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Self-Publishing? These Editing Tips Will Ensure You Release a Quality Book

by | Feb 3, 2014

We all hear too much how the self-publishing market is riddled with half-baked, poorly-edited books, and you don’t want to fall into that pile. But when you read advice from self-publishing gurus or million-dollar indie authors, you’re terrified at the budgets and must-dos they throw at you.

How will you ever have the resources to publish a great book?

You already do. While few creative people with big dreams are loaded with disposable income to fund their first few projects, we do have tons of valuable skills and expertise to trade and networks filled with other skilled and creative people.

The Write Life has teamed up with Self-Publishing School to create this presentation, “How to Write & Publish Your Book in 90 Days.” In it, you’ll learn how to finish your book in just 30 minutes per day. To sign up for this free training, click here.

When it comes to producing a great book, self-publishers need only follow these two rules:

1. Don’t publish a crappy book

You want to produce a quality book your audience will love. You want to rally people around your message. If your book achieves those objectives, the other rules probably don’t matter, right? (Cue heckling from editors and grammar geeks!)

In most cases, atrocious punctuation and sentence structure will, in fact, distract readers from your message so badly your book will be ineffective. Standards are built in. Don’t write like you never went to high school.

However, in many cases, your readers will not notice whether you consistently place spaces around your dashes or not. Or whether your period is placed inside the parentheses or out. And they might even look past a couple of typos.

When you’re self-publishing, your audience defines what a crappy book is, not a gaggle of editing and publishing professionals. Align your writing process with your readers’ standards, and you’ll create the book that’s right for your audience and your brand. (Click to tweet this idea.)

2. You’re not a good judge of whether your book is crappy or not

This is the caveat, and, I hope, it’s where I win back the sticklers a little. Note that nowhere above do I say YOU get the last word on the quality of your book. It’s all about your audience.

You’re too close to your ideas and your manuscript to give it a fair review, so you do have to find a fresh set of eyes (or several) to do that.

But that fresh set of eyes does NOT have to be a top-dollar pro editor. (Sorry, editors.) If you have the budget and the need, go for it. If you don’t, you have other options.

Here are a few thrifty ideas to help you tackle the various levels of book editing:

Developmental Editing

At this level, you’re drafting the vision and goals for your book — the big picture stuff. You could pay a book coach or developmental editor to guide you, or …

  • Start a mastermind group where you can run your book vision by other people in exchange for feedback on their own ideas.

  • Join a writing, critique, or networking group to connect with like-minded people to exchange ideas and feedback.

  • Barter with a book coach to guide the development of your manuscript in exchange for hours of your life coaching/business consulting/website design/[insert your killer service here].

Content Editing

At this level, you’re ensuring your draft is readable and aligns with the goals you set for the book. To get it done for free …

  • Offer a free advance copy of your book to loyal readers in exchange for feedback. Give them a manuscript review form (like this one from Stacy Ennis) as a guide to ensure you get direct, usable feedback.

  • Offer yourself as a mentor for a budding writer or entrepreneur in exchange for his feedback on your book.


This is the editing most people think of as “editing”: adjusting mechanics, syntax, and semantics to polish your manuscript. To get skilled eyes on this thing …

  • Reach into your network and hire newbie editors to copyedit at a low rate in exchange for the experience, a testimonial and a referral source.

  • Enlist your English-teacher aunt (really, she does know her stuff) and give her a style guide for your manuscript. Give her free babysitting for a year, or copyedit HER next book in exchange.

  • Hire an affordable, knowledgeable contractor through a service like elance, oDesk, People Per Hour or the publishing marketplace Writer.ly.


Once you think the book is finished, review it to catch any final mistakes in writing or design. For this final, detailed run …

  • Share small sections of the finished book with anyone you consider a competent reader (any eyes can notice an extra “the” or missing “a” in a sentence that you won’t catch.)

  • Join or start a writers’ group to exchange manuscripts with other writers you respect for proofreading.

How have you made sure that your self-published work is up to snuff?