A lot of new writers are struggling with income and want to cut corners on editing or proofreading. This blog is to point out some of the risks involved with going that route and, along the way, show why copyeditors and proofreaders are worth the money. Whether my blog convinces you to hire someone or not, it is important to have someone else look over your work to find errors that would be obvious to anyone besides you (since you wrote it and therefore can’t see it) and to point out holes in your manuscript. Find someone who will give you honest, constructive criticism, even when it might hurt your feelings.
Self-Editing or Self-Proofreading
You may think, “I can self-edit or self-proofread rather than paying someone else to do it.”
You should always self-edit before sending it to anyone else. Use resources available to you to become better at self-editing. I recommend Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King if you’re writing fiction. It definitely helps you hone in on some of the mistakes that an editor would catch.
However, the problem with self-editing or self-proofreading is that you already have what you intended to say in your head. When you read it, it’s never with completely fresh eyes. Therefore, you will always overlook some errors.
Instead, use self-editing as a way to get your manuscript in as good of shape as possible before sending it to a copyeditor or proofreader for one last look. If your manuscript is in good shape, the copyeditor or proofreader can charge less because your manuscript will take less time.
Friend with English Degree
You may think, “My friend has an English degree. I can ask him to edit. He’ll probably do it for free or for cheaper than a copyeditor or proofreader.”
That’s true. If you’ve gotten a quote from a copyeditor or proofreader, you may be astonished at how low the cost is to have someone with an English degree read your manuscript. Beware the friend with the English degree though. Just because he has an English degree doesn’t mean he follows Chicago Manual of Style, the accepted style guide for books and much other nonfiction. He may have been in school decades ago, and grammar rules have evolved since then. You could very well end up with a manuscript that appears outdated, even though it’s brand new.
Use your friend with an English degree like a self-edit capacity as described above. Use him to get your manuscript in better condition before sending it to a copyeditor or proofreader for a final review. Again, the better shape your manuscript is in, the less your editing or proofreading fees will be.
Former English Teacher
You may think, “My mom is a former English teacher. She’ll edit my book for free. I don’t need to hire anyone.”
Much of what I said above about friends with English degrees applies here as well but with one additional problem. Schools in the United States don’t follow any standard style guide when teaching grammar. Additionally, what people are taught in school changes over the years and by district, so
there’s no reliable consistency. Your manuscript definitely will not be in line with Chicago Manual of Style if you use a former English teacher who has no other training.
As with the other categories, use your former English teacher to get a manuscript in good shape before sending it to an editor or copyeditor and have reduced fees.
You may think, “My beta readers are checking for all of the things that a copyeditor or proofreader would check. And they’re free! I don’t need to pay a copyeditor or proofreader.”
Beta readers are fantastic for helping you find issues with your plot. For example, they can point out things such as where they weren’t able to follow what was going on. However, they likely do not have any specific training in grammar, punctuation, or Chicago Manual of Style.
They are also working for free, so they may not be fully invested in giving you useful criticism if it’s going to take a lot of their time. They may just hit the highlights.
Finally, beta readers are usually your friends, family, or fans. They may have a hard time being critical, so you may end up with only positive feedback.
They are also not specifically trained to look for anything; they’re just reading for pleasure. I have a recent case where I was doing a sample copyedit of a few pages of a fantasy novel, and I questioned why the king had summoned two people, even though one of them didn’t talk throughout the entire scene. She realized I had a good point. Her response was something along the lines of: “You caught so many things my beta readers missed! I reworked that entire chapter to make it better.”
I’ve said it in another blog post, but it bears repeating here: you get what you pay for. If you want to look like a professional writer, hire a professional copyeditor or proofreader. We are trained professionals. We follow style guides. We study grammar and punctuation (it’s fun!). We specialize in certain areas to make sure we’re providing clients our best work. While we’re sensitive to the work being your baby that you’ve poured your heart and soul into, we’re not going to lie to you to spare your feelings like your friends and family might. You’re guaranteed to get a better product from a professional than you would from an amateur.
Still don’t believe me? Get sample edits and quotes from a few copyeditors or proofreaders, preferably one who specializes in what you write. For example, I have a business background, so I’m comfortable copyediting most business writing. However, I have taken classes specific to fiction copyediting, and my favorite genres to copyedit are fantasy and sci-fi. I also have experience helping foreign writers sound more American.
From the sample edits alone, you should be able to see the difference versus your friends and family. I have never done a sample edit where the author did not see the value of what I bring over any free/reduced-rate editing he or she may have had done already. I expect you’ll get the same results and will be happy you scraped together the money to pay for a pro. Then you just have to pick a copyeditor or proofreader that you think you’ll collaborate well with to make your manuscript better.