The Editorial Department (Part 1)

Any publishing venture starts with a book. I assume you have already a manuscript either in progress or completed and that you plan to make your book available through one or more publishing portals. Because this series focuses on the business aspects of book publishing, we’re not going to cover the how-tos of book creation in depth. If you would like to know how I write, read here. If you need more information on self-publishing portals, please check out my post here.

Let’s begin our discussion of your Book Business in the Editorial Department.

The most critical part of the pre-publication process is editing. In reviews, readers can leave all sorts of opinions about your characters, plot, and style, but those facets of a book are subjective, open to interpretation. But reviews can also contain objective, provable feedback about typos and spelling and grammar errors. Poor editing stands out, but writers can take simple steps to prevent embarrassing typos by hiring professional editors.

You cannot proofread your own work. I don’t care who you are, at a certain point, you become so familiar with your writing that your mind supplies words/letters/phrases that may actually be missing from your manuscript. I worked as a professional editor for more than ten years, and I hire professionals to edit my work. I cannot do it myself.

Spellcheck isn’t going to cut it. Spellcheck may be wonderful at fixing simple spelling errors and typos, but it cannot yet tell you if you’ve used the wrong word entirely. Consider this screenshot my friend sent me from USA Today:

Yikes! Don’t let this happen to you.

Because “pubic” is spelled correctly, spellcheck did not indicate a problem. But clearly there is a big problem here. No one can dispute that is wrong and careless, and errors like that devalue your product. Good editing is worth the cost.

Money Saver: Beta readers (knowledgeable friends who read and critique your work) can save money. However, use them with care. Sometimes friends may not feel comfortable being as honest as necessary to help you create your best work possible. You need a critic, not a yes-man. Betas also may not have developed the skills to asses a manuscript problem and offer a solution. Beta readers can be great as long as you know they come with risks.

Pro Tip: Hire a Professional Editor

When in doubt, hire a pro. Before I became a full-time writer, I worked as a freelance editor, and before that, I worked as a copy editor at a small press, so I’ve been on both sides of the author/editor relationship. There a few simple steps that can help smooth the road for both parties.

Contract Matters

  • Get a sample edit. Before entering a service contract with an editor, get a sample edit. Send the editor some pages and ask them to perform the service you need—proofing, copy editing, story editing—on those pages. This will benefit you because you will know exactly what you are getting beforehand, and it will help the editor know what level of work is required for your manuscript.
  • Get a contract in writing. This is a business deal, so be smart and protect your interests. This should include the level of service, fees, and timetables.
  • Never send the full payment up front. When I freelanced, I asked for half the cost up front and half upon completion. That protected both parties.
  • Agree on a deadline. The editor should have a time limit. The contract can’t go on forever. You have a deadline, and you don’t need the editor sloughing your work off for a higher paying job.
  • Make sure you understand how your fee will be determined.

Fee Calculation

  • Per Hour: The theory behind this billing method is the cleaner your manuscript, the less time it will take to edit, and the smaller your bill. Sounds good, but it’s also the least defined method, and you’ll be depending on the editor accurately tracking her time. You won’t know if she’s playing Pong for an hour and billing you for the time she spent bouncing a little hyphen around a screen. If the editor you like uses this method, get some time estimates or build a fee cap into the contract.
  • Per Word: After looking at your sample pages, the editor will give you a fee per word based on the level of editing you request and difficulty of the manuscript. You’ll know ahead of time exactly what you’ll pay.
  • Per Page: Same general concept as the per word system. If you are paying the editor per page, then make sure you understand how pages are calculated. For example, I did it this way: The standard page, typed in Times New Roman (12 pt) with 1 inch margins, holds approximately 250 words. To determine the number of pages in your manuscript, the editor will do a word count of the entire work and divide the total number of words by 250. For example, if your manuscript has 60,000 words, the editor will charge you for 240 pages.

Next, we’ll talk about the different editing levels: what’s involved and what to expect as far as cost.

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