Indie Publishing for International Writers, Step 3: Edit Your Story

This is the third post in my continuing series INDIE PUBLISHING FOR INTERNATIONAL WRITERS, a step-by-step guide to getting your stories into (digital) print. I’ll be doing each step with you, learning as you do, because I’ve never done this before either.


Now that your cover has attracted readers inside to sample your writing, you better make sure your book is professionally edited. 

If your book is not professionally edited, your sales will be affected.  Most readers these days sample a work first.  On Amazon, you can download a chunk of most books for free to see if you like it.  The size of the sample is set by the author, but it’s usually around 25%.

Yesterday, we talked a little about the importance of editors.  If you haven’t read that post, go back and read it now.

If you have any mistakes in your work (and you will, no matter how clean you think your prose is), they will be spotted by the readers, who have been known to leave scathing reviews of books they have only sampled.  If you doubt this, click here.

And even if readers buy your book without sampling, if they find mistakes, they will never buy anything by you again.  Not a great business plan, but writers do this all the time.  The absolute worst thing you can do is publish something that is badly-edited.

All writers, no matter how talented, no matter how firm their grasp of grammar, need editors.  Hire one, or you will regret it.

Now that we are clear on that, how do you go about getting an editor?  Again, like your cover designer, a personal recommendation is the best way to go.  Many self-published writers plug all the services they use on their blogs and websites.  If you are a fan of any of these, check them out.

Failing that, writers’ forums such as Absolute Write and Kindle Boards are great resources.  They will help you find editors, and warn you about scammers.  Kindle Boards has more of a focus on digital publishing and the indie writers there are very helpful about sharing their tips.  But Absolute Write is great too, lots of writers of all kinds with all levels of success with areas of the forum that deal with any conceivable writing topic.

If you are based in the U.K., The Word Cloud might be more your cup of tea.  It’s run by The Writer’s Workshop, an editing consultancy (of which I have heard good things), but the advice you receive there is impartial, they don’t push their products, and they will recommend alternative services.

For U.S. writers, you may notice that prices in the U.K. are cheaper, but unless your book is primarily aimed at the U.K. market, I recommend that you stick to a U.S. editor, or at least one with experience of editing for that market.

Before forking over your hard-earned, check the editor out thoroughly.  Like any such area, there are scam artists and inexperienced operators who will take newbies for a ride, wasting their limited resources and producing bad work.

Ask them for testimonials from someone that has actually used their services.  Check their references, check them out on writing forums, agree rates in advance, and, most importantly, get a sample edit before you pay anything – most editors will provide a free sample critique of 1,000 words or so.  If they don’t, avoid them

Every editor, like every writer, has a different style.  The sample edit will allow you to see if you can work together effectively or not.

Even if you have a tight budget, don’t try and save time and money by skipping the self-editing process above or dispensing with beta readers.  Your editor can only work with what you send her; a polished turd, after all, is still a turd.

There are also lots of different kind of edits you can get, but I will talk about the two most relevant.

If you are not sure if your novel is working, or need some general advice on structure, unrealised characters, plot holes, or whether your manuscript is ready for publication, I advise that you get a manuscript appraisal, but please note that a sample edit is not usually provided for this kind of edit, and your novel will not be ready for publication after receiving this edit.  You will still have a lot of work to do to address the concerns raised, and will need further editing.

For a full size novel (80,000 to 100,000 words) this tends to cost between $400 and $600.  In return you will receive a ten-page (or so) report on what is working and what is not.  The editor will provide plenty of examples from your novel to illustrate their points, but what you will not get is a fully marked up manuscript pointing out each instance, along with suggestions.

If you are beyond this point, and all you need is someone to check for grammar, punctuation, run-on sentences, comma splicing, and so on, what you need is a copy-edit.  What a copy editor will not do is point out that your story isn’t working, that your characters are not engaging the reader, that your ending is weak, or that your plot doesn’t make sense.  This is something you should have already weeded out with your beta-readers.

Copy-editing is usually charged by the hour, and rates can be anything from $40 an hour to $250 an hour, depending on the pedigree of the editor involved.  The lower end of the spectrum has many, many fine editors (research is key), and the higher end of the spectrum will be the guys who have edited bestsellers and prize-winners, and this has allowed them to raise their rates.

When you contact the editor with your project and explain what you are looking for and your level of your experience, they will tell you their hourly rate, and give you an estimate of the fee.  It’s only an estimate because the editor doesn’t know how clean, or riddled with errors, your manuscript will be.  Again, here the sample edit will be a useful guide for both of you.  While it’s often normal to pay in advance for a manuscript appraisal, for copy-editing you pay some money in advance, and the rest on delivery.

If you are balking at these prices, remember this: it is an investment in your work.  Please don’t make the mistake of sending an editor work that isn’t ready.  It should have been self-edited by you (over several drafts, especially if you are starting out), and it should have been torn apart by your beta readers (and put back together again by you, then approved by your beta readers).  If you don’t know what I am talking about, or you are not convinced, go back and read this post, it will save you a ton of money, and a world of heartache.

There are some editors out there looking to build their portfolio, offering their services for free.  Let me be clear, I do not recommend this for beginning writers.  If you have stories that have already been professionally edited, as they have been published by magazines, and now you want to put them online, then this approach could work for you.  I would not recommend ever doing this for a novel.

Some of you might be tempted to get a friend to edit for you, because they have a Masters in English Literature, or they work for a newspaper, or they are a published writer, or whatever.  Again, I strongly urge you to reconsider.  Professional editing is essential.

Yes, you have to pay for it, and it’s expensive.  But if you ask readers to pay for something, you better give them a professional product.

I’ve said this before, but I’ll say it again: if you want to be successful, you must treat this as a business.

Now, for the purposes of my experiment, I am planning to publish a series of short stories at $0.99, then bundle them into collections of 5 or 6 and sell them for $2.99.

The first release will be two short stories bundled together, as they are both quite short, and I want to give a little extra value for the opener.

The first story had been already published (and thus edited) by two different magazines. The second story will need a copy-edit.  Here again, I did my best to keep my costs down. I contacted an editor who I knew of through a writers’ forum and explained my project. She quoted me her rates and then I sent her the piece (1,900 words), and now I am waiting on the sample edit to come back.

The cost for editing a short story will work out between $80 and $150, depending on how clean it is, and how long it is, and it usually work out cheaper to send them a whole collection at once. Shop around.

If this sounds like a lot, remember that when I bundle the stories together into a collection, I will have no extra editing costs (all the stories will have been edited and released separately first), and I might even be able to use one of the covers I already have, with slight modifications.

So now I am waiting for my cover designer and my editor to come back to me so I can move onto the next stage, formatting. But instead of hassling them to hurry up, I’m going to write some more stories.

Just a brief note: there may be a slight hiatus until the next post in this series FORMAT YOUR STORY while I figure out all the bits and bobs, as well as a way of presenting it that won’t put everyone asleep.  The blog will continue in the meantime.

David Gaughran

Born in Ireland, he now lives in a little fishing village in Portugal, although this hasn’t increased the time spent outside. He writes novels under another name, has helped thousands of authors build a readership with his books, blogs, workshops, and courses, and has created marketing campaigns for some of the biggest self-publishers on the planet. Friend to all dogs.

0 Replies to “Indie Publishing for International Writers, Step 3: Edit Your Story”

  1. Hi David. Great advice as usual. Given the disparities in UK and US spelling, which do you think you should adopt for your e-book? Or should you have dual formats available, one for – say – and another for

    1. I think most readers are smart enough to know that they are reading a book with U.K. spelling or U.S. spelling. Having said that, it only takes one or two, and then you have a one-star review that could affect your sales.

      Also, I think U.K. readers will be more forgiving (and more used to) a book with U.S. spelling, but I am not convinced the same goes in reverse.

      This is a difficult area, because it’s not something I would necessarily recommend that you attempt yourself (i.e. making a U.S. version of your book). Aside from probably not catching all the different spellings, there are myriad differences in usage that are tough work for an experienced editor to get right. If I smoke twenty fags in America, that means something very, very different. And while they will call someone and they don’t pick up, we let the phone ring out. But these are obvious ones, and they are the ones the reader may spot anyway, its the less obvious ones that will make your reader think your phrasing is clunky rather than foreign, and take away from what you have written.

      Ideally, your editor would be able to provide you with two versions when they are doing their copy-edit. This is the way I am thinking of going, but I have yet to make a decision. One factor that is holding me back is this: a lot of people order from the site anyway (especially in Europe, outside Britain), so all that work could go to waste.

      Maybe we should just give up and color the language American.

      1. Hi Aonghus,

        My editor kindly agreed to provide a US and a UK version of my edited stories (or at least to highlight the changes that need to be made) at no additional cost, which solves my problem neatly.

        This may not work for everyone, as she said there wasn’t much to do. I have been told that my style is quite “American” before, whatever that means.


  2. Thanks for getting back to me, Dave. It does seem to be a bit of grey area, doesn’t it? I was thinking of spelling rather than phrasing – and spelling is relatively easy to fix, as I can just change my spell check from UK english to US – but where do you draw the line? I guess if you were marketing your book exclusively on, then your American readers would have no real grounds for complaint. But whereas I might go to to find a product after checking, I wonder if the reverse is as likely – ie. an American customer checking out

    1. Hi Aonghus,

      I’m not 100% sure what you are asking – but you could always ask an American friend to proof it for you, or try getting some help on an American writing forum like Absolute Write.

      But on a separate note, why would you restrict yourself to The U.S. is the biggest book market in the world, the e-book market is far more advanced (6 times larger in relative terms), and even if what you are writing is extreme micro niche local interest, it costs nothing to list, and you never know who will be looking for something where.

      Also keep in mind that outside of the UK, customers are directed to for Kindle purchases. So if European customer wanted to buy your book (except Germany), that’s where they would be sent. I can’t remember about Ireland (I haven’t been home in a while), but I think it’s the same.


  3. In Joe Knorath’s long conversation with Barry Eisler, Barry says:

    “To turn a manuscript into an actual book and get it into the hands of a reader, we still need an editor, line editor, copyeditor, proofreader, jacket copy writer, bio writer, cover art designer, and digital formatter.”

    Ignoring the proofreader, that’s 3 different types of editor. Are all these really necessary? And what does he mean by the first one (“editor”)?

    1. Hi JB,

      This link should explain all the different kinds of editor at a publishing house:

      There is all that, plus an acquisitions editor – the one who actually purchases the novel from writers/agents.

      I think what Barry Eisler was referring to was the developmental editor, which if you need it, is something that can be covered by a manuscript appraisal, or excellent beta readers.

      I think most self-published writers can handle writing their bio and their jacket copy themselves – there is an art to it, but it’s not hard to learn.

      Line editing/copy editing can be done by the same freelancer – my editor is doing both.

      Proofing is the stage where you have incorporated all of the changes your editor has suggested (or those you agree with), and you do one final pass to make sure there are no errors.

      In any event, a lot of the proofing job (checking page breaks, fonts, headers, footers, spacing) in e-publishing is moved to the formatting stage. You will see what I mean when we get onto that next week.

      You don’t necessarily need a professional for this stage, I’m doing my own proofing as I have done it for law firms, but you can hire someone to do this if you aren’t confident you could do a good job yourself, it’s cheaper than normal editing, and you might be able to work something out with your editor – most editors will do proofing too.

      However, if you are writing non-fiction, and you have a lot of tables, graphs, charts and so on, proofing becomes more important.

      I hope that explains it, if you need to know anything else, please ask.


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