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Tuesday, May 29, 2012

How To Get Professional Book Editing For (almost) Free!


For the sake of argument let's pretend that everyone who stumbles onto this post is an intelligent human being who knows what editing is and why books need editing. Next, let's assume you're looking for professional editor because you've decided self-publishing is the right route for you. Also, for the sake of argument, let's pretend you are dead broke and can't afford a few thousand dollars for a professional editor for your manuscript.

Because of the cost many frustrated authors feel that their only option is to muddle along as best they can, publish the book, and then release updated editions as readers point out the flaws. This can work, but it tends to alienate readers and gives you a very bad reputation. Read Krista D Balls' I Ain't Your Beta Reader for the full argument. You don't want to be that author.

Luckily for you, there are ways to skip the expense of a professional editor and the shame of being a slapdick author who wants money for a rough draft.

Step 1: The Lost Art of Patience
I kid you not, this is what kills most self-published authors. This is why you see agents on Twitter reeling in horror because someone is querying with a half-finished novel. You know what happens when the rejections roll in? Slapdick throws up an obscenity-laced post about gatekeepers and publishes the first 1/3 of their novel the very same day.

This won't work.

I could write a whole post on why this won't work, but I won't. Suffice it to say that slapping up your first few chapters of an unfinished work is about as tactically sound as shooting yourself in the foot before a major land offensive. Don't do this. Susan Jane Bigelow wrote about the anxiety of writing sequels a while back. Read up on that if you don't understand what a bad idea this is.

Step 2: What Kind of Edit Do You Need?
There are new authors who think there is only one kind of edit. I try not to laugh at them.

Edits come in at least three forms: Content, Line, and Formatting. Content edits look at what works, what doesn't, and consistency. These are the Big Picture edits, and the chances that you'll find a professional editor who you can pay to do content edits are slim. Especially if you want cheap content edits. Line edits check for grammar and punctuation. Formatting could arguably be something you do yourself, but if you don't know how to format a book you either need the patience to learn or to find someone who has already learned.

Conning For Content Edits
Content edits are the most expensive, the hardest to come by, and the edits that most self-published books need but skip. Honestly, this is the biggest deal breaker for most SP series I've started. I read the first book or two, the author improves a little, but at some point they gain a solid readership, build traction, and their writing flat lines. They start making the same predictable mistakes again and again and again. If you ask them, most will say they have a crit partner who does content edits.

This is great, I love crit partners, but I know from experience that they aren't perfect. There's a good chance your crit partner is your friend, they think like you, and they will miss the same mistakes you will. Case in point: EVEN VILLAINS FALL IN LOVE. The manuscript went through two my favorite crit partners before I sent it out, and then my first editor found a line that implied one of the villains was burning people alive. That's not what I meant! And my crit partners knew I didn't, so they didn't mark it as a problem. My editor had me change it.

EVFIL went through those two crit partners, two editors, a line editor, and the formatting editor and, you know what, there's still a typo in one of the chapters. A sharp-eyed reader called me on it and I had hysterics for a good twelve hours.

Now, imagine how bad all of that would be with just one reader who reads all your work and knows how you think. That's the problem with limiting your content edits to one person. The good news is that content edits are some of the easiest to get for free. Here's how...

Join a Critique Group
- Shop around until you find a writing group that meets your needs. If the group is online make sure that it's a password protected site so you don't lose first rights. This isn't a big deal for self-publishing and most small presses, but it will be an issue if you decide to look for an agent and a Big 6 deal.

Author Swap
- If a large writing group isn't your style look for several authors who are in the same boat as you are. Try to build a team of different personalities and writing styles so you have people looking at it from every angle.

Serial Novels
- This will appeal to those without much patience, but just enough not to be a Slapdick Author. Serial novels are only for work that you intend to self-publish, and take advantage of the blogosphere to get readers to help you edit. Most novels that started as fanfiction (like FIFTY SHADES OF GRAY) used this method of editing. What you do is write a chapter a week and post it on your blog. Readers come and read, the comment, they tell you what they want to see, and catch your typos. Once you've finished the novel you take it off your blog and sell it as an e-book.

Contests and Auctions
- This is one of the most under-utilized areas, possibly because it isn't always free, possibly because new authors aren't as plugged in to the publishing community as they need to be. If you follow the right people on Twitter (i.e. literary agents) you'll see weekly tweets about contests where tweeting about their author's book can earn you a free query critique, or first five pages critique, or something similar. Crits for Water and the Brenda Novak charities both offer authors a chance to win critiques from authors, agents, and editors for a fraction of what you would normally pay for a line editor. Yes, it can be pricey, but it's cheaper than the alternative and even a partial critique can give you what you need to whip a book into shape.

Tomorrow... Looking for Line Edits


  1. Great list here! I had to chuckle at your Slapdick description.

  2. Thanks for the ideas. I think most people shy away from posting anything online without any kind of copyrights protecting it. Too bad that editors are so pricey. At least it's in private - unless the editor starts bad mouthing their clients on Twitter (I've seen it way too often.)

    1. A good online critique group will have copyrights marked. If you're paranoid about beta-readers stealing your work you could ask them to sign an editing contract of some kind, but I think that's extreme. In my experience the authors who worry the most about their work being stolen are the ones whose work is the least ready for publication.

      But... there are stories and it pays to be careful.

  3. *nods* When I'm critiquing I read through once first to get a feel for the story and see what stands out immediately. Then I go back paragraph by paragraph, examining how they flow together and how the lines work by themselves. I pay particular attention to the images the words invoke and, if the images don't seem to match the story plot, I mention it in my crit.

    *grins* That's why I've mentioned things that stand out for me with your posts. My inner editor can't let it pass. Hubby says I should try for a job as a beta reader for a company but I have no idea how to even get noticed by them. I haven't seen any ads for beta readers. *shrugs* It would be a great at-home job though, being able to read as much as I want, edit, and be paid for it.

    Anyway, I try to be the type of editor (critique group member) who looks at both content and line. I know I can nitpick over grammar but I also know I'm not an expert. Besides, the rules have changed slightly since I took my English classes and I'm not always certain which rules apply now.

    As far as posting anything online, I assume that someone someplace will steal anything I post so I don't post anything I want to retain control over. Of course, I also tend to hand out copies of my poems to friends and families for gifts so there's a lot of my work floating around. I'm an honest person and ask if I can use someone else's work even if only for my own enjoyment but I know that not everyone is that honest.

    Okay, I've rambled enough. Looking forward to tomorrow's post.

  4. This people stealing your stuff thing myth needs to die.

    Even after it's been published, even after it's been out there, it can still be stolen. So unless you want it to sit in your room under lock and key, it can get stolen.

    Now, there is a difference between stealing your work and submitting/selling it and taking your idea. I could take Liana's idea of villains in love and write my own version. I can guarantee that my version would be rather difference than her's ;) 50 Shades of Grey is an example of that.

    If anyone "stole" my web serial, for example, it would be easy for me to prove that it's mine. All of my dates match up plus my tweets about it plus, you know, the folders of it on my hard drive with original drafts. It's annoying, but you can get something stolen taken down from sale without needing to involve courts and lawyers and law suits.

    Further, most critique groups are closed groups, so it does require people to log in, logging their IP addresses and whatnot. If any hint of theft of work happens, they are quick to help clean it up.

    Don't let a fear of theft (especially if we're talking first drafts, which can be often unreadable) stop you from participating in a critique group.

    1. I'd be wary of counting on computer files for proof of original writing.

      I could easily steal a copy of your work, place it into a file on my computer, and show that my file predated yours and therefore you stole from me. Since I don't have a Twitter account I wasn't able to tweet about it and also I can state that I was waiting for a chance to publish before putting the word out about it.

      All by simply changing the date on my computer and saving the file before setting the date back.

      Oh yeah, the Spelling/Grammar Nazi says that it should be "my version would be rather different than her's."


    2. As someone who has witnessed a takedown first hand, I can tell you that yes, it is rather easy to prove you wrote the work.

      Really, it's when your work is published that people will want to steal why. Stealing someone's unfinished work is rather dumb.

  5. I'm going to join Krista in this one - it is often easier to prove who the original author was than people realize. I've seen it happen in a case where the original author didn't even know the work had been used by another. It wasn't that hard to figure out which came first.

  6. I couldn't help but laugh at the 'burning alive' comment. That MIGHT be a significant worry. :D Glad you caught that prior to publishing!