need any equipment at all. Heck, you won’t even need to record it! Just sit down and read it aloud, fixing any mistakes in Word you may find as you go long.
- Just Record it for Myself: If you want an audio record for yourself, you’ll just need some sort of cheap, decently-clear mic or webcam with a mic and free software like Audacity.
- Record it to Sell: If you want to distribute the audio book in any channel, you’ll need to invest in decent audio equipment. This can be as easy as a USB desktop microphone. Selling an audio book on your website is simple. However, selling it in national markets is a whole new level. Markets (like Amazon) all have varying requirements for audio quality, structure, and so forth. I’ll get into that in a future post all about audio books.
As you read the book, correct any errors you find as you go along. You may forget them later.
Phase Five: Publish Audio Book, Paperback, and e-book!
I say audio book, paperback, and e-book, but you may only be publishing in one or another format. That’s absolutely fine! This post is not focusing on the pros and cons of publishing formats or how to produce them. I’ll be writing blog posts soon about book formats and such details soon.
So, you’ve edited your book in several ways, several times, and even spoke through an audio version. You should now have a highly satisfied feeling and no worries that if you publish your book, you’ll have missed anything. If you’re still worrying or feel embarrassed, you may want to consider reading the book again before proceeding.
Depending on who your distributor is, you may have to go through a proofing process. In my case, that’s Lulu. When I’m ready to publish, I set my paperback book up as a Project and go through all the steps to get it ready for distribution. Lulu then has me order a print proof. I must wait for it to arrive, then review it cover-to-cover, and then either Approve or Deny it. The process for e-books is different. I’ll discuss paperback and e-book proofing in another post.
As long as you dedicate the required time needed, have patience, and review everything every step of the way, your book will certainly be “on the level” with any book a printing house produces. You’ll also absolutely save a lot on professional services (from editing to book design). If you feel you need an editor after you’ve completed my editing process, you’ll be able to select an editor only for specific services, saving on editing costs there, too!
I hope this article was helpful for you! I spent quite a bit of time on it. My goal is to help you take charge of your self-publishing process to be empowered, educated, and self-sufficient. Please comment and let me know what you think!