New authors often assume that self-publishing a book means doing everything themselves. Nothing could be further from the truth, and that all becomes evident during editing and revision. Successful self-published authors know the value of putting together their own team of editorial professionals. Every step in the revision process represents another chance to achieve a professional-quality product that can compete in today’s publishing market.
Is every step on the editorial revisions flowchart here essential? Of course not. But the more eyes you can get on your book before it’s published, the greater the likelihood that someone will spot another way to improve it and the more likely you are to create a book you will be proud of.
Many editors and authors loop in these processes at different points in the process. The steps are sometimes called different terms; for example, proofreading is traditionally the checking of final layout proofs, but many people use it to describe the last step along the editing road before layout and design. Whatever you call each stage, this is how many of my clients work. You should adapt the process to fit your own needs.
The editing and revision process
Let’s look briefly at each step of editing and revisions and what benefits each holds for your book. Remember that sandwiched in between each of these stages—see the pinkish boxes?—should be a healthy dose of author revision.
1. Complete manuscript The milestone you thought would be the biggest moment of your publishing journey (other than actual publication) is only the first step in the editorial process.
2. A fresh eye Before you can effectively revise your manuscript, you need time away from it. Aim for at least a few weeks, preferably longer. Your goal is to come back to your manuscript with an entirely fresh outlook.
3. Self-revision If you’ve heard that editing is the hardest part of writing a novel, you heard right. Don’t do yourself the disservice of skimming over your first draft to fix a few commas and then calling it done. The most successful authors I work with go through at least three to four drafts before they consider their manuscript ready for another person’s eyes. Try this author’s seven-draft plan. I like Chuck Wendig’s salty advice on how to edit the unmerciful suck out of your story; if you prefer a more sober description, try the Writer’s Digest version instead.
4. Alpha reading Your alpha readers are the first outside eyes on your manuscript. Most authors use less than a handful of alpha readers. Whether your alpha readers are personal or professional contacts, you should trust them to have your best interests at heart and be gentle yet forthright with realistic feedback. All you’re looking for at this stage is reassurance that the story hangs together overall. Avoid readers who want to focus on details like spelling, punctuation, and grammar at this stage; you’re looking for big-picture impressions.
5. Peer critique Once your alpha readers have given you a green light, it’s time to ask your fellow writers to read your book. I’ve written an entire article on how to find critique partners and writing groups. Although many authors skip this step, finding and correcting story issues before you seek professional editing will affect how much time and money your edit will require. At the same time, beware the temptation to get stuck in an endless critique feedback loop. Find the right critique partner or group, get input, implement what makes sense, and keep moving forward.
6. Content edit It’s finally time for a professional editor. If this is your first time taking a manuscript this far toward publication, consult with your editor about what type of editing is right for you. If you are a new author working on a limited budget, I recommend prioritizing a content edit (also known as a developmental edit). Without solid story structure at the heart of your book, no amount of polish will transform your book into a page-turner. I often recommend a plot checkup, New Author Review, or manuscript evaluation for authors who are still on the fence about the strength of their writing or storytelling techniques.
7. Beta reading Now that your story is solid, it’s time to see what readers think. Your beta readers can help you spot remaining story issues, typos, and other errors before you get to the final stages of editing.
8. Line edit (and/or copyediting) Here’s where an editor can really help your writing shine. My line edits cover the mechanics of your writing—what’s often referred to as a copyedit—as well as its spirit (clarity and style).
9. Proofreading The amount of editing (by your editor) and revision (by you) that goes into a line edit or copy edit often astounds first-time authors. Whittle down the chance of typos and errors that didn’t get caught in the main crunch with proofreading, whether you choose to hire a pro or farm it out.
In the self-publishing process, I recommend a final review after line editing (or copyediting). The term proofreading is traditionally reserved for the proofing of final layouts, but I’ve found that most people think of it simply as “the last check,” and the editors I recommend for this service also call it proofreading. Whatever you call it, a final review is a smart choice at the end of the editing process as well as following layout and design.
10. Formatting and layout This is simple enough to handle yourself, but templates or professional assistance start at affordable rates.
11. Advance Reader Copies (ARCs) While you’re doing the final corrections on your layout, you can send ARCs to readers and reviewers in order to score some advance publicity and reviews. Be sure to proofread the final product again.
12. Publication You’re there! But the beauty of self-publishing is that publication isn’t a finite point. You can make periodic revisions whenever you find typos and other issues (and even after all of this, you inevitably will).
Ready to get some editing done? Take a look at my services, and let’s talk about how I can bring clarity to your manuscript.