One of the biggest debates in the self-publishing world these days is: do self-publishers really need editors? The answer is yes, yes, and yes. You need an editor, or rather you need editing services. There are (basically) 3 kinds of editing and you need to go through all three steps. However, you may or may not need a professional editor for all three! So why do so many self-publishers think they don’t need an editor?
One of the main motivations for self-publishing is keeping creative control, as I mentioned an earlier post in my series on how to self-publish teaching materials. That means self-publishers sometimes avoid editors. They may view the editing process as a loss of control, with editors are imposing their will on the writer. In fact, a lot of self-publishers in this group are trying to avoid conventional or mainstream approaches, and may feel (rightly or wrongly) that the editor is obstructing that vision.
I think it helps to remember that editors are there to make the work better. Editors do have a different point of view, but it never hurts to consider other ideas and perspectives. It is true that editors may well have a more conventional point of view, but then your readers and customers may also be more conventional. It’s not giving up creative control to get advice from professionals who have worked with a lot of teaching materials. Finally, one of the joys of being a self-publisher is that the editor works for you. So if you really don’t agree with their suggestions, you don’t have to take them.
Another reason self-publishers sometimes question the need for an editor is that they want to put an idea out fast. They are tempted to skip as many steps as possible. It is true that hiring an editor or getting someone to do editing for you does add to your publication time. However, nothing is more embarrassing than putting out a work that has a huge typo on the first page. Or realizing your description of an activity left out key details and the teaching tip on page 45 only works in your context. There’s no point rushing out a low-quality product. Editing may take time, but it’ll pay off in sales, downloads, exposure, and/or reputation-building that a carefully edited and revised work will bring. Fingers crossed!
There are also writers, often writers of genre-fiction who self-publish rapidly and on the cheap. Their goal is to sell as many books as possible, and honestly many of them are very successful. Some brag about never editing, revising, or rewriting. They bang out novel after novel and they can do well for themselves!
However, writing genre-fiction is not the same as writing educational materials. Dedicated readers of genre-fiction like romance, fantasy, and horror, are voracious and often open-minded. They may forgive a typo or badly written prose if the plot is engaging, the characters fun, and the book hits the genre hotspots (This is in no way a judgement or criticism of these readers. I’m a huge mystery buff, and I will overlook all sorts of things in the name of a good puzzling crime!).
Remember, that teachers may use your materials day after day and year after year. I can forgive a mistake in a book I read once, but if I have to explain that the Answer Key should say “has” instead of “have” every time I use a worksheet, it gets old fast.
That being said, editing as a self-publisher doesn’t need to be super elaborate, formal, or expensive. You, the writer, will be doing some of the work yourself. You probably also don’t have the resources for level after level of editing. And finally, you may indeed want to put out an idea that is slightly rawer and more innovative than mainstream materials!
The Three Types of Editing Services for Self-Publishers
I hope I’ve convinced you that yes, self-publishers really do need editors. So what editing services do you need? I suggest a self-publisher needs three types of editing:
- content editing (or BIG PICTURE editing)
- copy editing (or DETAIL-ORIENTED editing)
- proofreading (or FORMATTING-FOCUSED editing)
Content Editing: Does the reader get what you’re saying?
A content editor looks at a full manuscript and it’s the first time an editor looks at your individual words, not just concepts and sections and structure. You may have also heard this referred to as developmental editing (technically these are different things, but the terms are often used interchangeably to mean big picture editing).
A content editor does not look at typos, grammar, or style. Rather, they look at larger elements of your book such as voice, clarity, cohesiveness, and comprehensiveness. They may be suggesting moving or rewriting paragraphs and sentences, or perhaps even giving ideas for chapters to add or remove.
The goal of a content editor is not to stifle your creativity, though. It is to make your ideas clear and accessible to the general public. And in the world of education, particularly ELT, your readership is going to be very diverse. It’s hard to make generalizations about what they know and don’t know! So I strongly recommend finding a professional editor to help you. A good editor knows how people read and access information and they know how to structure a text to appeal to people. Truly, the value of another pair of practiced eyes simply cannot be overestimated! I used to be amazed how often I would leave key details out of a book, such as how to draw a hopscotch field, because it was so obvious to me.
There are a number of places to find good quality editors:
- Reedsy is a great source of professional editors with good experience and reasonable rates. I particularly like how most editors include a resume and portfolio so you can get a sense of whether they are a good fit or not. I’ve hired more than one person who used to work in-house at major publishers, a big plus!
- Fiverr.com is a great freelancer marketplace for everything including editors. They don’t vette the freelancers though, unlike Reedsy and other sites. So you have to read the profiles very carefully and remember that you often get what you pay for. If an editor promises low rates and quick turnaround that might mean they aren’t doing the best job. On the other hand there are some real professionals on there with reasonable rates!
- Upwork.com is similar to Fiverr, with the same caveats. One nice thing about Upwork is that you can create a job application process with questions and specific minimum criteria. This can really help you find the person you want with the experience and qualifications you want!
- Linked-In is where you find out you already know an editor. Because profiles highlight experience and portfolios, Linked-In is a great resource for finding professionals!
- CIEP (formerly the Society of Editors and Proofreaders) is a great place to find UK-based editors. Among other things, their directory includes the editors’ areas of interest and training, which is always helpful.
If you are on a tight budget, your content editor may a colleague or a friend in the education world. Or you may know a professional editor without even knowing you know them! So tap your network! But I strongly recommend getting an outside pair of eyes on your manuscript. And that person should be representative of your target audience or experiences working with teaching materials and books so they can give helpful and practical feedback.
And don’t forget that content editing may go through more than one stage. After you revise, you’ll probably want the content editor to take another look. You may also have questions or disagreements. A good copy editor will take their idea and your idea and suggest a third way. Sometimes after feedback, I end up rewriting an entire section that now needs to be copy edited again! There’s no point in hiring an editor and not revising with their feedback in mind!
Student Centered or Student-Centered. Or Studentcentred?
You’ll also need a copy editor or line editor. Technically, line editing is different than copy editing, but for simplicity sake, I use copy editing to refer to editing for typos, grammar, punctuation, word choice and style issues. These issues may be mistakes or inconsistencies. Copy editors look at the words, phrases, and sentences to make sure that there are no errors and that the writing is clear and correct. They don’t usually look at ideas or concepts. You should be past that by now.
Most copy editors follow a style guide. You may know of Chicago, AP, or MLA as ways to format references and bibliographies, but these organizations also put out guidelines for conventions such as when to hyphenate high-school, whether to use USA or U.S.A., when to write 3 and when to write three, and whether to use an Oxford comma!
The first thing I learned as an editor is that style is in fact a matter of preference (for the aim of clear writing), not right or wrong! So, consistency is the most important principle but it’s also important to meet reader expectations! In my experience, educators are more likely to notice errors and inconsistencies than other groups! If you want to come off as professional to a teacher, you need to dot your i’s, cross your t’s, and know that the Chicago Manual of Style, rule 7.61 says plurals of individual lowercase letters are formed with ‘s. That’s what a good copy editor does.
I’d recommend finding a copy editor in the same places I recommended above. It also never hurts to have friends look your MS over for mistakes. No matter how many professional copyedits a book goes through, there’s always a mistake I only hear about from a Facebook friend!
Once your book is written, edited, and illustrated, it needs to be formatted and then proofread. Book formatting requires its own post. However, I’ll mention proofreading here briefly as it’s the third level of editing. Proofreading means looking at the final book and making sure the design is correct. Proofreaders check for formatting issues such as: are the headers all formatted correctly and consistently? Do numbered lists go in order? Are pull quotes indented the same throughout? Does the text start and end in the same place on every page? Are images places correctly and text-wrapped around them? Is there a random blank page in the middle for no reason?
I do think that you, the author, can do this yourself as long as you weren’t the designer. If you formatted the book yourself, you need a fresh pair of eyes. Proofreading tends to be quicker and less costly than other editing, but it’s vital. A mistake in the design will standout and confuse readers far more than a misspelled word! You can probably already guess where to get proofreading services!
A final word on working with editors as a self-publisher. It’s important to find an editor whose style works with your own. Some editors make terse comments, others spell out their thinking in hundreds of words. Some will simply say you need to revise a paragraph, others give 3 suggestions how to revise, and some will do a suggested rewrite for you. Some ask a hundred questions to get in your head and some will have their own strong point of view, which you can follow or not! There’s no right or wrong way to work. It’s more about finding a style that works for you.
Do self-publishers really need editors? Leave a comment or give your feedback on what makes a good editor/writer experience! And if you found this article helpful, check out all my posts on self-publishing here.