Many times, self-publishing authors are surprised at how long the editorial process of their book can take. Authors spend months, or maybe even years, writing their book only to realize that the editing process also takes months! When will my book ever be done? they wonder. A benefit of self-publishing is that you can create your own schedule. This post discusses the typical phases of editing, design, and proofreading that fiction and some nonfiction books go through. Also included are time frames for each phase of the process. These time frames are similar to those used by traditional publishers; use these time frames to create a realistic editorial schedule for your book.
Your rough, messy first draft should never be sent out for professional editing. Self-edit first, and then send your manuscript to a professional editor. Self-editing will not only save you money (less work for the editor means less money you’ll have to pay for editing), but it will also improve your manuscript. You will find that you’ll get more out of your professional edit if you eliminate these rookie mistakes first. When you have finished writing your book, read your manuscript with an editor’s eye. These are just some of the things you will want to do as you self-edit:
- Make sure you have included enough sensory details.
- Make sure your characters are true to themselves (e.g., if your character says he is terrified of flying and then appears on a plane, without any worry, in the next chapter, readers might find that hard to believe).
- Vary sentence structure.
- Replace weak verbs with strong verbs.
- Eliminate wordiness.
- Replace overused words.
- Make sure you have used a consistent point of view.
- Avoid clichés.
- Make sure your plot stays on course.
- Run spell-check.
Self-editing can take anywhere from a couple of weeks to several months. When you are ready to start self-editing, set a completion date for yourself and stick to it.
If you have a well-crafted story, your book may not need developmental editing. Developmental editing, however, is strongly recommended for first-time authors who do not have much writing experience. A developmental editor will establish a collaborative relationship with you and assess your story as a whole. Developmental editing can improve your story in ways you never imagined. Style, tone, logic, consistency, character development, dialogue, and imagery are some of the many things a developmental editor will evaluate. A developmental editor will also provide detailed suggestions for revision to eliminate the story’s weaknesses and enhance its strengths. Your developmental editor may also rewrite parts of your manuscript, reorganize sentences or paragraphs, and eliminate wordiness. Allot 3–6 weeks (depending on the length of your book and how much work it requires) for your developmental editor to work on your manuscript.
After the developmental editor returns the files to you, you should allot at least 1 month to review the files and make revisions. You may need to send the manuscript back to the developmental editor for a second review. Sometimes during this second review, the developmental editor might do a line edit (check your contract to see if this is included, or discuss it with your developmental editor). When you receive the files back a second time, the manuscript should be much improved and ready for copyediting.
All manuscripts need to be copyedited (or line edited) before they are published. If you spend money on anything, spend it on a copyeditor. Before you send your manuscript to a copyeditor, ensure that all the changes you wish to be made have already been done. If you decide after copyediting that you want to change or add something, keep in mind that anytime the text is touched, an error can be introduced. Your copyeditor will ensure the files are clean when they are returned to you, so you will want to avoid making any changes after you receive the copyedited files. Allot 2–3 weeks for copyediting.
Authors should not try to copyedit their manuscript themselves, but editing may be less expensive if the author does some self-editing before sending out their manuscript for copyediting (self-editing at this stage should focus on spelling, grammar, and punctuation issues). Give yourself 2–3 weeks to review the copyedited files. Try to keep your changes to the manuscript minimal and stay focused on what the copyeditor has queried. You may need to send the revised manuscript back to the copyeditor so that he or she can review the changes you’ve made and incorporate them into the manuscript. This second review usually takes 1–2 weeks, depending on the extent of queries.
Typesetting (Physical Book)
Typesetting a noncomplex text (i.e., a fiction or nonfiction work with very few or no images) typically takes 1–2 weeks. The designer (or someone else in the design department) should review the typeset files to ensure all content is present and in order before the typeset files (page proofs) are sent out for proofreading.
Self-publishing authors may choose to hire a proofreader to review the page proofs or may review the page proofs themselves. Just remember that the more familiar you are with the text, the less likely you are to spot errors. This is the last chance you will have to review the text and make corrections to it before it is printed. Corrections at this point should be very minimal (i.e., restricted to correcting typos or errors that were introduced during typesetting) to prevent disrupting the layout or causing reflow. Allot 1–2 weeks for proofreading and about 1 week for the designer to apply the corrections and verify that they have been entered correctly.
Once your book has been typeset, the typeset file can be used for e-book conversion. If you have decided to go straight to e-book and bypass the physical copy, your clean and copyedited files will be used for the e-book. Allot 1–2 weeks for e-book formatting, depending on your skill level (if you are doing it yourself). You might need to allot more time for this if you will be hiring a company to handle the conversion for you. After the file has been converted or formatted, make sure all content is present and in order and the file works on the intended devices.
Other tasks take place during the editorial process, such as cover design creation, copyright and ISBN registration, marketing, and so forth. Although these tasks are not covered in this post, if you know what to expect in regard to the editing process, you’ll know when to make time for these other tasks within your editorial schedule.
Photo credit: Bookstore in Amsterdam by MorBCN