You’ve written your book – congratulations! Before publishing, though, there are three major steps left–one of the most important being editing.
Producing a draft is not writing a book. Writing is rewriting. I read that when I first started out, and it’s always stuck with me.
Most first drafts are a mess, plagued with wrong tenses, undeveloped characters, scrambled scenes, pages of meaningless tangents, etc. The real craft of writing a novel comes with the edits, the pulling apart and putting the story back together so it flows and interests a reader.
Editing and Editors
There’s a trend these days for indie authors to write and publish faster and faster. A writer friend just told me about someone who wrote and published one hundred books in a year!
He wrote 5,000 word novellas and used AI generators. Is this creative writing? It saddens me because this makes it harder for the rest of us who agonize over our stories. This isn’t a writer; this is someone trying to make money.
People scamming the system aside, there’s still a trend to write and publish faster. The logic is that more books increase an author’s chance the Amazon algorithm will boost the novels. It’s also because there’s so much competition for readers – over four million books were published in 2022 alone. Quantity over quality seems to be a trend for indie writers these days.
I think writing three or four books a year is writing fast, especially because the editing and marketing part of the process can take months. I would love to publish two books a year (a trend is a trend), but I’m not sure how feasible that is, especially because I want to continue producing quality work.
One reason it’s more complicated than you might think is the editing process. My second book, Fallen Spirits, which will be out in the first half of 2024, went through twelve personal edits, a developmental edit from a professional editor, and a professional copy edit, along with several beta readers. It’s taken about two and a half years to write. The edits alone cost around $2,000.
People writing dozens of books a year are most likely not getting professional editors to edit their manuscripts, unless they have the money to pay for help.
Rushing your work can hurt you as a writer. A first draft is not a completed manuscript for 99.99% of the population. On my twelfth edit, I found an inconsistency that had to be fixed because a reader would have picked it up. Yup. It took twelve edits to find it! Even the professional didn’t notice it.
I’m not saying you need dozens of edits, but editing and some type of editor is essential to help you through the process.
What if you can’t afford an editor?
This is tricky, and I know this is controversial. When I started writing, I believed every book needed professional edits done – and nowadays, you can pay for developmental, copy, sensitivity, line, and other edits, so it gets pricey. I sometimes think all I’m doing is funding the publishing industry.
Then there’s reality. I paid for developmental and copy edits for Fallen Spirits to learn the process, but, to be honest, I’m not sure I can afford it for book three, unless decent royalties start rolling in. So I’ll need to find other options that won’t hurt the quality of the work.
What are some options if you can’t afford a for-hire editor?
Find a fantastic critique group
Join a writing group of other authors who write in your genre and ask them to critique your work. I did this with my first book Rock Gods & Messy Monsters and was pleasantly surprised when a reviewer from an editor’s publication said the book was well edited. I spent over two years going through my manuscript line by line with four other people. It was time consuming, but it worked.
Offer to edit a similar author’s work if they’ll go through yours. Be sure the writer has some editing skills. You can do the same for proofreading.
Alpha and beta readers
You need alpha and beta readers, whether or not you get a professional edit. They’re people who read your book for free – though some readers are now charging for the service.
Alpha readers look at a first draft or early version of a book; a beta reader will read through it when you’re almost done. If you find a couple of excellent readers, it can help you circumvent an editor and reduce the overall cost of producing your book.
Do not ask your family or close friends – you won’t get the truth.
I discussed the types of people we need in our writing life in a previous article “Writing is a Team Sport” – check it out to learn more about critique groups and different types of readers.
Find a less seasoned editor
Try finding an editor early in their career. This is a gamble because the less-experienced person won’t have the same skills as a professional editor. But, if you’re lucky, you could find someone good who doesn’t charge too much money. Some editors charge five cents a word or more to go through your manuscript. An 80,000 word manuscript would cost $4,000! It adds up.
I just purchased a subscription to an online editing tool to help with copy and line editing. If you have some proofreading or copy editing skills, you might do this type of editing yourself with software. Still have others look at your work, though.
If you want to produce quality work, you must have your manuscript edited by someone other than yourself.
I know I’m being blasphemous by not demanding you use professional editors, but it’s not doable for every indie author. You have to decide what’s best for you.
In the meantime, keep writing!
Diane Hatz is the author of Rock Gods & Messy Monsters and the soon-to-be-released second book in the Mind Monster series, Fallen Spirits. She publishes Diane Discovers on Substack and has a private email list and newsletter for fans and supporters of her work.