Tag Archives: editing

Starting out as an indie author: Why editing is important — and who can skip the expense after all.

Starting out as an indie author

Why hire an editor?

Hiring an editor or proofreader for your manuscript before you publish is one of the costliest pre-publishing expenses you as an indie writer can incur. For a lot of us who aren’t selling thousands of copies of our books each month, the temptation might be great to skip booking any kind of editing services for our ebooks.

But the thing is, it’s very, very important to have (at least) a second set of eyes go over your manuscript. Yes, we all have spell-checking in our word processors these days, but what about those pesky typos that happen to be a word too (like “to” and “too”)? When the words came out of your own fingers, it’s often very difficult to see the mistakes. Someone with more distance to the writing and the story is also more likely to catch all those bloopers you and your beta readers missed. Who tend to be friends and fans, after all, and thus by definition might not have the necessary distance.

What exactly do I mean by “distance”? As I see it, distance in this respect means being able to judge your writing as a reader, and not as the author. We as writers tend to be invested in the words we write, the characters we create, and the stories we are telling, which can make it difficult to judge them objectively. But not only that, when we are still to close to what we’ve written, our brains have a greater tendency to translate an actual mistake on the screen or the page to what it is supposed to be. As an example, in one of my books, the word “lucking” for “luckily” went through nearly a dozen beta readers and critique partners before it was caught by the editor I hired.

Types of editing

Proofreading – Checking for spelling, punctuation and grammar mistakes. This is the most superficial level editing which only looks for the most basic mistakes.

Copy editing or line editing – General proofreading plus checking for consistency and stylistic errors. Some editing services separate proofreading and copy editing, but I’m not quite sure how an editor would be able to correct only consistency and style and not spelling and grammar.

Content editing – All of the above, plus feedback on the structure of the story as a whole.

Developmental editing – Substantive feedback on the “big picture” elements of the work, including plot, character, style, and pacing. Editing of this sort should be done separately from copy editing or proofreading, since the whole point is for the editor to help the writer fix the story — and that in turn will require serious rewriting. Most writers with a completed manuscript will not be looking for developmental editing, which is very expensive. Rates for an 80,000 word novel start at about $500.

Here’s a list of editors from the Kboards site. As I implied above, there is some fluidity to the editing terms I listed. For example, some editing services refer to content and developmental editing as the same thing, while others differentiate between copy editing and line editing. When deciding on an editor, you also need to decide exactly what kind of work you think your manuscript needs and book accordingly. As I mentioned in my last post in this series, if you have never worked with an editor before, I would suggest first trying a few with good referrals or testimonials who offer free samples of their editing work.

When can you get away with not hiring an editor?

In “The Costs of Self-Publishing,” I listed editing and cover expenses (whether in stock art or hiring a cover designer) as the only two price points I think a writer starting out seriously needs to consider. Can you skip this price point? In my experience, it tends to be the biggest expense pre-publishing. As with all rules, there are exceptions. While I think most beginning indie writers should invest in an editor, there are a number of cases where the expense can safely be skipped, and several more where it’s a toss-up whether or not you really need to invest in an editor.

Your book / novella / short story has been previously published elsewhere, where it went through a professional editing pass

This one to me is a no-brainer. Most of my ebooks were previously published before I brought out my self-published editions, and I trust the editors of the magazines and publishing houses where they first appeared to have done their job. Of course, no one sees all the mistakes in a manuscript, and I’ve gotten “needs an editor” reviews for some of those works which very definitely did have an editor. But they are relatively rare.

So if you are publishing your backlist or anything else that has been previously published, you can safely skip hiring an editor or proofreader.

The book has been workshopped extensively and/or gone through several beta readers, at least one of whom took the time to also do line edits

While this was the case with Shadow of Stone, I hired an editor anyway because I wanted to make the book as good as I possibly could. At the time, however, my ebooks were selling quite well. With the sales I have now, my decision might have been different — but I believe the quality of the book would have suffered.

You have editing experience yourself and you are willing to lay the work aside for at least three months (preferably more) before doing a final editing pass

While I have not actually used this method yet on any of my own self-published works, I could imagine it would be effective in combination with critique partners or beta readers. I have a Ph.D. in English, I’ve taught both literature and grammar, and in my former life as an English professor, I helped edit a number of scholarly papers and collections. That, of course, is not the same thing as fiction (something painfully brought to my attention when I was at Clarion). But I do have the professional editing skill set.

I have often set fiction I’m working on aside for several months, and I am always astonished how, after such a break, I can see my own work with fresh eyes. What also helps me to see what I’ve written more critically is to print it out and read it with pen in hand. Mistakes I don’t catch on screen I might catch on paper.

You have a friend / critique partner with editing experience who writes in your genre and is willing to trade manuscript edits with you

This is also a method I have not yet tried, but it is something I’ve discussed with friends and can imagine would work — as long as both sides take the editing seriously, and neither one is too inclined to take edits personally — with the subsequent danger of ruining the friendship …

Possible alternative: read the book out loud

So what if none of the above applies and you absolutely do not have the money to hire and editor or proofreader? On a couple of blogs, I have seen a method the respective authors swear by: either read the book out loud to yourself, or have it read to you by text-to-speech software. I have never used this method, so I have no experience to relate, but by all means, read the blog posts I linked to and give the method a shot.

I would love to hear of any experiences you’ve had with professional editors — or any other editing methods you’ve tried — in the comments.

Other posts in this series:

Starting out as an indie author: preparing your manuscript for ebook retailers

Starting out as an indie author: Using distributors for getting into online bookstores

Starting out as an indie author: Smashwords, Draft2Digital, and Xinxii (Using distributors, part 2)

Starting out as an indie author: The costs of self-publishing

Starting out as an indie author: The costs of self-publishing

Starting out as an indie author

A couple months back, a certain Charlotte Ashley took issue with something the wonderful (and wonderfully successful) SF indie and KBoards author Hugh Howey* said, and in order to prove how wrong he was, she posted an amazingly inflated list of the expenses involved in self-publishing. She came up with a total publishing cost for an 80,000 word novel of $1900. Her numbers have already been taken apart by the good folks who follow the The Passive Voice. If you are inclined to do so, go and read her post and then the comments on PG’s blog. My more modest estimates will be waiting here when you get back. (BTW, if you have not already done so, I recommend subscribing to PG’s (Passive Guy) blog, and signing up for KBoards as well. You will learn much in both places that will help you as you move forward in self-publishing.)

While I have no interest here in joining the battle regarding Ashley’s numbers, her list offers a simple point of departure regarding potential publishing costs. This probably should have been my first post in this series, since when it comes down to it, in this post I’ll be going into a bunch of the things you have to look into before you start formatting your manuscript and deciding where to publish it. These are the questions (and expenses) to consider when you’re sitting on that brand-new potential world bestseller and wondering how to get it to all the millions of readers who are waiting for your stunning work of staggering genius. So with no further ado, here are the main price points to look into before publishing your novel.

Editing services – First you have to decide whether you want straight proofreading, (checking for spelling and grammar mistakes only), copy editing (generally proofreading plus consistency and other small errors), or content editing, which includes feedback on the structure of the story as a whole.

Most freelance editors charge per word; some charge per hour, making it very difficult to estimate what the cost of a complete manuscript would be. In the latter case, it’s very important to find an editor who will do a free sample in order to get an estimate of the final cost.

Prices for editing services vary wildly. Editors who are just starting out tend to offer their services at lower rates in order to attract customers from whom they can get referrals and testimonials for their web pages. Here again I would suggest signing up for Kboards and checking Writers’ Cafe for people offering editing services. At the same time, I would not recommend booking anyone just starting out who doesn’t offer a trial of at least the first 2,000 words.

From a quick glance through my bookmarks and Kboards, it looks like the minimum cost for proofreading a 80,000 word novel would be about $200.

I will go into whether or not you can safely do without editing services in another post in this series. But just a hint: most people should probably hire a proofreader — unless they have multiple, talented beta readers who are willing to do line edits. 🙂

Minimum proofreading cost for 80,000 words: $200

Book cover – Book covers can be a lot cheaper than you might think, given all the cover artists out there who sell pre-made covers at barely above cost. Like with the editing services mentioned above, this can be an attempt on the part of a designer starting out to find initial customers and build a reputation. A number of cover designers also offer designs rejected by customers as pre-mades — which doesn’t mean they’re bad, but they just weren’t the ones the authors liked best.

Here’s an example of what you can get when you buy a pre-made cover:

Island of Glass
Pre-made cover from Littera Designs

The cost of pre-made covers starts at about $25. If you’re interested in looking around to see what’s out there, I would once again recommend checking the threads of the Writers’ Cafe on Kboards for cover artists. There is a thread for pre-made covers here.

Of course, you have to have the perfect story for the cover. And buying such a cover might entail additional expenses. I have since hired Littera Designs for two more books in the series. 🙂

Other inexpensive options for getting a cover for your book are through Elance and Fiverr. I have not used either before, but I know several people who have used Fiverr and were quite happy with the results, for example Beth Camp and Christiana Miller.

Finally, if you have some Photoshop or Gimp skills, you can make your own covers. In that case, the only expense would be in time and licensing fees for stock art.

As with editing, I plan to go into cover options in more detail in another post in this series.

Minimum cover price: $5

Layout & Design – As I mentioned in “Preparing your manuscript for ebook retailers,” it’s getting progressively easier to create your own EPUB and MOBI files for uploading to the various ebook retailers. You may have to spend some money initially for software that will help or speed up the formatting process, but not even that is necessary if you can learn how to use the free tools. Naturally if you find yourself utterly defeated on the formatting front and/or you are a perfectionist swimming in money, you can have your ebook professionally formatted. As with editing, the cost tends to go by the length of the manuscript. As I have never used an ebook formatter, I’m unfamiliar with the prices they charge. This is also a service that can be booked through Fiverr, however — simply search for “ebook formatting.” (Layout for paperback Publish on Demand books is another level of difficulty entirely; for that reason, I intend to devote a complete post to POD formatting and options.)

Minimum layout cost: $0

Publicity – How are you going to get anyone to notice your book once you’ve thrown it out there into the cold, cruel world? Blog about it? How many regular readers do you have? Who will notice?

One option (which I have not yet tried) is to book a blog tour with someone who will arrange guest posts on book blogs in your genre. (If I ever dare the waters of a paid blog tour, I will be sure to post about my results.) Organized virtual book tours start at around $40. If you have writer friends who blog and write in your genre, you can trade cover reveals at no cost to either of you. Another marketing strategy is to try paid advertising. This is rather difficult, however, when the book is newly published and reviewless, since most sites that advertise ebooks have minimum review requirements.

Of course, you can always go with Charlotte Ashley’s suggestion and pay for a Kirkus Review for $425.

Minimum publicity cost: $0

Website – Some people maintain that it’s not professional to have a WordPress blog that is obviously free, like mine (you can tell because “WordPress” is in the URL). Better would be to have www.ruthnestvold.com. Well, I have that too, and it costs me about $60 a year for hosting. Personally, however, I doubt if it is really necessary. I know a number of successful writers who use free blogs as their web presence. Perhaps there are readers out there who decide not to buy a writer’s next book when they see that he or she has a free blog, but I suspect they’re in the minority. So it’s up to you whether you want to pay the money for your own domain or not. The important thing is that readers can find you if they want.

Minimum cost for a website: $0

Minimum total cost of self-publishing (subjective)

Seeing as the only expenses that I find absolutely necessary are an editor and a cover designer, that puts the minimum cost of self-publishing at a little over $200 for an 80,000 word novel. Some people would disagree with me that a self-publisher needs an editor or proofreader, which would leave cover design as the only necessary expense. Editing and covers can, of course, also be much more expensive. My pre-publication expenses for Shadow of Stone came to well over $600 — admittedly, a long book, making the editing price point more expensive. But I also wanted the same cover designer I booked for Yseult, and he had since raised his prices. I also did not want the embarrassment of publishing an unedited manuscript. (And yes, I did earn all that back.)

Such things, however, are naturally for each individual author to decide. When it comes down to it, it’s possible to spend absolutely nothing. Skip the editing, make the cover yourself with the free program Gimp and free stock art (but make sure the licensing allows you to use it for ebook covers), format it yourself with free tools, upload it to ebook retailers, and you have an ebook.

Nonetheless, it’s important to be aware of the professional services available that might give your book an edge among the many self-published ebooks on the market. A book that has been professionally edited and that has a professional cover may just have that edge.

Next week, I will go into more detail as to why I think editing is important — and who can probably skip the expense after all.

*If there is anyone who proves you can make money writing science fiction, Hugh Howey has to be it. So take heart, SF writers out there! There is still a market for visions of the future. 🙂

Other posts in this series:

Starting out as an indie author: preparing your manuscript for ebook retailers

Starting out as an indie author: Using distributors for getting into online bookstores

Starting out as an indie author: Smashwords, Draft2Digital, and Xinxii (Using distributors, part 2)

To Deadline or not to Deadline, That is the Question

This past week, I managed to finally make Shadow of Stone available as an ebook, several weeks after I had originally intended. But that’s ok. I had some self-imposed deadlines for formatting and editing, but then once I had addressed the changes suggested by the copy editor, I decided to give the novel another complete editing pass. And I did catch a couple more mistakes, so the novel is better for the extra work I put into it. Seeing as I am an indie author now, I might as well take advantage of the fact that my deadlines are flexible.

I’m doing my best not to beat myself up about my writing progress or lack of same these days — as long as I’m working consistently on my career. I spent a couple of years making myself miserable regarding my daily word count, because it wasn’t high enough. It seemed as if everyone I knew was producing thousands of words a day, seven days a week. I should be able to do that too! So I made words and more words, trying to achieve those fabulous numbers. The result was that I got less and less of my fiction out onto the market because I was neglecting editing and marketing, since that didn’t contribute to the ultimate goal of Words Words Words!

I’m much happier with my writing life these days, now that I allow my goals to shift with what needs to be done and the time at my disposal. So there is more editing to do than I thought? Then I will keep editing! I no longer have kids at home, but I do a lot of babysitting of the granddaughters, and if something comes up and I need to take the girls (which I just did this weekend, for example), I adjust the deadlines I have set myself accordingly. Same goes for day-job interferences.

The one thing I hold fast to — I spend time on various writing-related jobs at least five days a week. If I let that slide, I would get out of the habit and I would no longer feel like a writer anymore.

So anyway, I am now back to my Aphra Behn time travel, Chameleon in a Mirror. Since I had to put it aside for over a month, I am reading through what I wrote earlier in the spring, revising as I go. This is mostly to refresh my memory on what I’ve already written so I don’t have to start cold, five chapters into the novel. Since publishing Shadow of Stone, I’ve read and revised about thirty pages. Once I get back into the swing of things and see how many words I can comfortably get done in a week, I will set myself a new deadline for finishing the novel. I already have a wonderful critique partner in Stephen Gaskell lined up, and I need to be able to tell him when I expect to send the novel to him.

Normally, however, I don’t set deadlines for finishing a novel, since when I start, I usually don’t know how long the project will be, and that makes it very difficult to figure out when the first draft will be complete. Then there are all those life things that crop up that I can’t calculate into my progress.

Once I get to the final stretch, however, deadlines can help a lot in keeping me focused and help me finish editing, formatting, etc. by a certain date.

We writers can be very good at making ourselves miserable, what with our vivid imaginations and all the nasty epithets we can come up with. Of course I still reprimand the writer in me too, but when I catch myself these days, I try to stop and remind myself of just how much fun it is to be a writer. I get to explore all these wild worlds in my head! I get to research cool places and fascinating inventions and obscure historical facts! I get to play with words!

Which I will now go and do. 🙂

Shadow of Stone – editing process almost complete

Today, I finished the final editing pass on Shadow of Stone and gave it to my hubbie for a last spot check. I asked him to read the prologue and first chapter, as well as a couple of random chapters throughout the book, just to make sure we’ve done everything we can to make the book as error-free as possible. That includes the following:

– Putting various chapters and the synopsis through a couple of different workshops
– About 10 beta readers after the first draft was complete
– Letting the thing sit for half-a-year before tackling it again
– Another complete revision pass
– Hiring a copy editor
– One final editing pass after getting the manuscript back from the editor, both to address the things she found and to do my darnedest to make sure as few mistakes as possible slipped through.

I’m sure someone will still find something, but at least I can in good conscience say I did my best.

After handing off the manuscript, I enlisted my daughter to help me update the map from Yseult. The world is, of course, the same, but I needed to add some of the more important locations that only play a role in Shadow of Stone and thus were not included on the map for Yseult. That is nearly done now. Then once I get the manuscript back, I will start on the formatting. If I don’t meet with any major glitches, I will hopefully have the book done on the target release date of June 5. Yeah! Originally, I’d been intending to be finished with Chameleon in a Mirror by the end of this month, but I spent a lot more time on the final editing pass than I’d intended. It will be good to get back to actual writing again!

A reminder: my short story collection The Future, Imperfect is FREE through June 5, a little promotional freebie before I release Shadow of Stone. Tomorrow, Looking Through Lace and Dragon Time also go free. I got some wonderful promotion for my freebie splurge from SF Signal, and now The Future, Imperfect is up to #40 in Science Fiction on the Kindle free bestseller list. Thanks again, John!

I hope all who read this have a happy and productive week. 🙂

Interview, guest lecture, and Shadow of Stone publication delay (sorry!)

There’s a new interview with me from Lisa Binion up at BellaOnline. Check it out!

Part 1

Part 2

The guest lecture at my old alma mater, the University of Stuttgart, was today, and it went well. Before the event, I only had one anxiety dream about arriving late, and the students seemed quite interested and asked a lot of questions. It was in a seminar in the German Medieval Studies department (Mediavistik), which to me was quite an honor. For my Masters, I double majored in English and German, with emphasis in German on medieval studies, but my Ph.D. is in English. Even though I’m not an expert, people in Germany are starting to notice that Gottfried von Strassburg was one of the primary inspirations for Yseult. Given how completely skewed my priorities are, I am really, really enjoying being treated with Gottfried in a university seminar. I wasn’t a mouse in the corner, so I don’t know how much I was found lacking, (luckily), but it’s still beyond anything I ever would have expected that I was compared to Gottfried in the session before I babbled at the students about the research methods of my buddies in the Codex Writing Workshop. I’m quite sure I flunked, but for those who are not familiar with German literature, Gottfried is one of the gods of the German literature hierarchy, perhaps a bit like Chaucer for medieval literature in English. It’s an honor to flunk when compared to Gottfried. 🙂

Unfortunately, a nearly direct result of the guest lecture is that I’m going to have to push back the publication date for Shadow of Stone. No surprise — I underestimated how much time I would need for preparation, which is not exactly new. Besides, my Wonderful Hubbie ™ is totally overworked this week, and before I send Shadow of Stone out into the cold, cruel world, I want him to at least spot check the manuscript I got back from the copy editor I hired. I’m working through it one more time myself, but I know my eyes are not enough. I spent several years working on the thing, after all. It’s a lot harder for me to see the mistakes. Which is why one hires outside help. 🙂

Moving forward on editing and another free promotion

Despite the fact that I managed to catch an eye infection from my son or my granddaughter, I’ve been making consistent progress on the editing of Shadow of Stone. I just try to close my right eye regularly to rest it. But it has definitely slowed me down, and it doesn’t help that I spent a couple of hours in doctors’ offices yesterday.

I also got samples off to several editors I’m considering hiring. That’s going to eat up all the profits I’ve made on my ebooks until now, but I’m investing in the future here. As opposed to all my other works that were previously published somewhere or another, even if it was in a foreign language, Shadow of Stone has not yet been through an editor. And while I’ve often been told I deliver very clean copy, I still want to do everything in my power to make sure that a book with my name on it has as few mistakes as possible.

I’ve also got another FREEBIE going on this week! Today and tomorrow my collection Dragon Time and Other Stories is free, so go grab yourself a copy while you can! I’ve also reduced the price on Yseult to 3.99. At 4.95, sales had stalled out, only averaging about one a day. Here’s hoping at the lower price sales will pick up again a bit.

Right now I mostly just want to go lie down and give my poor red eye a break, but I have to announce the free promotion all over the place. And yes, that is one of the big disadvantages of the ebook revolution. I know the idea of having to do all my own “advertizing” was scaring me off from taking this step for a long time. I suspect there are quite a few other writers out there who feel much like I do. 🙂