What to Do When You Can't Afford an Editor

I’ve recently read several posts about the prohibitive cost of having your manuscript professionally edited. For a book of 200 or more pages, those costs can climb to $3000 or more, and that does not include layout (figure at least $2 per page) or cover design ($200 or more, maybe lots more).  What’s a poor patronless writer to do?

Contrary to prevailing wisdom, I believe it is possible to learn enough to do a reasonable job of editing your own work, though input from others is invaluable. Below are some ideas to control the cost of editing, and to ensure that any funds you do expend will do double duty to develop your skills while enhancing your current manuscript:

Find an excellent critique group — online or local. Get a copy of Becky Levine’s brand new book, The Writing & Critique Group Survival Guide: How to Make Revisions, Self-Edit, and Give and Receive Feedback, for guidance on making this process work.

Use beta readers, but be sure you choose discerning ones, not just "Oh, wow, you wrote a book!" people who are impressed with anything more elaborate than signing checks. If you belong to a book club, you know who the discerning readers are. If not, ask around. Use the guidelines in Becky's book to tell these readers how to be helpful to you.

Join a writing organization appropriate for your genre, i.e. National Association of Memoir Writers, Mystery Writers of America, or the National Association of Writers and Editors. You may also find local organizations. Take full advantage of teleseminars, conferences, classes, and other member benefits.

Take classes — online or local. These will be an investment in skill-building to help you in the future as well as now, and they may turn up critique partners. Writing organizations are a good source of prequalified classes. Some local continuing education classes are terrific, and others may be of questionable quality, so check the instructor out.

Invest in a few hours of coaching. Find a coach who will structure an agreement to give you the help and honest feedback you need to develop your skills, not a standardized one-size-fits-all prepackaged plan. I often recommend classes taught by other people or books that will help my clients strengthen specific skills.

Hire an editor for a a chapter or two
. Learn from the results and apply that to the rest of your work.

Read books about writing. Use the recommended exercises. Check my website for a long list of recommended titles.

Read books in your chosen genre. Analyze their structure on several levels — storyline, style, use of dialogue, scene development, etc. This no-cost, do-it-yourself writing clinic is a powerful way to increase skill.

If you take advantage of even two or three of these suggestions, your skills will grow, your writing will sparkle, and you can self-publish a book that sounds as professional as any put out by a Big Name New York house. 

Write now: make a list of ideas for getting no-cost feedback on your writing and do some research on classes, coaching services, and organizations that can help you strengthen you skills.


beckylevine.wordpress.com said...

Sharon, thanks so much for the link. What a nice surprise! :)


Linda Joy Myers said...

Sharon, this is a great article! It is solid gold as the best advice to get a book written and shared with the world. Even if writers decide to go with an agent or bigger publisher, these tools will make the book the best it can be.
Becky's book will be a great partner on the journey to a finished book.

Sharon Lippincott said...

You are so welcome. Your book deserves mention and credit. It fills a yawning void.

Sharon Lippincott said...

Linda Joy,

Thanks for the reminder that these tips will also polish work for submission in traditional channels. The idea of paying for our own editing and perhaps not making enough with miniscule royalties to cover that investment is a discouraging thought. But that's another post.

Jerry Waxler said...

Hi Sharon,

This is a great post. I'd like to add two more. One is to read your piece aloud. For a while I was recording my essays as podcasts, and during the recording process I found all kinds of excellent edits.

The other technique is a bit quirky. I print out my writing on paper, and then read and mark them up somewhere other than at my desk. Three of my favorite places are in my easy chair, on the stepper at the gym, and at the Starbucks. It's remarkable how many edits I make when I'm reading with fresh eyes.

Best wishes,
Memory Writers Network

Sharon Lippincott said...

Thanks for the additional suggestions Jerry. They definitely add value to this list.

I've thought of another myself: let some time go by. Set today's writing aside and write or do something else for a couple of weeks. A month or more is even better. By then it's like reading the work of a stranger and warts and freckles are much easier to catch.

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Charlotte said...

I'm all for critique groups, having been in my current one for 7 years, and a previous one for something like 5 years. Sometimes writing classes turn into critique groups--that is how mine started. And writing organizations are a good place to look for them also. My group not only gives me great feedback, I've also gotten in with agents through them.