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5 Hidden Problems Copyeditors Fix

“My manuscript is pretty clean. Probably won’t take you long. As a matter of fact, I’m pretty sure it just needs a proofread, not a whole edit.” Like other copyeditors, I get this a lot.

The biggest problem is writers don’t see their own mistakes. Then, an editor like me comes along and surprises the author with red lines and corrections on their story. The sheer number of them makes their manuscript look like it’s getting ready for Valentine’s Day.

This inability to see the mistakes in your writing can be called author blindness. Author blindness can be lessened with some time away from your story but never fully cured. It is a condition caused by overfamiliarity with your words. You’ve seen them many, many times, even in your head before they were formed on the paper or the screen. Once they’re out there, you see what you expect to see on the page—your vision of the story—instead of what is actually there. Often, these issues exist even after you’ve self-edited.

When author blindness kicks in, you see what you expect to see on the page—your vision of the story—instead of what is actually there. Share on X

An Aside on Self-Editing

And you should self-edit before you send your book to your editor. Think of it this way. You have the choice of giving your editor an unshaped lump of clay or a mostly sculpted piece that still needs some polishing. Given time and money constraints, which one could she most likely refine into something that is both a superb work of art and on par with your vision?

If you don’t believe me, watch this video by Garret Robinson.
You have the choice of giving your editor an unshaped lump of clay or a mostly sculpted piece. Which one could she most likely refine into a superb work of art that is on par with your vision? Share on X

Mistakes Copyeditors Catch

Self-editing aside, here are some very common problems copyeditors fix while editing. In fact, I see them in nearly every manuscript I edit. Are they hidden in yours?

copyeditors, fix, problems, mistakes


Related Resources

The Process of Copyediting Fiction

Past or Present? Using Tense Effectively in Fiction

The Importance of Point of View: Part I: The Types of POV

Head Hopping and POV Slips

Resources for Fiction Writers: Read, Watch, and Listen

Free Self-Editing Checklist

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Ask the Editor Episode 3: When Should I Hire an Editor?

Welcome to another episode of Ask the Editor. In this video, I discuss at which point in writing process you should hire an editor.

Have an Ask the Editor Question?

You can send me your questions and comments in several ways.

  1. Comment on this post.
  2. Comment on the YouTube video.
  3. Contact me on my contact form.
  4. Email me at

I can’t wait to hear from you!

All of the Episodes

Find the Ask the Editor playlist here. It’s only two episodes long now, but I plan on adding a new one every couple of weeks.

Transcript to come. Check back here later!

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My First Draft Is Done! What’s Next? A Manuscript Guide for Indie Authors

When you finish the first draft of your book, you might feel lost. What are the next steps? How long it will be before you can publish it? Here is a handy guide to getting your book polished and ready for publication.*

    1. Let it rest. Really. Put the manuscript away for a while. Maybe you can start a new project or work on a different one. Get some distance so that when you come back to it, you won’t be blind to your own mistakes. Six or eight weeks should do the trick.
    2. Self-edit. Now you can start self-editing and rewriting. The self-editing process varies for everyone. As great guides to this process, I recommend the books Self-Editing for Fiction Writers and Manuscript Makeover.
    3. Breathe. When you’re done, take a few days to breathe. Make sure you’re really finished with the second draft. It’s easy to get impatient and throw your manuscript at people the second it’s done. Your patience will pay off in the end.
      first draft, breathe, manuscript, indie author, editor, writer, writing, editing
    4. Send it to beta readers. Send your manuscript to several beta readers. Beta readers can be friends and family. However, the best ones are people who read regularly in your genre and who like to talk about it. Get more beta readers than you need. Reading and commenting on a whole book is a big commitment. Some readers will never finish. You can find free beta readers through critique groups or social media groups. You can also pay for professional beta readers. Paid readers have a good incentive to complete the job! Self-editing and using beta readers will also save you money at editing time. Editors charge on the basis of how much work is needed on your manuscript. (For more details, see my blog series on Saving Money on Editing.) If you are thorough and willing to learn as you go, you may be able to skip structural editing and lower your copyediting costs. In any case, your book will be better off for it! Don’t skip these steps! beta reader; first draft
    5. Revise again. Take your beta readers’ suggestions into careful consideration, but feel free to ignore some of them. Pay special attention to issues that have been flagged by multiple readers! If most of your readers are telling you the same thing, it would be unwise to ignore it. Repeat steps 2 through 5 as needed until you feel that you can’t do anything more with your manuscript on your own.
    6. Consult a professional editor. Many editors offer a free sample edit. During this time, the editor will go through a sample of your manuscript and make a recommendation about what kind of editing it needs. Feel free to get several sample edits. Go with the editor who is the right combination of fit and affordability for you. You will often pay more for a better editor, but get that sample edit to be sure that your editor is worth her price. (See my post on vetting editors.)
    7. Get developmental editing/make revisions. At this stage, you will be working with your editor on big-picture issues such as plot, theme, character, and structure. Don’t worry about grammar, spelling, or punctuation just yet. Don’t need developmental editing? Hurray! Skip ahead to step 8!
    8. Get copyediting/make revisions. Time to fix all the grammar and spelling mistakes and inconsistencies. Time to improve the flow of your sentences. Just as with beta readers, you can and should choose which edits you keep and which edits you toss. Just be thoughtful. Ask questions. Your editor should want your book to shine as much as you do, and it will make you a better writer.
      red pencil, editing, first draft, editor, editing, writer, writing, indie author, author
    9. Lay out your book. Hire a book formatter or design and lay out your book yourself if you know how. Don’t forget to add front matter and a table of contents (a linked one for ebooks)!
    10. Get a cover designed. You can start this step earlier if you’d like. However, if you are self-publishing a paperback or hardcover version of your book, your cover designer will need to know the final page count to determine the spine width for the design. Yes, you can design your cover yourself. However, I only recommend this if you have graphic design experience and really know what you are doing. The cover is the first thing that a potential reader sees. Investing in a good cover designer will boost those original sales before reviews start to come in.
    11. Write your back cover copy and get publicity blurbs. While your cover is being designed, write and edit your back cover copy and use your formatted manuscript to solicit blurbs (good quotes!) for your back cover. If you’re not selling hard copies of your book, you still need good descriptive copy for your book’s sales page, so don’t skip this step.
    12. Get proofreading. You can complete this stage during cover design. Once your pages are laid out, have a proofreader check them to catch typos that might have slipped through or been introduced during corrections (yes, this happens). This is not the time for big changes or rewrites. They will only cause you to have to redo or fix the formatting. Get each format (ebook and hardcopy) proofread because there can be minor differences.
      proofreading, first draft
    13. Publish. Upload your files and publish at the vendor of your choice! There are many more choices and steps during this stage, but I’ll leave that for another post!

This post is a slightly more detailed update to an infographic I posted earlier.

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An Indie Author Guide to Vetting Editors

In this post, I discuss the process of vetting editors. At the end of my previous series on saving money on editing, I mentioned cheap editing and why I am against it. One of the reasons is that self-published authors often get scammed by people who claim that they are editors, even though they have no training or education in editing.

As Cheryl of Ink Slinger Editorial Services puts it, “The hardest thing about finding an editor is that anyone can hang a shingle. Especially someone that says they made As in high school English and loves to read. Editing is a skill. Accept that it’s a skill, and you’ll find a proper editor. And remember that being a writer does not qualify you to be an editor, either.”

So, as a follow-up to my previous series, I want to give you some information on how you can vet your freelance/independent editor and make sure that you get what you pay for and that you get an editor who is a good match for you. If you produce more than one book, this could be a relationship that lasts for years.

Keep in mind that when you are vetting editors, not every editor will hit every point on this list. However, if you examine them all, you will get a good feel for just how professional and experienced your editor is. In many cases, she will already have most of this information available for you on her website or resume.

Alternately, an editor who is lacking in many of these areas might not be your best choice.

Before You Start Vetting

  1. Is the editor available when you need her to be? Many freelance editors are booked months (sometimes years) in advance. As editor Averill Buchanan says, there is not much point in spending valuable time vetting someone who won’t be available on your schedule. For a good editor, however, you might find yourself willing to accept a spot on their editorial calendar that is months away.
  2. Is this person the right kind of editor? There are seemingly a million jobs out there with the title editor, all with different job descriptions. Check the editor’s website or ask her straight out what kind of editor she is and what kind of work she does.

Simply put, if your story needs structural work, you need a developmental editor. If it needs the grammar checked, you need a copyeditor or line editor. If you need someone to check your final, formatted pages for errors, you need a proofreader.

Some editors do provide all of these services plus others, such as consulting or cover design. Diversification can be a savvy business practice in today’s market.

vetting editorsEducation

  1. Degree or Certificate: Does the editor have a relevant degree or certificate in publishing or editing? This shows you that the person has spent some time learning the craft. However, many editors do not have an editing degree or a certificate because they got their start in publishing houses, where they received on-the-job training.
  2. Continuing Education: There are many courses available to editors through the Editorial Freelancers Association, the Society for Editors and Proofreaders, and and from other sources. Has your prospective editor taken advantage of one or more of these courses to keep her skills up to date or perhaps to expand her editing skill set into a new area?

Relevant Experience

Relevant experience not only complements education but is probably even more important.

As Susan Wenger of Cover to Cover says, “Ask your prospective editor about relevant experience. If the only thing they tell you is that they have an English degree, or they teach English/literature, run. These things can be helpful, but they’re not sufficient.”

  1. General Editing Experience: How long has the editor been working professionally? Has she worked in house for a legitimate publisher? How much time per week does she spend editing?
  2. Specific Editing Experience: Does the editor have experience working in your field? This can be as broad as fiction versus nonfiction but can reach all the way down to a specific genre, such as paranormal romance. Ask for a list of books in your area that she has worked on.

You might also ask about the editor’s favorite books in your genre. A love of a certain type of book obviously doesn’t stand in for editing skill. However, when an editor brings years of editing experience to the table plus a deep knowledge of your genre, she will be able help you create a more marketable manuscript.

If the editor does not have a lot of experience in your genre or niche but has a lot of general experience and you feel good about your communication so far, look to her continuing education, author testimonials, and sample edit to determine her competence.


Find out how the editor works and how she likes to communicate. Finding someone compatible can save you lots of frustration down the line.

  • Does she edit in a program that is compatible with your own (usually Word)?
  • Does she use Track Changes or an equivalent tool that makes it easy for you to see edits?
  • How many passes does each round of editing entail?
  • Does your prospective editor prefer Skype, phone, or email to communicate?
  • Does she include in her fee a reasonable amount of time for you to respond or ask questions about the editing after it is complete?


Through your initial communication and research, find out if the editor behaves in a professional manner.

  • Does she respond to you in a timely manner?
  • Does she respond professionally to a reasonable number of questions?
  • Is she respectful? She should treat you like a professional as well.
  • Does she offer a written contract for her services? If she doesn’t, move on. A contract protects you both.
  • Is she a member of a relevant professional organization such as the Editorial Freelancers Association, Society for Editors and Proofreaders, or Association of Independent Publishing Professionals?

Internet/Social Media Presence

In the process of vetting editors, it is a good idea to check out each editor’s web presence. If an editor is a professional, it is likely that she has established herself on the Internet to increase her discoverability, just as authors should. Check out her various footprints to get an idea about who she is and what services she offers. If you find an editor in a Goodreads forum but nowhere else on the web, there’s a good chance that she hasn’t been editing for long or at all.

  • Does she have a website? Is it professional in appearance, and does it give you answers to many of the questions listed in this post?
  • Is she on social media in a professional capacity (e.g., is her business on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, or LinkedIn)? You can get some idea of an editor’s professional interactions through how she presents herself on social media.

Past Clients

When you’re vetting editors for your book, perhaps the most important step is to find out what their previous clients have to say.

  1. Look for testimonials: Like all people, editors like to share when they have received praise for a job well done and will often have testimonials printed on their websites. See if it is possible for you to speak to past clients so you can get an idea of how each editor works and how satisfied her clients have been.
  2. Ask your author friends for recommendations: You may find that your fellow authors can tell you about the good, the bad, and the ugly with respect to editors that they have worked with. Take it all with a grain of salt, but don’t dismiss it. If an author has glowing praise for her editor, take a closer look.

Sample the Service

Most editors will offer a free sample edit of some length. Mine is 1250 words, and other editors offer more or less. The sample edit allows both you and the editor to learn a bit about each other’s styles and see if you are a good fit. The editor can also use the sample edit to determine how much work is needed on the manuscript so that she can come up with a proper estimate.

Take advantage of this. When you find a few editors that are serious contenders, get sample edits and estimates from each one. It will be extremely helpful not only for vetting the editors but also for choosing the one that you want to work with most.

A Note About Upfront Payments When Vetting Editors

In this age of constant scams, authors aren’t the only ones who are wary. Editors must also be careful about putting in weeks’ worth of work on a manuscript only to be left high and dry when the work is done. Thus, many editors ask for a deposit up front and the rest of the payment on their services before you get your edited manuscript back.

So, do your research and vet your editors appropriately. Talk to their past clients and make sure that they are legitimate. Keep in mind that no one with experience and an established Internet presence can scam her clients for long without getting numerous public responses. Let the editor’s reputation speak for itself. If it doesn’t, you have to decide if it’s a risk you are willing to take. (Again, this is a great topic to speak with past clients about.)


I had some help from fellow editors so that I could provide you with a thorough list of steps for vetting editors. In that capacity, I’d like to thank Susan Wenger, Averill Buchanan, Cheryl Murphy Lowrance, Janet MacMillan, Julia Ganis, and Dorothy Zemach for their input and insights.


Note: I have used the pronouns she and her to refer to single authors or editors throughout this post. However, this is just for simplicity. There are many fine authors and editors out there who are not female.


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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.