Self-publishing a book? Find out what type of editor you need (with a FREE downloadable chart).

If you want your self-published book to succeed and make money, there are two things you need: good writing and visibility. Use editors for good writing. Establish an author platform for visibility. This blog is about understanding the variety of editors to choose from (whether you are writing fiction or non-fiction).  (There will be a similar blog for those who only self-publish online content and business documents).

  1. The label ‘editor’ encompasses a wide array of people. An editor of a film production is not the same as an editor for a news channel. Looking only at books, the labels are still not clear – different countries use different terms to mean the same thing. Also editors can prefer one term over another e.g. stylistic editor and line editor are considered to mean the same thing by some, and different by others.
  2. Roles can be blurred too, especially among freelancers. This means freelance editors may do several types of things in one service or only one thing as part of their service.
  3. Editing has three levels and editors can operate at one, two or all three of the levels. These tend to be called: substantive (or developmental); structural; and technical. The substantive level is about looking at the ‘whole’, rather than the nitty gritty. The structural looks at flow and style. Technical refers to consistency, coherence and clarity (including spelling, punctuation and grammar) and can include format and layout too. The overall polish and reader experience are taken into account.
  4. Editors tend to focus on a few genres, and this will be clear from their profiles and websites.
  5. Freelance editors may include add-ons that you may or may not want, such as fact-checking or typesetting. Alternatively, they may recommend specialist editors to help increase the value of your book. For instance, a fact-checker may be useful if your story is set during the Franco-Mexican war. Perhaps a professional (human) indexer will capture the complexity of your recipes for your cookery book.

Below, I’ve created a simple (and hopefully helpful) chart showing the different types of freelance editors that can help with your manuscript. I have created also the chart as a PDF for download.

Level: Substantive/development  
Editorial Assessment
O This involves a read-through with the client receiving a feedback report on strengths and weaknesses on characters, plots, structure, etc.  

X This does not include an authenticity read (which is feedback on the way marginalised people within the book are portrayed), fact-checking, or other types of services. However, the editor may recommend the use of specialized services.
Substantive/development editing
O Deeper than an editorial assessment
O Deals with the big picture i.e. plot, characterizations and arcs, structure, style, pacing, viewpoints and tense
O Feedback and recommendations may be in the form of working directly on the manuscript or notes on the margins
O May include line/substantive/stylistic editing (see box below)
O May include information and advice about the marketability
O May include recommendations to get an authenticity read, an indexer (for non-fiction), a fact-checker  

X Will not fix punctuation and grammar etc (technical aspects)
X Is not an authenticity read, though may highlight issues
Level: Structural
Line/substantive/stylistic editing
O Sentence-level work looking at style, logic and flow
O Can include a copyedit service (see box below)  
Level: Technical
O Can include line/substantive/stylistic editing
O Focus is on logic, consistency, clarity and formatting as well as proofreading
O Focus is on reader experience  

X Cannot fix plot and structure issues, pacing (developmental edits) at this stage of the process, even if they are skilled in this area
O Final quality check to ensure the product is polished, the writing is clear and formatting and layout is consistent.
O Errors are reduced as far as possible  

X Cannot help fix problems related to substantive/developmental and structural writing issues
X Limited in being able to fix copyediting issues
A basic chart showing three levels of editorial support


Edit your work in the right order

The order in which you get your work edited is important. For instance, substantive edits should be done before a technical edit. It doesn’t make sense (and it’s a waste of money) to do it the other way round.

Budget well

Successful self-publishing requires investment which means that a decent budget is needed. It’s very difficult to estimate what figure you might be looking at – each book and its needs will vary (word count, level of edit needed, number of revisions needed, etc). You can begin asking for quotes to help you get your savings in order. If you really cannot afford more than one type of edit, or perhaps it’s a book for just a close-knit of people, invest in the area you need the most help with and a proofreader at the end. (Remember to cost in a book designer too).

Check out prospective editors before hiring

Once you have identified an editor/potential editors, don’t part with money too quickly. Do check their credentials first (check work portfolios, testimonials or seek references). Request to have a small sample edited to get a taster and decide if someone is the right fit for you (a good author-editor fit is important). Request to see a template of their Terms of Agreement (contract, conditions). Editorial work is a tailored service, and you may be able to negotiate aspects of their terms.

Respect your editor’s time and craft

Once you have made your choice, you can keep your new relationship going well by being respectful of their time and craft. For example, try to meet your deadlines or try not to postpone often – remember that they might be declining work to make space for yours and editors spend time prepping. Also, be open-minded to their comments – even if it irritates you. Your editor is on your side and your readers! If, after calm consideration, you feel that their advice is not correct, that’s OK, As the author of your own work, you make the final decisions.

However, if you find yourself ignoring a lot of their comments, something is amiss and needs reflecting on.

Further guidance and support for self-publishers

  • A more in-depth explanation can be found on the Editors Canada website:
  • The Author’s Guild has great quality information for self-publishers. Some are only accessible to paid members but I have come across free information and webinars. There’s advice about using services and costs. Have a look around:
  • The Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi) is a membership-based body for self-publishers. It advises, campaigns for, and empowers self-publishing authors. It supports its members with benefits, advisers and community forums:
  • Facebook has tons of communities for self-publishers. Some are well-run and are more lively compared to others. Quite a few are not good. Join many, lurk around, then ditch the ones that don’t serve you. Remember to be supportive and share. Beware of scammers – avoid the dodgy ones offering very low-priced edits.

Get in touch

If you would like to know more about the services I offer and if I can help you, please get in touch. Or if you just want to talk about this post, that’s great too. I’m always happy to hear from readers 🙂

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