To the Indie Author: Six Strategies for Improving Your Edits

Okay, fellow indie-authors. Earlier in the week I posted about the importance of getting your book edited. But what if you can’t afford the exorbitant costs of editing, and don’t have the eyes for the task yourself? Should you have to wait for however long it takes to get the extra funds, all the while your manuscript is sitting idle, waiting to be published? If you’re one of the many starving artists who are living paycheck to paycheck, you could be waiting quite a while, and that can get frustrating, as well as discouraging.

Although hiring a professional editor is the ideal choice, there are ways you can work to improve the quality of your book’s conventions and structure, without having to shell out hundreds of dollars, or have the proofreading skills of an English professor. Understand that the alternates are a more tedious path and not foolproof, but if you can’t hire that professional, ANYTHING you can do to improve the quality of your manuscript is something you should constantly focus on. Here are six ways you can do so…

  1. Beta Readers. Before you publish, do everything you can to get a small group of loyal colleagues to read over your manuscript and ask them to note any changes that are needed. Be forewarned: people will offer to read it for you, but will wind up not doing so. I had at least ten people offer to beta read. Only three of them actually did so. People are willing, but life gets in the way. It’s nothing personal so be understanding, but most of them will put your project on the back burner and eventually forget about it. Don’t do what I did. Instead, when people offer, divide the work. Send each person a different chapter or two. They may be more likely to take the time out for you if the workload is only so much. And be sure to ask people you know who have a knack for spotting errors. Email your high school English teachers, any friends who are teachers or journalists, hell, if your grandmother used to correct you when you used the word “kids” instead of “children,” informing you that “kids are baby goats,” you definitely want Grandma on your beta reader team.
  2. Find Good Work That’s Cheap. No such thing? Guess what. There are seniors in college who major in this kind of thing, and they’ve acquired the skills, but they’re not yet qualified to charge you the big bucks. They’re in a phase in which they’ll soon be looking for careers in the field of journalism or copy editing, and what’s more important to them than money is building their experience and profiles. Call the colleges and universities in your area and ask if they have a career message board in which you can post an announcement that you’re looking for a copy editor for your manuscript. Offer a stipend within your budget, but also offer to include their name in your Acknowledgment Page, and offer yourself as a reference for them when they go job hunting. Be prepared to write a letter or recommendation for them. Be warned: there’s a chance they won’t find all the errors. I did this for my first book, and the kid left a lot of comments throughout the first half of the book. Then he told me that the second half was free of all errors. I still found tons of errors in both halves after he was done with it. I’m pretty sure the kid just got tired and said, “the hell with it.” However, the updated manuscript was still an improvement from the former.
  3. Read Through the Book Yourself, and Read Out Loud. And Repeat. And REPEAT…. This is where that, “Take pride in your work” comes into play. It’s tedious. It’s tiresome. You’ll keep your local coffee shop in business all by yourself. And you’ll risk losing your mind to insanity… you’ll start talking to yourself… maybe to your computer screen… the computer may start talking back. But remember: this is your baby. I’ve read over my manuscript countless times. It took me weeks. But each time I went through it, I found more errors. I had hired that college kid, and one of my three beta readers happened to be a former coworker and fellow English/Reading teacher who was kind and saintly enough to spend her winter break to go through the whole story and mark it for errors. She had found more errors than the college kid. Even so, I still went through the manuscript myself, and I still found more errors. And I mean no disrespect or discredit to my former coworker: she helped me immensely, and I’m forever grateful to her because those holiday breaks are more valuable to teachers than oxygen! The point I’m trying to make is that, even with four extra sets of professional eyes (I had two other beta readers as well), I still took the plunge into the maddening world of reading through it over and over, just to try and get every paragraph, every sentence, every word, every punctuation mark as perfect as I could. Because this was MY book. This was MY baby.
  4. Lower the Price. So maybe you don’t have an English degree, and you haven’t succeeded in accumulating skilled beta readers. You feel you’re as ready as you can possibly be to publish your manuscript. Okay. Do it. But for God’s sake, don’t charge $4.99 for the book. I know. It’s not fair. People are willing to pay five bucks for a latte at Starbucks that takes the teenager behind the counter two minutes to whip up, and then they even tip the kid. All for a morning drink. But they grumble over $5.00 for a 100,000 word-long work of literature that someone spent months, maybe years, pouring their blood, sweat, and tears over to create. It sucks, but that’s the way it is. Even knowing this, I still had issues with this one book that was priced at $4.99 and was not only filled with conventional errors, but contained holes in the plot, was filled with inconsistencies and redundancy, lacked basic transitions in between paragraphs, lacked descriptive imagery, and the writing style itself was mediocre at best. I honestly thought to myself, “Where does this author get the nerve to charge people this much, when I’ve read much more talented work for much less?” And you know what (and this is the honest-to-God truth)? If the book was only $.99, I definitely would’ve been more forgiving, and instead I would’ve thought, “Okay, not bad for a buck.” So, the reader in me suggests to you to be honest with yourself. If you want to share your story, but you know that your writing skills need work, rid yourself of the delusion that you’re going to make tons of money as a self-published author… at least when you’re just starting out. If you’ve only published one book so far, even if it’s perfect, you’re still only going to make so much. Each month, you’ll get a deposit into your account from Amazon that will probably amount to no more than what would fill your gas tank… if it’s a good month. Trust me, jacking your price up won’t help. So really, it’s better to price your book at $.99 until you can save enough money to hire an editor and improve the quality of your book. If readers only have to shell out less than a dollar for your book, they’re more likely to cut you some slack when it comes to conventions. *NOTE: The only time you as a new author should jack your price up: before you’re about to run a free promotion. It looks like a better deal to the customer if they see a book priced at $4.99 that’s now free. But after the promotion is over, I’d lower the regular price back down.
  5. Get Educated. There are plenty of workbooks filled with easy-to-learn exercises to help you gain a stronger understanding of structure. I’m not talking about basic “Hooked on Phonics” activities. There are so many rules of grammar, and it’s difficult to know them all from the top of your head. But a lot of these books break them up into sections by category, making them an easy reference. When I first started teaching English, I had purchased a couple books of this nature in order to help me create grammar lessons for my students. As I went through unit by unit, using the information to create exercises of my own with which to give them practice, I found that by doing so, I had learned the rules and lessons far better than they had (It helped that I had to teach the same lesson six times a day, as I had six different classes). More importantly however, is the fact that a good amount of the information was new to even myself. One example was that of “farther” vs. “further.” At one point, I didn’t know that “farther” refers to physical distance, whereas “further” pertains to one’s progress in something (as in, “After reading further through the chapter, I discovered that the butler was the culprit.”) It wasn’t until I came to that section in the book’s unit, and prepared a lesson for my students, that I learned of this rule myself. I was amazed by how much I didn’t know. Now, I’m not saying you need to go through each chapter and lesson (though, if you’re obsessed with perfecting the writing of your books you might), but at least have one or two of these books as a reference. Most of them have an index in the back where you can look to quickly find the rule on something that you’re not sure about. If the idea of this makes you groan, you can also find many answers to the rules of grammar and sentence structure by Googling it or watching a YouTube video as well. Personally, I prefer a book because I have everything compiled in one place. Either way, you really only have to do the research as necessary. For example, you’re writing your novel and come to a moment in which you write down the word “effect.” But then you aren’t sure you should use “affect” instead. Right at that moment, minimize your document, open Google on your web browser, and type “effect vs. affect.” Voila.
  6. Network and Unite with Kindred Spirits. This is by far one of the most helpful methods. There are plenty of author groups. You might be lucky to find one that physically meets up somewhere in your town. Even if there are no local groups, there are plenty on social media. Join them, get involved in discussions. Make friends. You may have certain strengths that can help others, and in turn you may find others who are skilled at things you lack. If you can’t afford to pay for an editor, perhaps you can barter for services. For example, you may excel at web design and can offer to build a website for a fellow author who is also a great editor. Or perhaps you’re great with graphics and are a wiz at Photoshop. Plenty of authors are in need of someone who can design a captive and appealing cover for their books. I wouldn’t join a group and immediately start offering such an agreement. Get to know the people in your group. Let the relationships build. I’m fortunate to be part of what’s called an author team. Author teams are set up by joining Books Go Social. The great thing about it is that the purpose of the team is to help support each other. We promote each other’s books, and we read and review for each other as well. Even better, when we read one of our teammate’s books, and we spot a typo or error, we mark it down and then let the member know once we’ve finished reading. I was able to clean up some of the remaining typos in my book, thanks to the keen eyes of a fellow team member. Having joined the author team has been more helpful for me as a newly published author than any other method, as we’ve learned much from each other, and we’ve all grown exponentially. It’s fairly inexpensive to join up with Books Go Social. Click here to learn more about their services.

Again, I repeat that hiring a professional editor is the best route to take, but if that’s just not an option for you at this point in your career, it’s okay. See, the beauty of self-publishing is that, even after your book is live, you can still go into your account and make changes to your manuscript. So there’s nothing that says you can’t publish if you haven’t gotten an editor. Just be willing to keep making touch-ups and improvements after the fact. Never self-publish your book and then wash your hands of it. Perform regular tweaks whenever you discover the need for one.

Whether you’re a seasoned author or just starting out, the most useful wisdom you can possess is the understanding that there’s always more to learn about your craft. Keep that in mind, remain open to others, and be a sponge. And KEEP WRITING! Just like with any skill, the only way you’ll get better at something is through constant practice, and the determination to keep getting better at it.

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