The Magic Editing Hat: Turn Your Manuscript Into a Book

 Someone asked a very fair question in the comments last week, so I’ll explain a little more about my self-publishing “credentials.”

I never submitted a manuscript or queried an agent before I decided to self-publish. I heard about self-publishing before I finished my debut novel, A Hidden Fire, and decided from the start that it was the direction I wanted to go. I published my first book in October 2011, and by June 2012, I was making a full time income. So I have been making my living from my writing for a little over a year and a half, and I have published nine books, two novellas, and a short story. I am a working writer. This pays the bills, and it does so better than any other job I’ve ever had. That’s where I’m coming from.

Crystal_Project_wizardNow, editing.

I’m starting out with one of the most difficult publishing hats because we’re going in the order I use myself for publication, and after I finish a book, the next step is editing that book. Like I said last week, I’m no expert. I’m simply going to share the process I use to give you some insight as to how this all can be done by someone who has absolutely no background in publishing.

Now, I didn’t say I didn’t have any background in WRITING. I have a bachelor’s degree in English and was a technical writer for years. Because of that, I’m familiar with proper grammar and structure. If you are not, and are coming at writing from a different background, then educate yourself. Part of editing is on you, the writer, and part of editing should be done by a professional.

Yes, you need a professional. If you have lots of arguments for me about why your special snowflake book does NOT need an editor than good luck to you, and I’ll see you around.

Yes, I know they’re expensive. For my first book (when I was completely broke), I begged and pleaded with a friend who was a professional editor to help me. After that, any money I made from the first book went into the editing fund for the second book. Many editors are willing to work on payments. There are editors in many price ranges. But don’t forget, this is a business. And all businesses cost money to start up. Publishing a book is actually pretty cheap compared to most start-ups and your book is an investment that costs you nothing to maintain if it’s finished properly. So take the hit and pay for the editor. You’ll be happy you did.

Editing is kind of a big scary word that writers like to moan about on twitter. I know this because I moan about it on twitter. It’s not the fun part of writing, but it’s the part that makes your manuscript a book.

First off, before we talk about hiring anyone, I want to to talk about your part of the editing process. What needs to happen before a professional takes a look at your manuscript?

  • You need to finish it. (This may be harder than it seems.)
  • You need to revise it.


Wait, what’s the difference between revising and editing? Here’s a great article from Clarion about the differences between revising and editing, but very quickly, revising refers to the big, structural changes in your manuscript. For instance, you get to the end of the book and decide to make a character who started off a good guy into the secret villain of the series. Now you’re going to have to go back and lay foundations for that surprise in book one (even if the duh duh DUH! moment doesn’t come until book three). That’s a revision.

The hero started out the book with blue eyes and ended it with green. That’s an edit.

Incidentally, this is the point where I have trusted friends read for me. I have a whole group of friends, some of whom are writers, others who are just really smart readers, who read my manuscript and are very honest about what works and what doesn’t. Find a group (or even an individual) like this. Critique groups (either online or in person) might be a great option. But bottom line, part of editing is having other eyes on your book.

So, all revisions being done and the story is the story you want, let’s continue.

  • You need to self-edit. Trust me, you’re going to spend a lot less on editing if you’re a good self-editor. (This is because editors will charge you less to edit a “clean” manuscript than one that has stuff like spelling errors. It’s all about time.) I go through my manuscripts twice after I write them. Once, after I finish each chapter and second, after I finish the book. Then I send it to pre-readers. Then I edit it again based on their recommendations. OR, I go back to the revision stage if it’s necessary. (And yes, that’s sometimes been necessary.) Do not rush this process, but don’t let your book hang with a pre-reader for six months before you bug them, either. My readers usually get back to me within a couple weeks unless they’re super busy.
  • FINALLY! Find a professional free-lance editor.

How do you find an editor?

In my opinion, the best way to find an editor is through referral. That’s what I did, and most of the writers I’ve asked have found their editors the same way. Find a self-published book that you think is well-edited and look in the acknowledgements. Editors and proofreaders will almost always be listed. If it’s not, you can email the author and ask. They might not respond. If that happens, find another book, ask someone else.

You’re going to have to ask. You’re a writer, therefor, it’s very possible you’re an introvert. But get used to asking, because it’s entirely possible that the awesome editor who worked with the indie author you read is totally booked up for the next year. Ask for a referral. Most editors know other editors just like most authors know other authors. And they’ll usually only refer to someone they trust because that referral reflects on them. So keep asking. You may have to go thought several people before you find someone who has the time to work with you and fits into your budget. Just be persistent.

To work through the specifics of how to hire an editor I’ll refer you to this excellent article by MY editor, Anne Victory at Victory Editing. It walks you through the different types of editing and business tips like requesting a sample edit (which you should always do) and pricing.

Finding an editor is one of the most difficult hats you’re going to wear. But take a look at that list up there. Are you looking?

(Giving you a moment to look.)

Out of those four steps I listed, only ONE of them is something you have to pay for. So why should you hand over a percentage of your book’s sales to get that done? I will tell you right now, I’ve never spent thousands of dollars in editing fees for a book, partly because I do the revising and self-editing steps above. And you can do those too. It just takes practice. Don’t let anyone tell you this is beyond your capabilities. It’s not.

Luckily, once you’ve found a good editor, that person is usually someone you can work with for a long time. I’ve had the privilege of working with two wonderful professionals who made my books shine. And I’ve learned a lot from both of them.

SO, you’ve found an editor! You’ve worked out a schedule with him or her. Hopefully, they work with or know a good proofreader (they pretty much always do) and you’re on track to get back a book, and not just a manuscript. Well done! But the editing and proofreading is going to take some time, so what do you do while you’re waiting for your editor to work his or her magic?

DavidGandy1Next week, we’re going to talk about book covers and the COVER DESIGNER HAT.

(And no, you’re probably not going to get David Gandy in a top hat on your cover. If you can manage that, you don’t need me to tell you anything about promotion, because… wow.)

Posted in Indie Authors, Publishing, Self-publishing, The Many Hats of Self-Publishing, Uncategorized, Writing and tagged , , , , , .


  1. Pingback: Self-Publishing: Is it Difficult? Sometimes. Is it Doable? Definitely. | ELIZABETH HUNTER

  2. I do continuity critiquing, for several authors, dozens if books over the past decade. You are good, your ground and support crews are good. I can usually go through a book and find glaring errors, I don’t care if you’ ve been published by one of the big six or one of the rising Indy pubs. Not in your books. You are good and it shows you listen to you crews, make your corrections and don’ t down play the value of the format. As a fan and a critiquer – thank you.

  3. Pingback: The Formatting Hat: Why You Should Learn to Format Your Own E-books | ELIZABETH HUNTER

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  5. So glad Murphy is getting his HEA. I’m still hoping for Deidre. Does your muse ever think of her?

  6. Pingback: The Magic Editing Hat: Turn Your Manuscript Into a Book | Nancy Segovia

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