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Month: January 2017

An Indie Author Guide to Saving Money on Editing—Part 5: Final Tips

Welcome back! So far in this series on saving money on editing, I’ve covered patience, self-editing, using readers, and using editing tools. This week, I wrap up the series with some final tips and tricks for you to eke out the full value of the editing services that you need for your book.

Basically, the whole point of this series is that you can save money on editing by providing your editor with a cleaner, more developed manuscript. In this post, I include more tips to help you get that cleaner manuscript and give you some tips that fall outside this realm.

You can save money on editing by providing your editor with a cleaner, more developed manuscript.

Improve Your Own Skills

How are your own writing skills? If there is one thing that I have learned as a published author and as an editor of almost twenty years, it’s that there is always something new to learn and some way to get better at my craft. With the following steps, you can work on improving your own writing and self-editing skills so that each work you produce is better than the last:

  1. Learn more about the writing craft. Read books, listen to podcasts, and watch videos. Learn all you can about story structure, theme, plot, characterization, and so on. I have a growing list of resources on my Resources for Fiction Writers page.
  2. Learn more about grammar. Pick up a book such as the Blue Book of Grammar or C. S. Lakin’s Say What?: The Fiction Writer’s Handy Guide to Grammar, Punctuation, and Word Usage and polish your skills. In the process, you will be learning why editors make many of the changes that we do. Keep these books handy: you will refer to them over and over again. Your knowledge from your high school or college English class will not be enough. There is much more to learn.
  3. Think about consistency during the self-editing stage. One of the biggest things that editors look for is consistency. So if you realize that you keep changing the spelling of a character’s name or the capitalization of a phrase, use the handy search and replace tool in your word processor to check for these errors.
  4. Use a style manual. Why? Readers like consistency. Inconsistencies pull them out of the story and disrupt their ability to enjoy it. Style manuals give you rules that help you to maintain consistency throughout your manuscript and to apply grammar rules when they are in question. Most fiction editors use the Chicago Manual of Style. The 16th edition is available online and in print. Not only can you use this manual to make your own style decisions, you will also have it nearby when your editor inevitably quotes a section of the manual when explaining certain editorial changes.

Practice Smart Shopping

If you are interested in saving money on editing, when you shop for an editor, there are a few more things that you can do while still getting a professional edit:

  1. Comparison shop.* Find a directory of editors that you trust. I recommend the Editorial Freelancers Association in the United States and the Society for Editors and Proofreaders in the United Kingdom. Find a few editors that work on your type of book and request sample edits and estimates. Use this information to pick the best editor you can at the best price.
  2. Look for deals. If your editor doesn’t list these on her website, feel free to ask.
    1. Does your editor offer package deals? If you are self-publishing, you may need several services, such as developmental editing, copyediting, and formatting. Many editors offer packages, sometimes with other service providers, to save money and provide convenience by allowing authors to get many or all of their needs handled in one place.
    2. Does your editor offer trimmed-down versions of services? For example, you might get a manuscript evaluation or a three-chapter critique instead of a full developmental edit. You might find that you can extrapolate the feedback the editor gives you to your entire book.
  3. Barter. If you have marketable skills, it never hurts to ask your editor if there is something that you can offer in trade for editing. Perhaps you could trade web design skills, marketing services, or social media help for editing. If you know an editor in person, you could even offer more tangible skills. For example, I provide publishing consulting services to a local musician and author in exchange for my daughter’s piano lessons. It all works out very well.

saving money*A Note on Cheap Editing

You’ll notice that I do not recommend that you find the cheapest editor possible. There are websites and forums where people offer up editing services at extremely low prices.

I am against this primarily because it lowers the value of editing in general, and editors need to make a living. If an editor spends 60–80 hours of their lives editing your manuscript, is it fair that they only be paid $100? That is less than a $1.50 an hour! Sure, they may agree to it, especially if they are trying to build their portfolio, but they are pricing other editors—editors with decades of experience who invest in their careers through continued training and education—right out of the market. Also, when authors hire these cheap editors, they often get shoddy work back, and stories of these experiences spread like wildfire over the Internet. Pretty soon, everyone thinks that all freelance editors are scam artists.

So, do your research.

When hiring any editor, you must vet the editor carefully through questions about their background, their experience, the books they have edited, their relevant education, and their professional certifications and memberships. Get a sample edit to make sure that your styles mesh and that their skills are on par. See if it would be possible for you to correspond with a past client or two so that you can find out what their experiences were. Again, do your research, and you are less likely to get burned.

I hope you have enjoyed this series, and I would love to hear your tips for saving money on editing. Leave me a comment for me below or on Facebook or Twitter.

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An Indie Author Guide to Saving Money on Editing—Part 4: Using Editing Tools

Welcome back! So far in this series, I’ve covered patience, self-editing, and using readers. This week, I cover a topic that makes me cringe, but I can’t ignore it.

Why do electronic editing tools make me cringe? Because editing tools such as our old friend the spell checker can become your enemy very quickly if they are used in the wrong way. Replace All can quickly ruin a good manuscript. There are too many exceptions in the English language to make the broad application of a “rule” a good idea.

An electronic tool can make suggestions but cannot read everything in context and cannot tell you whether a change actually works in your manuscript. Tools can definitely make life easier, but their use requires a deep understanding of our language and the rules of writing and grammar that govern it.

So, before I list some of the tools out there that you might find useful for cleaning up your manuscript, I’d like to offer a few words of caution:

  • Always check each suggested change carefully before accepting it.
  • If you don’t know why a change is being suggested, look it up. You might learn something new, or you might learn that the particular suggestion doesn’t apply to your manuscript.
  • Some of these tools and apps give feedback on readability. Consider carefully what level of readability is appropriate for your work before making any suggested changes.

What about the Cost?

Most of these tools cost money. However, if you use a favorite on multiple manuscripts, the per-book investment for most could turn out to be very small, depending on your writing output. Many of these tools come with a free trial, so if you’re curious, you can check them out before you hand over your money.

If you choose your apps judiciously, you can use them to produce cleaner manuscripts for your editor and hopefully reduce your editing costs a little bit. If used together, you will probably see some overlapping functions.

Keep in mind that these tools are not meant as replacements for a professional editor.

editing toolsResources

I have chosen tools suggested to me by other editors and ones that will be particularly useful for fiction and/or creative nonfiction writers. This list is not exhaustive, and there are other tools out there for academic, technical, and other specialty writers. As always, do your research.

Word Add-Ons

  • PerfectIt Pro: I have used this Word add-on for years. It is a customizable tool that can be used to help you use words, phrases, and form (e.g., Oxford commas) consistently. It will flag instances of inconsistencies (unstoppable vs. un-stoppable) and style deviations and give you a chance to easily correct them. It is hard to cover it all in a paragraph, but I have found this tool to be well worth the investment.
  • Editorium Add-Ons (especially the Editor’s Toolkit and File Cleaner): According to Editorium’s website, the Editor’s Toolkit “provides powerful tools for editing in Microsoft Word, including the ability to show and stet revisions at the touch of a key. Quickly transpose words, transpose characters, change case, and so on. Editor’s ToolKit makes editing in Microsoft Word an absolute pleasure.” File Cleaner focuses more on correcting commonly used mechanical mistakes, such as too many spaces and improperly typed characters.
  • SmartEdit: This tool’s makers describe it as a “first-pass editing tool for creative writers and novelists that sits inside Microsoft Word and helps you as you work.… It’s an aid—a helper for when you begin editing your work. A standalone version also exists for writers who do not use Word.”

These tools are not meant as replacements for a professional editor.

Stand-Alone and Multi-Integrating Tools

  • ProWritingAid: Similar to SmartEdit, this tool promises to help writers improve their writing through checks that flag things such as repeated words and adverb use. It also “integrates with MS Word, Open Office, Google Docs, Scrivener and Google Chrome.”
  • Hemingway App: Through the creative use of highlighting, this tool seeks to help you improve the clarity and readability of your writing.
  • Grammarly: This app has free and paid versions and can be used not only as a Word add-on but also in your browser or as a Windows application. As its name suggests, it focuses on grammar and touts itself as far better than Word’s built-in spelling and grammar checkers.

If you have a favorite editing tool, please feel free to recommend it in the comments below. Then, join me next week for the final installment of the series.

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An Indie Author Guide to Saving Money on Editing—Part 3: Using Readers

Welcome! In this series so far, I’ve covered patience and self-editing. This week, I’ll cover how you can use readers to save money on editing and give a few tips on how to find them.

Why You Need Readers

If you are a career-track author, your editor should be a professional. She should be trained to help you with certain aspects of your manuscript. However, she is still only one person. It would be cool to be able to hire a team of editors, but most of us can’t afford that. If an editor is given a first draft and asked turn it into a structurally sound, grammatically clean, marketable manuscript, there are many more stages for her to go through to get to the end product than if she starts with a third or fourth draft.

So, instead of giving your editor your first draft, let your readers help you suss out as many problems as you can before you hand it over. When your manuscript is in better condition, your editor can take it further, and a cleaner initial manuscript means lower rates.

What Kinds of Readers Do I Need?

There are many names for the people who help authors as they turn their ideas into fully fledged books. Professional editors are among the last in line. Before them are the readers.

I am not going to tell you which kinds of readers to use and in what order. You can choose just one type or all of them. Each writer has a different process that works well for him. Some authors crave the reinforcement of reader feedback as they build a manuscript (alpha readers), while others prefer not to have that outside influence until their manuscript is solid and complete (beta readers).

However, I do recommend that you get feedback from at least one reader on your complete manuscript before you show it your editor. For my own writing, I sometimes show chapters to my critique group as I write. However, I prefer a round of self-editing before I get outside feedback on the manuscript as a whole. In any case, my work will have seen at least two rounds of revisions and usually two rounds of reader feedback before I send it to my editor.

Please note: It may be a bit of a process to find readers that are dependable that can give you the kind of feedback that you need. If you find good readers, cherish them, pay them in chocolate, and use them whenever they are willing to help you.

Alpha Readers

Alpha readers are your first readers. They read the manuscript as it is created or once the first draft is complete. If your alpha readers agree, you can send them your manuscript in pieces as it is finished and modify your work as you go on the basis of their feedback.

Beta Readers

Beta readers see the manuscript after it is complete and usually after at least one round of self-editing. Beta readers are people who read books. They are your test audience and can be anyone from your grandma to your friends from work to online group members.

Because beta readers are like a pilot audience, make sure that at least some of your readers are readers in your genre. They will be less impressed by the newness of your subject matter and will be more likely to give you feedback that you can use in the competitive marketplace that is book publishing.

Most beta readers are free, but you can find paid beta readers or get paid “manuscript critiques” or “manuscript evaluations” from editors as well. This may not save you a ton of money, but it should guarantee that your readers finish your manuscript and get it back to you in a timely fashion (which many beta readers fail to do).

Critique Partners

Critique partners are other writers with whom you exchange pieces of writing regularly. It’s a tit-for-tat system of “if you read mine, I’ll read yours.” Unlike alpha and beta readers, your critique partner has a vested interested in helping you out because he wants you to read and comment on his manuscript as well. He has also had the experience of writing and hopefully even studying the craft more than your average alpha or beta reader.

Critique Groups

Online or in-person critique groups can be a great place to not only get feedback but also learn to give it. A great critique group can carry you through various stages in your writing career, but with any group, online or in person, take your time to get to know the group and make sure that it fits your style and your goals before submitting your own work.

Where to Find Readers

Critique Groups and Partners

To find writing groups, check your local newspaper, do online searches (“writers’ groups near me”), or start your own. I found my critique group through a statewide writers’ club that has chapters throughout my state.

While not exhaustive, Writers and Editors lists many groups on its website.

Even if your local or online writing group doesn’t do critiques, once you get to know people, you might be able to find others in the group willing to exchange writing with you on an individual basis, and thus, a critique partnership will be born!

Kudos aren’t critical feedback, and they won’t make your book better.

Alpha and Beta Readers

Use friends, family, and coworkers, but choose carefully. Your readers should be the kind of people who aren’t afraid to tell you what they really think. Kudos aren’t critical feedback, and they won’t make your book better.

You can find alpha and beta readers through online or in-person writing groups (see Critique Groups and Partners).

A couple of simple searches will show that there are many beta reader groups on both Goodreads and Facebook. Also, K. M. Weiland at Helping Writers Become Authors put together this handy list of places to find beta readers.


Because the subject of getting feedback from beta readers and others could be a whole series in itself, here are a few other blog articles to help you out:

“How and Why I Use Online Alpha-Readers While Writing Novels,” Mary Robinette Kowal

“How to Find and Work with Beta Readers to Improve Your Book,” Kristen Kieffer,

“How to Find the Right Critique Partner: The 6-Step Checklist,” K. M. Weiland, Helping Writers Become Authors

“Should You Have an Alpha Reader?” Janice Hardy, Fiction University

“To Help Get Your Novel Published—Use Reader Feedback Wisely,” the balance

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An Indie Author Guide to Saving Money on Editing—Part 2: Self-Editing

Welcome to the second part of my weekly series on methods that indie authors can use to save money on editing.

Last week, I covered patience and the ways in which slowing down can save you, the indie author, money on editing.

Self-editing can also save you money, and it definitely requires some of that patience. When you complete the first draft of a book, especially your first book, you might be tempted to dive right into formatting and publishing your new book with Amazon KDP, Amazon CreateSpace, IngramSpark, Kobo Writing Life, or one of the many other avenues for self-publishing.

By doing so, however, you are taking a dangerous gamble. Not only is your book likely to be full of typos because even editor/writers make typos, but your book may also contain plot holes, character and plot discrepancies, overly convenient endings, and other sales killers.

You already know that as an editor, I am in favor of editing before publishing, but I am also in favor of at least two rounds of author self-editing before that professional editing takes place.

So, before you start looking for that stellar editor with just the right price, let your book sit. Fill your mind with something else, perhaps another project, for two to three months so that when you pick it up again, you are no longer seeing what you think should be on the page (a.k.a., experiencing author blindness) but instead are seeing what is actually on the page.

Your process might look something like this:

1. Finish the first draft.

2. Wait three months. (Maybe write a first draft of a new book during this time.)

3. Self-edit.

4. Send the next draft of the manuscript to volunteer readers and get feedback.

5. Self-edit according to the feedback. Repeat steps 4 and 5 with alpha and beta readers until you believe that you have done as much for the manuscript as you personally can or are willing to do without an editor’s help.

6. Send the next draft to an editor or editors for an evaluation to see how far you’ve come.

If the editor recommends developmental editing (i.e., structural editing), you can work with him or her on this step if you’re not sure what to do, or you can do another round of self-edits yourself, focusing on structural issues.

If the editor recommends copyediting, you’re hopefully good to go on structural and big-picture issues and are ready to move forward.

My point here about self-editing is that by taking your time and fixing as many errors as you can with the help of readers, you can get a price on the lower end of your editor’s rates and maybe even skip developmental editing altogether.

How to Make the Most of Self-Editing

Establishing a process that works well for you will take time, and it’s one you’ll get better at the more you write and the more you see which steps help and which ones are a waste of time for you and your style of writing.

Some writers make many passes on their novel, each time looking for one specific item (e.g., overly used adverbs, too much telling vs showing, or point-of-view problems). If this works for you, great, but I warn you: the more you read your own manuscript, the less you’ll be able to really see it. That’s author blindness kicking in again. Editors get it, too, and that is why I recommend a separate proofreader once copyediting is finished. Unless you want it to take a year or more to finish every novel, take advantage of alpha and beta readers to help you see the things that author blindness will, well, blind you to.

Tips for Self-Editing

Here are some tips to help you make the most of your self-editing process followed by some resources with even more:

1. Apply rules only when they actually improve the story that you want to create. It’s easy to take the many writing “rules” out there and apply them universally, but thoughtlessly slashing your manuscript may cause even bigger problems.

For example, sometimes you need to tell, or summarize, less essential narrative to let the reader know what is happening so that you can get to the good stuff and really paint a vivid picture of important scenes. If you overly show a less important scene and extend it to several pages, you might lose your readers’ interest as they ask themselves what the point of the passage is and where the story went.

Many authors and even some editors focus on little details that will not matter to a reader as long as the story is tight and compelling. So when you are thinking about applying a rule to your book, ask yourself, “If I saw this in a book I was reading, would it bother me?” before you jump in with the red pencil. Alternatively, you can save the original passage, make the edits you are thinking about, and then compare both and see which is really better.

I know a lot of rules, but when I am editing, especially for big-picture issues, I read like a reader first. When my brain tells me that something doesn’t feel right or is just awkward or boring, it is only then that I get down to the nitty-gritty details and dissect the manuscript to see why it doesn’t work. Don’t waste time worrying that you overused a certain word or type of word until your alpha or beta readers point it out or you yourself are bothered by it when reviewing your manuscript after a break.

2. Start with the big-picture items first and then move to the smaller details. By big-picture items, I mean plot, characterization, structure, consistency, timelines and chronologies, tone, theme, and flow. By smaller details, I mean spelling, grammar, punctuation, capitalization, word choice, and consistency.  (Yes, there are different types of consistency, but consistency is always key in editing.)

Don’t get bogged down in the little details until the overarching structure has been addressed.”

As you’re editing, if you see a spelling mistake, sure, you can fix it, but don’t get bogged down in the little details until the overarching structure has been addressed. You might end up deleting that sentence or passage anyway. So address the big picture first: How is your structure? Does it compel the reader ever forward, ever faster in a race to an intense, surprising-but-inevitable climax? Are the arcs of your main characters complete? Does your timeline make sense, or are your flashbacks confusing your readers? Does your dialog sound natural for each character, or is it stilted? Are your characters’ accents pulling your reader out of the story?

Only when you and your volunteer readers are sure that the story is in good shape should you start to worry about the rest.

3. Take advantage of free and low-cost resources. Any Google search will tell you that there are many, many free blog posts and articles out there to help you with self-editing. There will be a vast number of opinions on the best way to go about self-editing. I recommend that you find a few writing experts online that gel with your own ideas about writing and use them to help you figure out what to look for and what to focus on during your editing process. Some of my favorite resources are Writing Excuses, Helping Writers Become Authors, Writer Unboxed, Fiction University, Writer’s Digest, and This Itch of Writing.

Another source of inexpensive guidance is’s Kindle Unlimited. I have found a ton of books on the writing craft available to borrow with my subscription.

I’ll cover some more extended tips for self-editing in a future post in this series.

Other Resources for Self-Editing

Here are some resources that I have found particularly helpful:

1. Self-Editing for Fiction Writers: How to Edit Yourself Into Print, Renni Browne and Dave King

2. “Checklist for Editors,” The Editor’s Blog, Beth Hill

3. “The Fiction Editor’s Pharmacopoeia; Diagnosing Symptoms & Treating the Disease,” This Itch of Writing, Emma Darwin

4. “How Do You Eat an Elephant?” This Itch of Writing, Emma Darwin

5. “How I Self-Edit My Novels: 15 Steps From First Draft to Publication,” Helping Writers Become Authors, K. M. Weiland

6. “How to Be Your Own Book Doctor,” Fiction University, Janice Hardy

In next week’s post, I’ll cover alpha and beta readers and critique partners in more depth with a little more information on how to find them and use them to your advantage in getting your book ready for professional editing.

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An Indie Author Guide to Saving Money on Editing—Part 1: The Value of Patience

Welcome to the first part of my new weekly series on methods that indie authors can use to save money on editing.

The first question that you might have is why would an editor want to tell an author how to save money on her services. The reasons are many, but here are just a few:

1. I am an author myself. I plan to self-publish the two novels that I am currently working on as well as those that come after. I understand how big that number can look when you get an estimate from an editor to polish up your manuscript (”Be nice to my baby!”). I have no desire to bankrupt writers just so they can publish books that won’t send readers away screaming about errors. (But I also know that most professional editors, myself included, charge reasonable fees with the goal of earning a comfortable, living wage.)

2. It’s more enjoyable for me. As an editor, I enjoy editing books that start out in better shape. If I’m not fixing things that it would have been easy for the author to fix, I get to really enjoy the story and concentrate on using those professional skills that I have spent years developing, unique skills that authors hire me for.

“But, hey, doesn’t that mean you’re charging me the same amount to do less work?!”

No, actually. Like many editors, I have a range of rates that I charge for each of my services. I charge per word. For manuscripts that are already well polished, I charge the lower end of the range. For manuscripts that are messy and will take me more time to clean up or analyze, I charge the upper rate of the range. Currently, there is a 1.5 cent per word difference between my lower and upper rates for copyediting. For an author, that could mean the difference between paying $750 for a clean 50,000 word manuscript and paying $1500 for a messy one.

3. It won’t take me as long to finish. If your manuscript is clean, I will spend less time on it. You will get it back faster, and I can accept another job during that time. So, instead of spending four weeks copyediting one messy manuscript, I can spend those same four weeks copyediting two clean ones, so I get to read more great books and interact with more wonderful authors. It’s a win–win, if you ask me.

The Value of Patience

So how, you might ask, will patience save me money on editing? When a manuscript is accepted by a publisher, it goes through a series of tried and true steps, only one of which is editing. If publishers skipped those steps, they might soon be out of business.

Take the same care with your own book. Make yourself a checklist of the steps that you think or know are necessary to create a great product. Yes, your book is a creation and a work of art, but if you want to sell it, you must also see it as a product. The makers of car seats and packaged foods pay dearly for skipping quality-assurance steps, and so do independent authors.

Almost everything that I will suggest to you in this series to save money on editing will require patience, but here are a couple that you can start with. I will cover more steps in future posts.

1. Don’t send your first draft to an editor. Let it sit for two to three months and then self-edit it. Trust me, after you haven’t laid eyes on your precious baby for a while, it won’t seem as precious, and you’ll be able to catch a lot of mistakes. Why pay an editor to do this part if you can do it yourself with just a little patience and space away from your manuscript?

Does this mean that I won’t take your money if you send me your first draft? Of course not. When we’re under contract, you are paying me to apply my skills to your book. I can do that anytime. If you want me to start earlier on in the process, I will, but I don’t recommend it.

“But, Janell, what am I supposed to do? I want to publish. I can’t just twiddle my thumbs for two or three months. I’ve got to get this baby on Amazon now!

If you only plan to publish one book, you’ve probably been working on this book for a while. Two to three months in the long run will only make it better. For those of you who want to publish more than one novel, see point 2.

2. Establish a cycle. While manuscript one is “stewing,” start writing manuscript two. Getting all caught up in a new book is great for putting distance between you and the project that’s been consuming all of your energy for weeks (if you’re a NaNoWriMo style writer), months, or years. As an indie author, you also have other things you can take care of while your brain takes a much needed vacation from your first manuscript, especially once you have more than one book in the pipeline. You could be doing any of the following and still stay productive as a writer:

• Self-editing another manuscript.
• Preparing an edited and formatted manuscript for launch.
• Building your author platform (the dreaded marketing!).
• Writing a new book or short story.

Basically, you need to build up a cycle of Write–Revise*–Publish–Promote for all of your titles and overlap them something like this:

1. Write first draft of Title 1.
2. Write first draft of Title 2.
3. Self-edit Title 1.
4. Send Title 1 out to alpha readers.
5. Self-edit Title 2.
6. Send Title 2 out to alpha readers.
7. Review alpha reader feedback on Title 1 and self-edit again.
8. … and on and on, working in a third or fourth title as you wish.

*Revise is not a single step. It includes self-editing, getting the help of alpha/beta readers and/or critique partners, and hiring a professional editor and proofreader along with lots and lots of revision on your part. I didn’t say this was going to be easy.

As with any worthwhile endeavor, you won’t reach your goal overnight. You don’t earn a black belt in a month, and you certainly don’t become a successful, established, selling author that quickly either, so take your time and do it right.