Is Self-Publishing Becoming Elitist? Seven DIY Steps for Self-Editing

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On a blustery Sunday afternoon, a question on a discussion forum has caught my attention. How does a writer on a tight budget manage to self-publish with current advice demanding expensive editing services?

Do you notice how I purposefully say current advice? In the four years I’ve been at this game, I’ve seen the list of the things self-published authors must spend their money on alter many times. Trying to keep up with those dictates will have a would-be author whipping to and fro like an airport sock in the crosswinds of the landing strip.

As I read through the comment stream related to the above question, I was surprised by the number who rejected the idea that a tight budget or even no budget at all was worth consideration. The question was often answered with slavish adherence to the notion that there is no other option but to pay for editing services. No one says how. Perhaps robbing a bank is not out of the realm of possibility.

Let’s break this down. Editing services exist on a spectrum. Content editing will help the writer identify plot holes, structural issues, problems with continuity and believability. Line-by-line copy editing will examine the work for proper sentence structure, grammatical usage and consistent spellings across the manuscript. Proof-reading will catch typos, missing words and misplaced or missing punctuation.

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That is an expensive pack of editing services!

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Okay … before I am roasted at the stake for going against accepted wisdom, I admit to as much frustration as the next reader when I download a self-published book and the work is not up to scruff. But here’s the rub – poor editing doesn’t make me stop reading. If the story is good, I will stick with it to the end. I may rail and fume that it could have been so much better but I won’t stop reading.

I don’t want to see budding authors discouraged by the fact that the latest wisdom demands editing services which cost hundreds of dollars.

I’m going to make a few suggestions related to self-editing but first, a caveat. You must believe you have a good story in you to write. That is an absolute prerequisite. Time and hard work will tell if your belief is real. Without the willingness to work hard to write that story, no amount of money spent on an editor can help you!

If you are working on a shoe string and committed to producing the best book you can – don’t despair. Here is what I do.

1. I write, rewrite and rewrite until I feel sure I can’t make my work any better. Of course, I’ll be wrong but self-editing is an iterative process – always bending back and over itself. I will do a minimum of twelve drafts of a novel before that work ever reaches the stage of line-by-line editing. That represents a number of hours dedicated to rewriting and rereading. Structuring Your Novel: Essential Keys for Writing an Outstanding Story by K.M. Weiland has been helpful to me as I do rewrites.

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2. I put what I’ve written under a microscope by asking questions of my story. Does it make sense? Are point-of-view shifts carried out with clarity? Is the story plausible? Do the characters act true to the way I created them? Does each three dimensional character have a defined story arc? Have I rooted out the repetition and the parts that do not move the story forward? Are the technical details correct? Are the loose ends tied up? A book that I find invaluable at this stage is, Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King. My copy of Browne and King is heavily underlined, highlighted and filled with post-it-notes.

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3. I create a hardcopy and I read my work out loud – the whole book, every time. I don’t have an audience but I read aloud all the same. This process allows me to catch a number of issues. Redundancies become obvious in a stunning and disconcerting way.

4. I am fortunate to have a trusted other to read my work. (I must emphasize with the italics and my bracketed comment that this person must be someone who is in your corner but not afraid to be truthful.) We get so close to our work that it does take another pair of eyes to point out where things simply don’t make sense.

5. Early in my writing career, I purchased copies of a few basic grammar books. Strunk & White’s, The Elements of Style is worth its small weight in gold. I work at applying the basics line by line.

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6. I email my word document to my Kindle and I read it there. I catch more typos than I’d like to admit.

7. Finally, I urge you to get innovative – check out your local high school or community college. There may be a teacher or an upper level student with ability in editing who is willing to help on the cheap.

Though it is true that you can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear, if you have started with the silk of a good story, I believe you can make a decent purse without spending a fortune. The key is hard, hard work. If you have a story worth telling, you will not be afraid to invest sweat equity in the endeavour.

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