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Self publishing and the importance of proofreading


Okay, I've done a little research and it seems to me that the basic e-book self publishing process consists of these steps:
  1. Write a book
  2. Go to Amazon's Kindle website or similar
  3. Upload the book
  4. Upload a book cover
  5. ???
  6. Profit
There appear to be some people providing services in formatting books for different e-readers like the Kindle, the iPad, and so on. There also appear to be a few websites, blog posts really, which provide a step by step guide on how to e-publish thorugh various e-book publishers.

What struck me is that more than once I came across this advice:

Don't pay for professional proofreading; do it yourself, and get family and friends to proofread for you too.

Now, I can understand where this is coming from. Professional proofreading is expensive. I'm shortly going to start a proofreading business myself, so I've done the research on the standard rates. It's not cheap. At a range between £7 and £14 per 1000 words for proofreading, you'd be lucky to have much change left over from a grand if you've got a big chunky fantasy novel that needs proofreading. But since I do have a vested interest here in being paid, I want to ask a few things:

Assuming you have a 100,000 word novel, would you shell out for professional proofreading, or would you trust in your own ability and the ability of friends and family to catch all the inevitable mistakes? For my part, having had no training in proofreading (as yet) I don't think I would trust myself to thoroughly proofread my novel. For a start, I've got right here my NaNoWriMo 2008 novel, of which I got a free proof copy of through Amazon's Createspace deal with NaNoWriMo, and I did sort of proofread it before submitting it, and there are still errors that I notice every time I read it. Now, I consider myself fairly good at spelling and grammar - I'll freely admit there are a few words I struggle with, but I look them up when I need to - but there are always mistakes. Typos, words missed out altogether because I was thinking faster than I could type, the wrong name used for a character, that sort of thing. But one could argue that a more thorough read-though would deal with these problems, without the need to shell out £700+, which is a lot of money if you have rent or mortgage repayments, bills for food and gas and electricity, a car to run, kids to raise, and so on.

Would you, furthermore, pay even more money for an editor to go over your novel and pick out where sentences are awkward, structure flows badly, a scene is irrelevant, pacing demands scenes to be switched, and so on? Is it worth it, to you?

For the record, I don't mean to be advertisey here (I haven't told you the name of the business I'm going to start, and I don't have a website or business cards or anything yet in any case, just half a business plan; I apologise if this does come across as advertisey, and I am willing to edit the thread if it comes across that way, I don't want to step on any toes here), but rather to provoke discussion and, to a certain degree, fill in gaps in my research. You see, I can find a lot of information about the self-publishing process, success stories from unknown authors who are making tens of thousands of pounds (or dollars) a year from self-publishing e-books. But what I can't find is what people really think about employing professionals to go over their work before self-publishing (and if there's not a market there I'm going to end up proofreading a lot of business reports and academic books and articles, which won't be as interesting, but possibly more lucrative).

So, in summary:
  • Is professional proofreading worth it?
  • Is professional editing worth it?
  • Would you use professionals for proofreading and editing, or ask family and friends for help?

Proofreading is a must, I don’t know if I would trust a service like the amazon mechanical Turk. It may provide a good proofing service, but it would involve chopping manuscripts into little bits. Other crowdsourced things seem actually more expensive than hiring an editor... Unless I have missed some links.

Without editing I don’t think that our stuff stands a good chance of rising above the sea of crap. We need to push our work, publicicize it, and make sure it is the best we can make it. Otherwise no one will know how good our stuff is.

Edit: if my family or friends are editors, or really good with language and not afraid to criticize, then I would trust them. Otherwise no.


If you hire an editor, you get what you pay for.
And also, what are you looking for in an editor--one to line edit/copyedit, or one that looks deeper at characterization, plot consistency, things like that.

There is a thread that discusses self-publishing at Mythic Scribes, if you haven't seen it you might search a bit.

I wouldn't pay out of pocket for an editor, but I also haven't focused on self-publishing.


I will be self publishing my first novel next year. I will hire a content editor to help me improve the book and characters.

I will NOT hire a copyeditor or line editor because I have been an English teacher in China for 8 years. So I would think I should be able to do those things myself and catch all my mistakes. But instead I will have some friends (also English teachers) do my copy and line editing because it's cheaper.

I strongly suggest to anyone wanting to self publish that they hire both types of editors OR one who will do both. My situation is unique so I will only need the content editor.


If one has the money to spend on professional services for editing, art, formatting, printing, marketing... I'd say that's definitely the way to go. After all, you can't make money without spending it-- unless, of course, you can do it all yourself. And that's exactly what independent authors do.

For first time independent authors who may feel comfortable settling in the murky, lower end ebook market, I'd say that the technology today is more than efficient enough to catch most, if not all mistakes in the realm of grammar. Multiple reads (and readers, of course) can easily help find the rest of the mistakes and/or inconsistencies. Given enough time and patience, I believe an aspiring author could recruit enough support from his or her circle of capable friends to produce a decent product-- no professional editor required.

These sources you're quoting that have recommended not hiring professionals are telling new authors exactly what they want to hear: save money and do it yourself. Entirely self-published works, however, will come with a very low price ceiling, and authors unable to produce a professional appearing book will most likely be stuck in the inflated 99 cent bin. For a lot of "hobbyists" testing the waters, that's probably not a big deal. For the author looking to be the next J.K. Rowling, that's going to be a problem.
Content editing and copy editing and proofreading are very different things. For self pub, you're usually looking for some combination of the first two.

Obviously, the BEST option is to find a good pro who knows your genre, and hire them to content edit the book. Then hire an expert copy editor to go over the revised version and hammer out any last technical flaws.

That option would run you several thousand dollars, however. For writers who already have a fan base and know their self published book is going to sell thousands of copies, it's not such a huge deal. For people breaking in, it's a gamble. So rather than gamble, people cut corners.

There's good and bad ways to cut corners, of course. ;)

Bad way: don't edit at all, just toss the book up there. Tends to create those low-quality, poorly edited books you hear people complaining about.

Content editing can be handled by novel swaps. Assuming both writers are pros who know their genre, swapping novels with another writer can be a real boon. Both novels can get improvement they need. On the down side, you're trading more time instead of cash - and time IS money in business. So this can sometimes not be as cheap as it seems, although it doesn't impact the bank account.

Content editing can also be crowdsourced by using online workshops like Critters and OWW. Any one reviewer on those sites might be on the ball, or might not. But collect 6-10 reviews on the chapter, and you're probably getting an idea of any rough spots or problem areas that will give buyers issues after the book is published.

Copy editing can be had fairly cheaply - basic spelling, grammar, etc. can run as low as $250 or so for a short novel. Not a terrible idea. Many writers have trouble editing their own work (longterm English teachers aside!). Many writers have trouble producing clean text in the first place. Others produce first drafts with only one error every ten pages, if that - which is actually about as good as most large publishers achieve on the average released novel. How much work you need really does depend a lot on how clean your writing is in the first place, and on how well you've internalized lessons of grammar and spelling. Worth noting that even if you are paying for copy editing, cleaner work will tend to take the editor less time, and therefore usually cost you less.
Novel swapping sounds like a great idea. We have a dedicated fantasy community right here, and I think we would be remiss if we were to not use each other's talents and help.

Maybe someone with more reputation than I should make the formal suggestion?
Contact local colleges that have Writing Centers. Many Writing Centers are open to the public, particularly if they are a public university, but they generally don't advertise it. The tutors in the Writing Centers are graduate students in English and are often very enthusiastic about proofreading and editing big projects. Also, if they do it on Writing Center time, it will be free. But offering a hundred bucks for the entire project would be the most you'd ever have to pay. I know a few friends who have used Writing Centers and they've been extremely happy with the results as they go to self-publish.