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Self-Publishing: With or Without an Editor

Ahoy, fellow authors and adventurers of the written word. Today, we voyage into the often tumultuous waters of working with editors as self-publishing authors. The editing journey is not for the faint of heart, but fear not; it’s totally doable depending on your goals.

Self-Publishing: With or Without an Editor
I write for myself, revise twice to tell my story, then edit for everyone else. –J.F. Lawrence


Before diving into the challenges, let's meet the key players on this editorial stage, each with their own focus. Editors can come in any combination of the following.

Developmental Editing focuses on the big picture items in your story like plot, structure, and character development. Market prices can range from $1,000 to $5,000 or more, depending on the scope of work. Editors often charge between $0.04 and $0.10 per word depending on experience, expertise, and the specific demands of the manuscript.

Line Editing involves wordsmithing. The editor delves into the nitty-gritty of your prose, smoothing sentences, refining language, and catching grammatical errors. Costs typically range from $0.01 and $0.05 per word, which can also mean $1000 to $5,000 depending on the length of your work.

Copy Editing deals with grammar, punctuation, and consistency. Prices vary widely, from $500 to $2,000, depending on your needs.

Proofreading gives you a final set of eyes before you send it off. They catch those pesky typos and formatting issues. Costs can range from $200 to $1,000.


As a self-published author, budget constraints are a reality. Navigating the sea of editors and their varying price points can be challenging. You often get what you pay for, and sometimes free is too expensive. We can’t afford to turn off readers, and good editors will help you keep them happy and reviewing your book positively.


On my first novel, I splurged on a top-notch developmental editor with a hefty price tag, only to receive feedback that boiled down to, "Do a better job." I remember staring at the half-page of comments, feeling a mix of frustration and bewilderment. She was highly reputable and had worked on successful novels in the genre that I’d read. It turned out that she usually dealt with more experienced authors and didn’t know where to begin with me.


Investing in a professional editor is like polishing the treasure chest that holds your literary gems. Readers can spot a well-edited book from a mile away, and it often translates into greater sales and positive reviews. The credibility gained from a polished manuscript is a priceless asset in the competitive realm of self-publishing.

While tools like Grammarly, MS Word, and Google Docs can catch glaring errors, they can't fully replace the nuanced touch of a human editor. (Yet?) Line editors bring a professional eye that goes beyond mere grammar correction. They consider your writing style, voice, and the overall coherence of your narrative.


Working with an editor requires a willingness to embrace critical feedback. It's a dance of collaboration where your creative vision meets their professional insights. Learning to accept and trust their experience-driven advice is a skill that evolves with time and writing maturity. Leave the ego at the door. Give your hard work a chance to benefit from their help, because that’s what they’re in it for, to help authors.


In the quest to keep costs down, many self-published authors, including me, turn to low-cost or free editing tools. While Google Docs is perhaps the best free tool of all time, it is far from perfect. It will find some grammar and spelling issues while overlooking others. Grammarly is fantastic, but many of the more advanced tools come at $12/month. Note that Grammarly doesn’t work as well on longer documents and may behave differently from within Google Docs than in other places like Atticus. MS Word, which many have for other reasons, will catch problems missed by G-Docs and Grammarly and vice versa.

All of these lack the finesse and nuance of a human editor. When comparing $5000 and $0.00, most of us are forced to go with $0.00 (or $144 per year).


For some authors, the allure of self-editing beckons while for others, the idea is a worse punishment than death. The reality is that editing your own work is challenging and many people would rather focus on writing. If you have the means and desire to offload your least favorite part to someone else, then I envy you. Even after editing my novels 10 times, readers still spot typos. I’ve had errors in every novel I’ve published, all of which I fixed after the fact on Amazon, iTunes, and Barnes & Noble.


The fellowship of literary comrades should be your first line of developmental editors who offer valuable feedback. They’ll show you how they see your story every time you exchange works. I’ve tried virtual writers’ circles, but consistently fell away from them because I struggle to visually read (for reasons…), but with the advancement of modern text-to-speach, I’m planning on joining another group.


Some beta readers are self-publishing authors’ greatest friends. When you find them, treat them well. I’ve been known to give gift cards or free copies of the hardcover. Sometimes they’re authors themselves, in which case, they understand a great deal about the process and what makes a story even better. In some cases, they’ll want a reciprocal beta-read, and it’s a free option. Just be careful and tell them what you’re looking for.

Enter beta readers and your writer's circle—a fellowship of literary comrades who offer valuable feedback. While they can't fully replace the experience of professional editors, their insights are a crucial part of my editing journey, saving me from ruining a story with a single inconsistency. Beta readers provide fresh perspectives, catching plot holes, and inconsistencies, and offering a reader's viewpoint.


Sample Edit - Some editors will work through some number of pages of your manuscript to show you how they work before moving on. This is particularly important if you aren’t speaking with them in person. Finding an editor whose style aligns with your vision is paramount. It's not just about technical proficiency; it's about elevating your work.


I no longer use an editor, instead relying on friends, fans, and what I’ve learned over the years to convert my stories from ugly monsters into well-told gritty stories. It takes a lot of time to revise my novels in 10+ rounds. The sooner I can get outside eyes on it, the better it works. If for no other reason, there’s nothing like hitting send on an email to find a hundred errors in what you just sent.

For line editing, I rely on text-to-speech. If it doesn’t sound good when read by a monotone computer voice, it isn’t good enough for print.

For proofing, I rely on a combination of MS Word, Google Docs, and Grammarly. Interestingly, Kindle Direct Publishing sometimes finds misspelled words when I upload my manuscript even after I’ve been through it a thousand times.

Someday, I hope to have enough sales to cover professional editors. Until then, I’ll do what I can with what I have.

(Did you spot any editorial issues in this post?)


As always, I appreciate your support of self-publishing and indie authors. In the name of putting myself out there, here are a few of my works.


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