How To Publish a Book, Part Two (The Editing)

In my last post, I told you how my book went from scribbled summary to finished product. I talked about the virtues of getting started already and of writing a little bit every day, so that POLE POLE, to use a Kilimanjaro metaphor, you make your way up that particular mountain until you reach the summit.

However, what I haven’t talked about so far is the actual process of self-publishing a book. Writing it is only a small part of the process, I hate to inform you. The biggest chunk of work goes into editing, and later formatting (that part will have to wait for yet another post – today we’ll focus on editing).

So, you’ve just typed the very last word of your story, or novel, or whatever it is you’ve written, and you’ve  saved your document. What next? Here I give you the steps to self-publishing (or, as Catherine Ryan Howards calls it, self-printing), the way I see it.

1. Hiring an Editor

First of all, you have to find yourself an editor. Ideally, you would have already started this process, but it’s not too late now.

“But I think I write pretty well, I don’t need an editor,” you might say. Bwaaahahaaaa! I don’t want to hear it! Repeat after me: “Every writer needs an editor. Period.” I don’t care if you’re Gertrude Stein yourself, you still need an editor if you want to be taken seriously as a writer.

At the very least, you’ll need a copy editor who will iron out all your grammatical and typographical errors, but ideally you’d have all three levels of professional editing:

a) a structural editor who will look at your manuscript as a whole, whether the story is compelling and consistent, your voice engaging, the characters convincing, does it move along at a good pace, etc.
b) a copy editor
c) a proofreader who goes through it at the very end with a fine-tooth comb.

Working with a copy editor might make you feel ashamed when they point out a mistake you remember you were warned about in Kindergarten.

For my book, I employed both a) and b) but did all the proofreading myself. And how, you might ask, did I do that? The answer is, of course Google. You go online, and you search for “editing services” or some such thing. You’ll get a huge number of hits, and you might have to narrow that down geographically (though that’s not necessary) or any other way you can think of.

I found some editor’s guild or trade group with a blog, where various editors had commented on a certain topic, and I picked two whose writing (duh!) I liked. I found a third one from a book in my genre which I had liked. I contacted all three of them and asked for more information. One I dismissed because she was too expensive. I also did some more research by reading reviews of some of the other books she had edited, and they were mostly bad. I didn’t want an editor whose books mostly got bad reviews, so discarding her was a no-brainer. An editor might not be able to turn around a badly-written book on their own, but in my mind a good editor would refuse to edit such a book in the first place. Between the remaining two, I went with the more expensive one. Partly because I reasoned that you get what you pay for, and partly because she edited two sample chapters for me completely FREE OF CHARGE. She sent me a letter summarizing her thoughts about my book based on those chapters, and I was blown away. Her assessment was spot-on, and her suggestions invaluable. If someone could gain so much insight based on two sample chapters, they’d be a great resource for the entire book.

The prices for a structural editor will range from $450 to $2,000, depending on the number of words. I paid around $1,000 for a total of 80,000 words.

The copy editor wandered into my life  more or less by chance. She had been a longtime reader of my blog, had learned from there that I was in the process of writing a book, and offered her services to me so that she could build her credentials as a freelance editor. I felt honored that she chose MY BOOK for that endeavour, and I also felt like I had nothing to lose. She turned out to be an extremely valuable resource to me, we were able to communicate flawlessly even though she lives in South Africa, and she found so many mistakes even after I had implemented the huge list of changes from the first round of editing, I’m embarrassed to even think about it.

2. Hiring a Cover Designer

Your search for a cover artist should start right as you reach out to editors, even though you may not need him or her right away. You can, of course, design your own cover, but I don’t recommend it. Leave it to the professionals.

You do, however, have to have SOME kind of idea which general direction your cover should go into. Will it be based on a photograph? A drawing? A good cover artist will bring plenty of creative ideas to the table, but will need some direction.

In my case, that included sending a whole bunch of pictures from my climb to her, giving her a summary of the highlights of the book (and/or sending some sample chapters that best conveyed the tone of the book), and giving her a working title as a placeholder, because I couldn’t think of one for the life of me.

You can find a cover designer much like you find your editor. Once you have one, you might even be led to the other, as they often know each other from previous collaborations. One of my editor candidates had a husband who was a cover designer, so that was an easy find (though I didn’t end up using him). You can find listings of cover artists (and editors, for that matter) on the forums for Kindle Direct Publishing. Let them show you some of their prior work so that you can have an inkling of their style and whether you like it.

I wouldn’t pay over $500 for a cover designer. Some people pay much less, like under $100, but remember that you usually get what you pay for. Make sure that all the photographs and fonts they use are in the public domain, or legally acquired. And also think ahead to your paperback, by negotiating not only the front but also the back cover of your book.

At some point in time, your cover designer will need a lot of specifications from you: How many pages is the book, ergo how fat of a spine will it have, what’s the blurb that’ll go on the back of it (which of course you will have to write), what is the image for the back (often, it’s a continuation of the image on the front, so think about that when selecting a photograph), etc etc. But since we’re first going to focus on getting your book published on Kindle and nothing else, we won’t have to worry about all this until later. For now, you DO have to know the dimensions of your cover image, i.e. width by height (Kindle Direct Publishing or KDP has guidelines), and pass them on to your designer.

3. Picking a Release Date

Perhaps this step should come before “Hiring an Editor,” but since it’s really hard to pinpoint how long the editing will take, I felt it was better to at least get a little bit of an idea before committing to a date. You’re self-publishing, after all, so you get to pick whichever the hell date pleases you, but it’s still good to have a general idea. You’ll want to build up a little bit of hype, for one, and you’ll also need some sort of deadline or you might never finish your book because you’ll be editing it to death. Trust me. Once I had spoken with my editors and gotten them to commit to a timeframe (six weeks for the first, two weeks for the second), I added the two together, added another two weeks to give me time to implement changes (which turned out to be pretty ambitious!), and voila, I had a date. I told everyone my book would be out in March 2014, aiming for the beginning of the month but well knowing that I’d be happy to squeeze it in before the end.

4. The Actual Editing

Eventually, the glorious day will arrive where you get your manuscript back from the editor(s), all marked up with plenty of instructions and margin notes. It almost feels like Christmas, because you’re chomping at the bit to get going so that your book can finally be on its way.

This may come as news to you, but your structural editor doesn’t actually make any changes in your book. He/she just gives you a long list of suggestions, take them or leave them. The copy editor DOES make changes, typically using the “track changes” feature in Word, and then it’s up to you to approve or decline every single one of them (or, if you feel bold, just approve them all in one big sweep, but I’m such a control freak, I could NEVER do that).

A good copy editor will entertain you with their margin notes, even as they are pointing out glaring mistakes. At least that’s what I’ve come to believe.

As you can see, the actual editing is going to have to be done by you and none other. Which means that for a couple to three weeks, you’ll be extremely busy. Not only will you try to respond to all the suggestions and changes thrown at you, you will also discover plenty of other problems with your book while you’re at it, and you will be forever chasing in fifteen different directions trying to address them all at the same time.

I found it’s best to keep an “issue log” of sorts where you record everything that pops into your head, so as not to forget it later. For instance, at some point in time I realized that the format for all the times and numbers and dates in my book was not consistent. The editor might have pointed that out, but only once, with the missive of “make sure it’s consistent one way or the other.” Then actually FINDING all those stray occurrences was up to me, and trust me, it wasn’t easy. I had to conduct searches for every digit from zero to nine to make sure I didn’t miss any numbers. I also had to read up on conventions, such as “numbers under ten are spelled out but numbers over ten are written as numbers, except when both occur in one sentence (or was it one paragraph?), then you have to be consistent either way.” Huh?

Also, you might want to settle on a specific editing style, like the Chicago Manual of Style, but you don’t have to. You also want to make sure you’re using either American English or British English, but not a mixture of the two. At some point in time, I went crazy with repetitive words. My editor had given me some examples of what she called my “chatty voice,” which she liked, but which could make the story too blog-like at times, and not book-like enough. She pointed out a few words that were giveaways for the chatty voice, and soon I was hunting down these words as if they were Easter eggs. Each time I came upon another one, I was faced with the decision whether to leave it, or whether it might be too close to the last occurrence (what is too close? Is two pages too close?) and should be changed. Let’s just say that during those long days I hung out on A LOT! The thing is, some words just do occur often, and it would be silly to bring more variety into them. Like every editor will tell you, don’t ever try to be fancy with direct speech and the simple “he said.” Try to replace that with remarked, whispered, shouted, yelled, answered, asked, replied, mumbled, stuttered, and God knows what else, and you’ll have the Fairy Princess series of books on your hands, which we all know is no fun whatsoever to read.

I can’t even think of all the other editing problems in my manuscript, but there were a lot of them. Not big issues like characters and plot and flow of the story, but smaller ones, like inconsistent tenses. Past where it should have been present, and present where it should have been past. Sounds easy enough, but trust me, it was not. Writing a book in present tense is not actually easy at all, and shifting back and forth from flashbacks to your story is an art in itself. If you want to avoid those pitfalls, writing in the past tense is probably the easier course.

The other pitfall is version control. As in, I sent my stuff off to the editor who now has it for the next three weeks, and THE VERY NEXT DAY I see a sentence which needs my urgent attention. It actually needs to be moved to another chapter entirely, and it needs to be written in a different tense. What now? Do I keep notes somewhere so that I’ll remember to do this at some future time? Do I print everything out and highlight the problems I find? Do I send an urgent email to my editor?

The answer, of course, is none of the above. The best course of action is to avoid it altogether by NOT LOOKING AT YOUR BOOK at all once you’ve sent it off. This will be a welcome reprieve, actually, and if your fingers are itchy, go ahead and start writing your next book instead. I’m serious!

On that note, I’ll sign off for today. Stay tuned for How to Write a Book, Part Three, which will talk about conversion to Kindle and other eBooks, navigating Amazon’s Author Central, and the pinnacle of it all, the creation of your paperback.


This post is part of the series “How to Publish a Book”. See the entire series:

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