Self Publish Australia



By Sheryl Clark

People often ask if hiring an editor is necessary for a self-published book. It depends on your skills as a writer – do you have trouble with grammar and punctuation? Do you know how to use a style guide? Are you able to pick up your own errors?

The writing and editing in your self-published book must be the best you can do, and then it should be even better. The last thing you want is readers noticing mistakes or poor writing and then saying, ‘Oh well, it’s only self-published’. You know yourself how offputting it is to read a book that has obviously not been given that critical eye and final polish.

If you decide to hire an editor, or even just to ask someone to read the manuscript whose opinion you value, you should edit it yourself to the best of your ability. This will save everyone time, and save you money. Achieving the required distance from your writing is difficult. In order to do this, you should put your manuscript away for several weeks to help you gain a ‘fresh eye’ for it. Then begin by looking at the following aspects:
  • Have you found that perfect title yet? If you’re still wrestling with several choices, road-test them with friends and acquaintances to help you select the best one.
  • Does the opening catch the reader’s interest? Are they going to want to keep reading, drawn in by your first words? In a children’s book, the first sentence should get them in. Your first poem in a collection should be one of your strongest.
  • Does your book fulfil its promise? In fiction, all those elements of character, plot, theme, dialogue etc. should be working together in a sound structure. In poetry, you should have weeded out all the weaker poems and given careful thought to the order. Poems wrongly placed can alter the whole tone and sense of the book. A non-fiction book should tell the reader concisely and clearly what they want to know, with effective use of headings and sub-headings. It should be well organised, with material in the right order.
  • Does your conclusion work?
  • Is your material accurate? Even in fiction, if you have errors in your background material, such as a street out of place or the wrong king’s name, you will undermine that ‘suspension of disbelief’ which allows the reader to enter your fictional world. In non-fiction, errors will undermine the credibility of your whole book. Where possible, check your facts and figures in more than one source. Don’t rely on the internet – go to primary sources where possible. You might find three or four different versions of the same incident or details. If you can’t ascertain which is correct, choose the one that correlates best with your other information and add a note, perhaps a footnote, regarding the other versions. Use your judgement about anecdotal material, especially where you might offend someone.
  • Are your paragraphs working? Are your sentences well-constructed, of varying lengths to avoid dullness?
  • Is your spelling, punctuation and grammar correct? Have you stuck to your style guide? Use your spell checker and dictionary. It might pay to ask a friend to help with your corrections if you are planning to hire an editor. It will save time and money later.
  • Is your manuscript printed out on clean paper, with clear print and double spacing? This makes it much easier for everyone to read.

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Getting Feedback

There are several ways in which you can get critical feedback. If you are in a writing group, ask for a higher level of workshopping and comment than you would perhaps normally receive. You may only be able to ask them to look at two or three chapters, but you can apply their comments to the rest of the work. You can also ask friends with experience to read your manuscript and comment. Don’t ask people who don’t read, or aren’t capable of separating the text from you personally. This usually rules out family members and close friends!
Ask them to be specific in their comments. They should point out what isn’t clear, any queries they have, what they didn’t like and why. Ask them also to be brutally honest but don’t argue or get upset when they are.

Take a few days to calm down, then look at the manuscript critically with their comments in mind and consider all aspects. Remember that these people are all your first readers, your sample audience, and they can help you iron out problems before the book goes out to a wider audience who will be paying for the privilege and want their money’s worth.

If you have no one who can give you good critical feedback, one option is a reputable manuscript assessment service. Assessors are anonymous but all are professional writers or editors. They will assess fiction, poetry, children’s books and non-fiction. Rates vary, but you are looking at a minimum of $300.00 for a 100,000 word novel. For your money, you will receive a written assessment (on average 4-5 pages) which will tell you where your strengths are and what isn’t working. Most importantly, the assessor will say whether your book is ready to submit to a publisher, which for self-publishers means it is good enough to stand up in the marketplace. This assessment does not include editing; it is a general critique.

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Using an Editor

You may wish to hire a professional editor, particularly if you intend to compete in the commercial market with your book. This could be expensive so get quotes first. Freelance editors should look at the manuscript first so they can estimate the number of hours required to edit properly. If your manuscript is in a mess or needs lots of work, it will cost you more. The recommended rate is $30-40 per hour, depending on the complexity of the job and the experience of the editor.

It is sensible to provide prospective editors with a brief outlining your requirements.
A common question is “If my manuscript is 200 pages, why does an editor quote on an hourly rate rather than by the page?” This is because every manuscript is different. For something that is well-written and doesn’t need much editing, an editor may be able to work at 8-10 pages an hour. But for a manuscript that has a lot of errors and needs extensive copy-editing, an editor may only be able to complete 3-4 pages an hour. Consequently, the difference could be an extra 40 hours of work – that equates to around $1200.

The Tasmanian Society of Editors provides a very handy online brochure that details how to approach an editor, what to expect, what to ask for. It’s called “Why Do You Need an Editor?” -

Links to the Society of Editors in each state (their sites will give you local information and information on contacting freelancers) are at

An editor will give you professional, independent, unbiased criticism. They will point out inconsistencies, repetitions, ‘woolliness’ and disorganised material. When you are too close to your writing, there are many things you just can’t see for yourself. If you have devised your own style sheet, make sure your editor has a copy of this. Discuss your needs with your editor, decide what you want done and confirm it in writing, including the maximum cost. Don’t be overawed --- make sure you find an editor to whom you can talk confidently and freely, who understands what you want to do.

You can obtain a register of freelance editors from the Society of Editors in each state. New Zealand also has an official Association of Manuscript Assessors that includes editors -
and a Local Publishers’ Forum site that has links to freelance editors -

Most sites will list editors in your geographical area as well as those who edit specialist publications. The Society’s register entries will tell you the qualifications of each person and what other publications they have worked on. Some editors are also able to provide design and typesetting services, or can refer you to reliable professionals they have worked with.

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Other Editing Elements

While you are in the editing process, make sure you have started to gather all the other material you will need, such as photos, diagrams, maps, etc., and don’t forget to apply for any permissions needed (be aware of copyright laws). Keep a record of what you need and mark each item off as you receive it, then store it carefully. You may want to write your captions and chapter headings now, if you haven’t already done so, and begin compiling your bibliography, glossary, appendices etc. Check that you have the correct information to write captions for your photographs. Family photos are notorious for including anonymous people whom no-one recognises. Check spellings of all names, places and dates.

Probably the most important point to keep in mind about writing and editing your book is to put your ego to one side. You are publishing for a buying audience, and in order to make them feel their money was well-spent, your writing and editing must be topnotch. It is a job that very few people do well on their own. If you don’t intend to sell your book, you will still have readers with expectations – they will not take your book seriously if it’s not up to the standard of other things they read.

Note: If the book which is being published is an anthology from your writing group or club, you should work out how the selection of material and editing is to happen. Some contributors may need much more editing than others --- how will this be handled tactfully but firmly? If the policy is that everyone gets to have a piece of writing included, try to ensure a high level of quality. You should compile a style sheet that every piece in the collection will adhere to. This should include preferred spellings (eg: recognise or recognize) and formatting of dialogue, just two areas which can be problematic.

Will you appoint one or two people as supervising editors? Someone with the final say might be useful, as long as everyone respects their judgement. Try to sort out and agree to all these details before you start, and maybe avoid bloodshed! Or at least a feud which might last for years (I kid you not).

© Sherryl Clark, 2007.
Click here to read more about Sherryl.

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  Getting Feedback
Using an Editor
Other Editing Elements

* Self Publish Australia is hiring suitably qualified editors, please contact us with your resumé

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