Do I Need An Editor For My Self Published Book?

Do I Need An Editor For My Self Published Book?

This is one of those questions with several answers; a trick question if you like. The nearest I can get is, ‘probably.’

I have edited more than fifty self-published books, fiction and non fiction and in every case I had no doubt that I was needed and that it would pay my client to pay me!
I have been following a discussion on line, which is sure to bewilder anyone looking for information. Yes, there was good advice, but also bad advice and fits of childish temper on the part of people who ought to have known better.

One popular question was, ‘can a writer edit his or her work?’ That’s a tricky one. If you are writing a memoir or a book about a subject that you know backwards, the answer is usually ‘yes.’ In fact, the writer can do what the editor can’t, having more knowledge of the subject. That doesn’t mean that the editor is ignorant, merely that the writer will keep remembering things, researching fresh material and needing to update while writing.

Back in 1991, I wrote a memoir called Breakfast the Night Before. It was published by a famous London house, André Deutsch. I had already had two novels accepted by Collins, also of London, and experienced a publishers’ editor. I didn’t know there were such people! I discovered the hard way that I could resist changes if I was sure I was right. When I wasn’t sure, I kept quiet. The books had done well, but I was nervous about the memoir. To my astonishment it came back to me with minor tweaks and nothing that I couldn’t understand. I discovered that the editor was the publisher herself, a prize-winning author, Diana Athill. Later, she wrote a wonderful foreword for my non-fiction Part-Time Writer, Notes and Reflections. Incidentally, Breakfast the Night Before was updated and published in paperback by the Lilliput Press in Dublin and is still available in print and in e-book form, as is the writing book.

The point I’m making is that there is no such thing in editing as One-size-fits-all. I have been offered work which I have turned down for various reasons. Either I was ignorant of a specialised subject or I simply wasn’t on the same wave length as the author. I have edited work that had been on offer for some time and seen it accepted, but I’d hate to see it still not in print after the author had paid me to make it viable.

So we come to self publishing, a thing I hadn’t encountered often, which is huge in America. Read Victoria’s excellent article entitled Why I Don’t Like Vanity Presses for a start, so as to know what to avoid.

There are firms that ask for a sum of money that isn’t half the cost of printing the agreed number of copies and I have seen satisfactory results from them, but there is a niggling worry about unknowns and no editor would want to be involved with some of them. Again, I’m talking about Europe and know much less about America. I had one book commissioned and published in the US, but again it was specialised. I have also edited memoirs for people whose friends made changes that horrified me before the books went to press. Sometimes you can’t win.

Before you take on an editor, you should know what to expect. A line, or copy editor corrects mistakes, typos, spelling and grammar. A proof reader does a final read of the manuscript before it goes to be bound or issued as an e-book. A substantive, concept or content editor, deals with the whole works: all the above plus, in fiction, suggestions about the plot, the characters or the location. In non fiction, the substantive editor will correct mistakes and if necessary check the writer’s research. He or she will also suggest changes to formatting and the general set up.

I think it fairest to charge by the thousand words. I charge €10 or £8.That would be *about $??? at current rates. Extra work or repeat editing is generally about half.

Again, some editors will undertake research. In my own country, the going rate is about €30 per hour. Obviously, I wouldn’t agree to research unless I understood exactly what I was doing.

Writing is a wonderful occupation even when it doesn’t make you rich and famous. I have found it therapeutic too. Good luck to all of you setting out on a writing career.

Marjorie_Quarton_picMarjorie Quarton lives and works in Ireland. She is a writer (15 published books, fiction and non fiction, also for children) and has a biography with a publisher. Marjorie edits books as a freelancer, has held many workshops in creative writing and memoir writing. She also does public speaking and readings. You can inquire about her services by contacting her through

© 2013 Marjorie Quarton

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