I recently corresponded with a newer author who was looking to self-publish her book-length memoir. The reason? She believed it would be faster and easier to get her book into the world if she went the self-publishing route. She informed me that she herself had worked as an editor, albeit some time ago, and so was pretty good at picking up grammar errors and the like. As she was also on her second draft, she believed it shouldn’t take very much effort to self-publish. She wanted to explore the possibility of working with me in order to achieve this.
As this is a fairly common situation to authors, I thought it might be helpful to share my abbreviated reply to her here.
The process of self-publishing a book is not necessarily faster. When an author is published by a traditional publisher, the publishing company manages all of the editing, proofreading, layout, book cover design, etc. (the marketing is now something the author is expected to do or energetically contribute to in most cases, unless one is a very big name!). With self-publishing, the author is in charge of all of this, as well as the writing. That doesn’t mean it’s not do-able, but to do it well usually requires an outlay of time and money (including time to figure out what absolutely has to be done and what you might be able to cut corners on). Generally speaking, the more professional the book appears, the better its chances are. But it also depends on who the expected readership is.
In terms of editing, it’s not unusual for a first book to go through two or more rounds of developmental editing (“big-picture” editing for structure, plot, pacing and so on), before the book is edited for grammar, spelling, punctuation, etc. (generally known as a copyedit). The book would then usually be formatted (often by the author, but there are book formatters who will do this for you) and proofread (a last check for errors, formatting inconsistencies and so on) before being uploaded onto Amazon (or your provider of choice, though Amazon is the biggest and most widely used). In between each round of editing, the author would need to check the file and make decisions about the manuscript. With a copyedit, these changes would mostly involve wording, but with a developmental/structural edit, they could involve whole chapters being moved around or, sometimes, reconsidering a plot thread.
Of course, not every author goes through all of these steps. Some authors undergo a developmental edit in order to strengthen their story and writing technique, but others rely heavily on beta readers or critique partners for story feedback. An author might then move onto either a copyedit or a sort of proof-edit (a proofread with extra attention paid to grammatical issues). For the authors who skip professional copyediting, they would usually try to do this on their own. For the authors who skip proofreading, but opt for a professional copyedit, they would usually spend extra time checking and double checking their formatting prior to publishing. I hope that makes sense?
While some copyeditors will pay attention to the plot and story while editing the writing itself, generally, editing the grammar is a separate step from editing the story.
I’m a developmental editor, so I focus primarily on the big picture of the story, not the grammar of a piece, though I sometimes point out typos or any egregious errors I discover while reading (and, of course, anything that impacts on the general “voice” of a piece, such as point-of-view and major tense issues). Because a story may change quite a lot after a developmental edit, there’s not a lot of point in correcting the grammar at the same time. In general nonfiction developmental editing, it’s more common to combine these functions (but this is different with creative writing).
Also, as a developmental editor, my approach is generally to point out any weaker areas in a story, explain what’s not working and why and then provide advice on how the author might address/strengthen these areas. In other words, I don’t make any changes to the story myself as I believe it’s up to the author to make their own creative decisions about their work. So, after I finish an edit, an author usually has a lot of rewriting to do!
Whew! Sorry, that’s a lot of information. I just think it’s important to lay that out as not everyone is aware of how much can be involved in self-publishing and in the editing process.
As you can see from my reply to her, self-publishing can be just as complex a process as traditional publishing!
Are you a self-published author? If so, what was your experience of the publishing process?
Until next time,