Guest Post: Editing for Indie Authors

Karin CoxSelf-publishing has always suffered a bad reputation when it comes to quality, but guest blogger, author and freelance editor Karin Cox is now starting to see independent writers taking real pride in their work and ensuring it is as polished as possible before they publish—even paying an editor, a cover designer, and, in some cases, a publicist. As a result, the old stigma of self-publishing as a vanity exercise is fading as some successful independent authors, such as Mark Edwards and Lousie Voss, J Carson Black, and Amanda Hocking, are snapped up by agents and publishing houses.

Despite having worked in the trade publishing industry for more than 14 years, and being published by traditional publishers for children’s fiction and non-fiction, Karin’s forays into editing for self-publishers have inspired her to self-publish some of her own work. Her poetry anthology, Growth, and ebook of short stories, Cage Life, were published in July. Here’s what she has to say about editing for the self-publishing market.

Cage LifeI’m the first person to admit that a subjecting a book to an edit can be daunting, but as an editor and an author, I also know that the editorial process is necessary. Many people skimp on editing because they think it is too expensive (and it can be), but in reality, most freelance editors don’t charge for all of the hours they actually put into a manuscript. Why? Because writers would simply baulk at the cost, and, as in all markets, you’re only worth what people are willing to pay. For a long time it seemed the amount most self-publishers were willing to pay was nothing. And that has adversely affected the perception of quality in self-publishing.

That indie authors were reluctant to pay for editing was probably a result of them having to set aside a huge wad of cash to have their books printed. Nowadays, that cost has vanished. Using print-on-demand services for print books, or publishing e-books, has removed those costs, allowing authors to put their hard-earned dollars into professional editing and cover design instead, which are, in my opinion, much more important to the overall success of a story than what ‘container’ the words come in.

I think self-published authors are also far more aware of industry standards, largely thanks to the internet and to really helpful networks of independent authors, agents and editors willing to share information.

Growth: PoemsIn the past, many self-publishers thought editing was simply proofreading—picking up spelling errors or typos—rather than about dissecting a manuscript to see if it worked on many levels. There was a tendency to think, “Mum’s good at English, I’ll get her to do it.” But, usually, even the most literate mum or aunt, or even journalist friend, isn’t up-to-the minute on grammatical practices or preferred word usage in the book publishing industry. Even what I was taught at school is no longer common practice in some editorial styles. I’m seeing more and more independent authors with good grammatical knowledge and writing skills (and I’d urge all authors to invest in a style guide of their choice and really study their craft), but even so, an editor’s eye is objective in the way an author’s eye can never be.

Although every author, and every novel, is different, many of the writing errors I see are the same—showing instead of telling, overwriting, poorly punctuated or unauthentic dialogue, adjective and adverb overload, dangling modifiers, plot issues and loopholes, and characters that lack dimension or the relevant motivation to play their “role” in the plot. Even from genre to genre, the issues vary only slightly. As a result, I rarely do straight proofreading or copyediting jobs, and tend to see myself as a freelance book doctor, focussing on a range of issues and offering a complete substantive and copyediting service for self-published authors, which means doing several reads through a manuscript and editing in track changes mode in Microsoft Word.

I know that there will always be authors out there who can’t afford to pay for a full edit, so I also offer manuscript appraisals, which are more affordable but far less comprehensive. Ideally, I’d love for all self-published authors to be able to afford the luxury of an edit, but I know that’s not always possible. It hurts to see a manuscript with so much potential crippled by flabby prose, or an overcomplicated plot, or battling on with characters whose actions are inconsistent or implausible. Thankfully, the more I work with the indie community, the fewer such books I’m seeing. My advice to indie authors would be: do what you can yourself and self-edit your book as carefully as you can, and then seek editorial advice. Also, remember to look at editing as an investment not a “cost.” It’s an investment in your writing skills and it’s an investment on behalf of your readers. Not paying for an edit could well cost you an audience.

You can read more of what Karin has to say about the publishing industry, editing and writing at or, follow her on Facebook, or follow her on twitter.