Authors' Options for Editing Their Manuscripts
Three Kinds of Editing
Often, editing a book manuscript is considered a single activity. But book manuscripts commonly go through various stages of development. Once a rough draft of a manuscript is complete, there are three possible approaches to editing the document: book-level, sentence-level, and word-level editing.
- Book-level edits usually involve reading the entire book — and then looking for overall and/or general issues with the book: plot, chapter structure/order, characterization, tone, writing perspective, etc. Here, the book becomes aware of its focus and aims.
- Sentence-level edits occur once authors are content with the general flow of their book. They turn to sentence-level edits to refine — not what they are saying — but how they are saying it. This is the stage where the manuscript chisels out and reworks awkward, cumbersome, unnecessary, and/or ineffective text or dialogue. Here, the book becomes a better version of itself.
- Word-level edits are the final stage. Also known as line-editing, this stage focuses on removing tiny mistakes related to punctuation, spelling, consistency, formatting, etc. Here, the book becomes a perfect version of itself.
If trying to avoid the costs attached to a professional editor, which can cost over $1,000, here are some other cheaper vendors for finding editing help.
- Fiverr: This website offers helps in a variety of digital tasks, including editing. When determining viable editors, look at their user ratings, costs per word/page, and number of reviews. Typically, costs could be $200-400 per project — which is still a fraction of the cost for a professional editor.
- Upwork: This is a very similar website to Fiverr. The advantage here is in posting a project to their marketplace and then getting offers from various editors. The best practice is to have each interested editor submit a short test sample (that you provide with some intentional errors). You, then, can hire the editor within your price range and competency expectation.
- Software Tools: Microsoft Word does not have the most robust spell-checker. A software product like Grammarly can act as a supplemental editor. They have a free version and a paid version. As with any editing software, take their suggestions with a grain of salt.
- Professional Editing: The cost can be expensive and it may vary depending on the type of editing provided. Examples include Derek Murphy’s company Book Butchers. Prices range from 2 cents per word (word-level) to 4cents per word (larger-level). A 200-page book would range at $800 and $1,600 respectively. Another option isReedsy’s marketplace. It has hundreds of freelance editors available. Different kinds of edits/editors are listed. Prices vary and they are available by request.
- Hybrid Publishers: Perhaps the riskiest option, hybrid publishers may try to upsell your need of an editor by offering to include other book services (book cover, marketing, website, etc.). See Jane Friedman’s article on the topic. If going that route, perform due diligence by checking Better Business Bureau and Alliance of Independent Authors. Put differently, scams and lesser solutions often float in the hybrid marketplace — mostly preying on authors who do not have a full understanding on how the industry works.
Obviously, the cheapest edit is the self-edit performed by the author, though it may not be the most professional or comprehensive. It still saves the author money in the short-term and it can produce a better (i.e. less flawed) manuscript if ever handed off to a professional editor. The following list is a suggestion of strategies to help focus authors’ attempts for self-editing.
- Rounds of editing: Try looking for just one kind of error (commas, verb agreement, etc.) each pass-through the manuscript instead of looking for every possible form of an error each time through.
- New place: Try editing somewhere different than your desk. An unfamiliar place may make the manuscript appear in a different light.
- Time between edits: Sometimes, time away from the manuscript allows for fresh eyes, too.
- Find-and-replace: Most word processing have this feature, which helps correct any reoccurring spelling/formatting errors.
- Read out loud: This is easily the most effective strategy an author can invoke while editing. Reading out loud allows the editor to hear the text — making errors stand out more than they would by simply editing silently in one's head.
Outside of the above-mentioned options, there are a few creative solutions available for authors. These solutions may not necessarily lead to the best result, but they are usually less expensive than some of the other options already mentioned.
- Beta-Readers: Some authors use their beta-readers for some form of editing. Beta-readers are readers who have advanced copies or early copies of the manuscript. A few dozen beta-readers might find a large number of minor spelling errors (i.e. word-level editing). If consulted earlier in the writing process, these beta-readers might read the manuscript and provide book-level editing that provides the author with insights into what is working or not working in the rough draft of the manuscript. This can help focus the author’s efforts in an early re-write of the book.
- Task-Swapping: Some authors, in exchange for editing, will swap book-related work for other book-related work with another author. Examples of swappable work include graphic design work (book covers, website design, in-book formatting), marketing help (social media, Facebook ads), or photography (video shots, author photos).
Authors have a variety of choices available for editing. Each book project may have a different budget or goals behind it. You may want to consult another article on the topic — to determine whether a professional edit is even worth the expense. These are all considerations when choosing an editing option.
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