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Editing & Design Bring Your Writing Into Focus

You've gotten this far. Be cautious of shortcuts that may jeopardize your success.

So you've finished your draft manuscript. Congratulations! The majority of writers never get to this point. What do you do next? How do you get it ready to publish?

I recommend these 3 steps:

1) Take a break: Celebrate! Walk away from the manuscript and let it breathe. Let your mind relax. You deserve it and you will be much better prepared for the next steps.

2) Edit your manuscript: This is easier said than done. Many writers despise editing. As opposed to the creativity and free flow of draft writing, editing can seem laborious, detail-oriented, and frustrating. But this is where the blurry light comes into focus. This is where your great ideas morph from oftentimes confusing, error-plagued gibberish with nuggets of insight into a compelling read that keeps the reader engaged and content. However, don't overwhelm yourself with fear or structure. Lean on the flexibility discussed in the Writer's Block blog. And definitely don't take the full burden of editing upon yourself. Most of us are not expert editors and even if we are, there will come a time when we've read it so many times that our head spins and we frankly are adding no further value. We need a new set(s) of eyes to take it to the next level. I know some who have done 6-10 self-edits of their full manuscript. The value of the time you put in for each successive self-edit diminishes. I suggest about 3. Otherwise, you may be cutting out stuff that a professional content/development editor may want to see and provide suggestions on.

The following table outlines the key editing steps, costs, and recommendations. However, you must decide which steps are important to you based on your budget and objectives. If you just want to publish your story or memoir for yourself or posterity, perhaps detailed editing is not important to you. But if you want to release your writing to the world, I highly recommend considering each step. I also suggest fighting the convenience and ease of family editing. They are kind to offer their time, but you will not get the constructive feedback you should be seeking.

I'd like to dive in a bit further into Beta readers because this can be a hidden gem:

What is Beta Reading?

  • People read your manuscript and provide content (non-spelling/grammatical) feedback.

Why have Beta readers?

  • Gain free feedback from your target audience to address blind spots and improve the book.

Who is a Beta reader?

  • Could be anyone but ideally, this is NOT family/friends but part of your target readership.

How many Beta readers is ideal?

  • 3-7 “active” Beta readers are ideal; less provides narrow perspective, more can become onerous.

When should I solicit Beta readers?

  • Some conduct after the manuscript is written and well edited.

  • I prefer to conduct as it is written and before extensive editing. I pass my Beta readers a couple of chapters every week with a few pointed questions. The chapters I provide are relatively fresh and with only one “once over” edit from me, so they are still kind of sloppy.

What do you send the Beta reader?

  • Some send the full manuscript (typically for those conducting Beta after extensive editing).

  • I prefer to send 1-2 chapters at a time (esp those conducting Beta reading “as you go”).

Where do you conduct Beta reading?

  • Typically, by sending an email with attached Word/Google doc chapter(s).

  • There are programs to better automate/synchronize feedback.

How do you get feedback?

  • Most writers pose specific questions for each chapter based on their concerns. Does this flow well? Is it understandable? Does it inspire you to read more? What would you add or change?

  • Some writers ask for responses by return email, Google doc/sheet, or red-line document.

What do you do with the feedback?

  • Review all feedback when you are ready to digest and consider. I prefer to finish my initial full draft manuscript before switching my brain to edit mode and reviewing Beta feedback.

  • Look for themes to assist in further editing.

  • You are the writer and own the editing process, so you choose what to include or disregard.

How much does it cost?

  • Beta readers should not charge anything. I would not advocate paying for Beta readers.

  • You should send them a free copy of the published book (eBook via Book Funnel is free to you).

  • You may reciprocate the service.

What are some of the fringe benefits?

  • You connect with target readers who could become customers and part of your launch team later.

Contracting Editors

On all other editing, these steps can help you feel more confident and provide you with the best results:

  • Find a trusted resource either through fellow writers, a trusted organization (I lean heavily on the expertise and resources within the Nonfiction Authors Association), or a local writing club.

  • Reach out well in advance. Some editors may be booked up for weeks so you have to plan forward.

  • Curate 3-5 editors for each phase that have expertise in that type of editing and, preferably, have experience in your genre whether SciFi, romance, YA, memoirs, or other nonfiction works.

  • Send each 3-5 pages or a chapter and request a sample edit so you can get a feel for their style as well as their response time and feedback format. You do not want them to rewrite your manuscript but to provide redline suggestions and commentary.

  • Document your agreement. Few editors will provide you with a contract so be sure you at least have an email stating the work they will do, the timing, the cost, the feedback method (email and/or phone/video call), and the number of turns (some will also review your rewrites based on their edits), as well as the cost of the services and payment structure (I do not suggest paying any more than 50% upfront). There are many great editors out there, but there are scammers too!

3) Cover & Interior Design: much of my suggestions follow in line with those above regarding editing. It depends on your budget and purpose. Many people create their own covers and utilize an online interior formatting/design program rather than pay others for these services. And that can be perfectly fine depending on your level of expertise and purpose.

Cover and interior design are more than just a pretty picture and "widows" (stranded final lines on a book's page) and "orphans" (stranded first lines on a page). There are specific measurements that vary based on your distributor (ie, Amazon, IngramSpark, or other). You don't want words to come to the edge of a page or dive into the binding. You also want to ensure the front and back fonts and sizes are alluring and the outside spine is centered and legible. Again, if you have the inclination and time to learn about these, you can save a lot of money doing it yourself, but often it's worth $500 to know it's being done right.

I've always hired a design team (cover and interior that coordinate together). I figured I've come this far and have a story to tell. People do judge a book by its cover (front, then back, then the table of contents) and so I want to be sure it looks professional. I don't want readers to be able to discern whether it's a self-published book or one produced by a fancy New York publishing house.

As mentioned regarding editors, do your homework. Designers should have a vibrant online website (they are designers after all) with samples and reviews. Some designers say they will deliver you 3-5 covers and you have 2-3 iterations with them to tweak one to use. I used such a designer for my first book and honestly, it was frustrating. I had a wide range of ideas and I felt pressured to select before she started complaining and charging me extra. For the next book, I selected a design team that said they would provide as many options and iterations as necessary until I was happy. That has worked out much better.

While you might get what you pay for with a $50 cover, I haven't noticed that much of a difference between $300 and $1000, so shop around. Finally, be sure you have a contract or email agreement and a clear deadline (especially if you are facing a deadline of your own or if you want to publish before a holiday or event).

Quick Recap:

  1. Celebrate

  2. Self-edit no more than 3 turns

  3. Utilize non-family Beta readers

  4. Hire editors and designers commensurate with your budget and objectives

  5. Find resources through trusted contacts or organizations.

  6. Be sure to document your agreements

  7. Revel not only in finalizing your book but in successfully self-publishing your work!

In May I will cover websites and blogs and how to build your audience organically.


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