Categories
Copyediting

Choosing an editor: a guide for self-publishing authors

As a self-published author, it’s your responsibility to make sure your book is as good as it can be. An editor can help to make your book look professional instead of amateurish.

Editing your own work: getting off to a good start

Many people will tell you that you can’t edit your own work. That’s correct; you need a fresh and impartial pair of eyes. What you can do, though, is get your work into the best possible shape before you hand it over to an editor. This will save them time and, more importantly, you money!

woman sitting cross-legged and working on laptop
Definitely not me this time.

Ask your peers – other writers – for their opinions. Join local writing groups. Meet writers online and ask them to have a look at one or two chapters for you. Don’t be shy about getting feedback from your fellow writers.

Every writer is focused on their own work, so make sure you contribute something back to the community by returning the favour for others.

Now is also a good time to write a synopsis. This is a skill in itself, so practice is good. Don’t forget that a synopsis is different from a blurb – it should be about one A4 page long, contain all the major plot points and describe what happens in your book. Don’t worry about spoilers!

Writing a synopsis is a great way of identifying weaknesses or plot holes. Read it out loud. Does it ramble or sound boring? Do things seem to happen for no reason? Maybe you just need to tweak the synopsis, or maybe you need to go back to the book and make some changes there.

When you feel happy with your book, that’s the right time to look for an editor. But wait! Do you know what you’re asking them to do, and does that match up with what you need?

Different types of editing

Think about what you expect an editor to do for you. For instance, you might envisage them:

• making sure the spelling is correct
• making the writing ‘flow’
• improving your style by, for example, removing excess adjectives or pointing out clichés

Or you might picture your editor:

• suggesting ways to make the dialogue less clunky
• helping to reveal the motives of the villain
• flagging up areas where the timeline or chapter ordering makes the story unclear and suggesting solutions

These are all things an editor could do, but they are different types of requests and may need different types of editors.

A structural or developmental editor will look at ‘big picture’ stuff like plot, characterisation, themes, voice, dialogue, pace and flow. They’ll look at how everything fits together and pick up on major inconsistencies and inaccuracies.

A copy-editor will look at spelling, punctuation, grammar, style, consistency, wording and legal issues. Their job is to get your manuscript ready for typesetting. They’ll help you make sure your work is accurate and fit-for-purpose.

There may be some crossover between those types of editing – a copy-editor might query plot holes and a developmental editor might flag up grammatical ‘tics’ – but, in general, developmental editing looks at the big picture and copy-editing looks at the fine details.

If you choose one type of editing when you really need the other, it’s frustrating for all concerned. No editor wants to spend hours correcting your spelling only for you to rewrite or delete entire chapters. And you don’t get the result you wanted.

What type of editor do you need?

‘But wait!’ I hear you cry. ‘I can’t afford all these rounds of editing! What should I prioritise?’

I’m a copy-editor, so naturally my advice would be not to skimp on the copy-edit. A lot of developmental work can be done in advance with feedback from other writers. That’s not to put down developmental editors – actually, I think they have a harder job than I do! – but if you’re on a limited budget you might only be able to afford one type of editing. No matter how great your book is, it will look terrible if it’s riddled with typos.

A word to the wise: if you’re releasing your book as an ebook only, and not getting it printed, don’t look for a proofreader. A proofreader checks your book after it’s been typeset for print (here is some more information about the difference between proofreading and copy-editing if you’re interested), so if that isn’t going to happen, proofreading isn’t what you need.

I strongly recommend you use an editor who is experienced at preparing manuscripts for conversion into ebook formats, as the requirements for ebooks are quite different from those for print.

How to find the right editor for you

Look no further! I specialise in working with self-publishing and ‘DIY’ authors. I’ll help you to get your book ready for ebook conversion and distribution, as well as for printing if necessary.

If for some inexplicable reason you don’t want me to edit your book, look for someone who has worked on similar projects. Your country’s industry body for editors may have a directory you can use (in the UK this is the SfEP Directory of Editorial Services). You can also ask other self-published authors for their recommendations.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions! Prepare a list before you make an approach. You have every right to query anything you don’t understand.

Pricing

Don’t be put off if an editor doesn’t list prices on their website. Some charge per word or per thousand words; others, like me, base their charges on how long the job is likely to take, so they won’t be able to give you a quotation until they’ve looked at your manuscript. Neither approach is ‘better’ than the other; they each have their pros and cons and both methods are used by professionals.

It’s time to go ahead!

A good editor should respond to your enquiry within a reasonable length of time. They should be upfront about the likely cost and clear about what they can do for you. It’s important for both of you to be confident about the scope of the work. Most editors will have terms and conditions; ask to see them before work starts.

They should send you a sample edit of part of your work to give you an idea of their approach. You can decide whether they’re a good fit for you and whether they respect your ‘tone of voice’.

Once you’ve found an editor who is on your wavelength, it’s time to go ahead! Stay tuned for my next blog post about how to work with your editor to get the most out of their service.

Categories
Proofreading

Get your ebook ready for self-publishing

Are you thinking about self-publishing or distributing your work yourself as an ebook?

If so, you need to make sure you engage an editor who understands the ebook conversion process. They can help make sure your work is correctly formatted to avoid errors in the final digital file. But there is a lot that you can do yourself beforehand to make the process easy and pain-free. Here are a few tips to help you create professional-looking ebooks!

person reading an ebook

Something to bear in mind …

An ebook is a different beast from a traditionally printed book. If you use an e-reader yourself, you’ll know that you can change the text size, the margins, and even the font on the display. When you’re getting a book ready for print, all these things are crucial. You may be working with a typesetter or spending hours getting everything ‘just so’ in Word or InDesign. But if the reader can change the appearance themselves, how does that affect the way you need to format your work? Is it a waste of time to focus on the appearance of the text on the page?

If you’re having your book printed as well as producing an ebook, it’s definitely not a waste of time. You’ll still need a print-ready file that looks just as you want it to. However, you’ll need a separate copy of the file ready to format for ebook, because the requirements are different.

Keep it simple

When formatting an ebook, less is more. Almost all the formatting is stripped out during conversion, so there’s no point doing anything fancy. By keeping everything as simple as possible, you reduce the risk of introducing anything that will be too distracting to the reader. After all, you want them to focus on what you’ve written, not on what it looks like.

To make things easier for yourself, switch on the ‘Show nonprinting characters’ option – click the button that looks like this:

non-printing characters key

 

 

This displays the formatting marks, showing all the formatting you’ve used – spaces, line breaks, paragraph breaks, tabs, page breaks, the works. This makes it easier to see what you’ve done and will help you to strip out extraneous formatting.

Spaces

Remove rogue spaces from the beginnings and ends of paragraphs. This can be a tedious job, but it’s worth it, because extra spaces often stand out on an e-reader.

Full stops

Don’t use double spaces after full stops. You can use the ‘Find and replace’ tool to remove them. You might have been taught to use them at school, but in an ebook they make the text look gappy and unprofessional, and professional typesetters don’t use them. In some cases, a double space even converts to no space at all, resulting in words that are run together.

If you’re a heavy-handed typist you might also want to check for the odd accidental triple space – they have been known to occur!

Hyphens & line breaks

Turn hyphenation off and don’t force line breaks. Even if you don’t like where a line breaks, remember that if the reader changes the font size, the line breaks will shift anyway. If you add a hyphen manually, there’s a danger that it will end up stuck in the middle of a line at random, looking like a mistake. Similarly, don’t try to correct widows and orphans.

Page numbers

Don’t include page numbers – ebook files don’t have universal page numbers, but some devices will allocate page numbers depending on the reader’s settings. E-reader devices usually tell the reader how far along in the book they are – e. g. ‘Page x out of y’ or ‘43% completed’. This also means that page numbers in your table of contents will be irrelevant.

Paragraphs

Decide whether you’re going to use block or run-on paragraphs and stick with the same format throughout. Block paragraphs have a line space between them, while run-on paragraphs don’t have any line space between them but have the first line indented instead. If you use run-on paragraphs, remember not to indent the first paragraph of each chapter or section.

And don’t use the tab key to indent your paragraphs – use the ‘First line indent’ tool on Word’s ribbon.

Chapters

When you want to start a new chapter, insert a page break. Don’t just keep hitting Enter until a new page appears! Use the ‘Show nonprinting characters’ option to help you get rid of extra paragraph returns at the beginning and end of each chapter.

Rather than formatting each chapter heading manually, use Word’s styles function to set a heading style and apply it to each one. Which brings me neatly on to …

Styles

Use Word’s Styles palette to organise your chapter headings, subheadings, body text etc. If you don’t know how to use this, or any other tools within Word, there’s a wealth of information online, and it’ll be well worth your while to learn how it works because it will save you a lot of formatting headaches. Before you submit your manuscript, check that you’ve applied the relevant style to each part of your text.

Out of the ordinary

If you want to use ‘fancy’ formatting – such as headers, footers, borders, special fonts, coloured text, multi-column layouts, lots of illustrations or tables etc. – you might want to consider opting for a fixed layout ebook rather than a reflowable epub.

Certain elements, like decorative drop caps or special chapter/section dividers, can be inserted as images, but if there are a lot of them, you’re better off getting some professional help with the conversion to make sure you get the result you’re after. You can certainly include images in ePub and MOBI files, but some ereaders display them in grayscale, so make sure that your images work in grayscale as well as in colour.

Use the style guide

This final tip might sound blindingly obvious, but it can make the difference between getting your ebook accepted or rejected by stores: if you’re submitting your document to a site that has a style guide, use it! Sometimes it can look complicated, but take the time to work through it and you will reap the rewards later.

It’s time to get your book proofread!

Hopefully you will have started the marketing for your book while you were still tidying up the early drafts. If not, you’ll need to build in some lead-in time while you generate a bit of hype. But that’s a post for another day! I’ll assume you’ve got that side of things covered and all you’ve got left to do is get your book proofread to make sure there are no stray apostrophes or references to the ‘pubic domain’. 

If you’ve followed the steps above, your proofreader will have less work to do – saving them time and saving you money!

Good luck!

Categories
Events

The 4th Self-Publishing Conference

On Saturday 7 May I attended the 4th Self-Publishing Conference, organised by Matador.

self-publishing conference brochure

As a Leicester City supporter I was feeling particularly proud of my home city, so it was nice to see people converging on Leicester from all parts of the world – even from Spain!

University of Leicester flowers
Leicester boasts many beautiful scenes around the city as well as on the football pitch.

The keynote speech was by Caroline Sanderson, Associate Editor of The Bookseller. She talked about what self-published authors can do to maximise their chances of getting noticed and promoted. There was a strong emphasis on the importance of good cover design, and she highlighted various examples, talking about what made them stand out.

I attended a workshop by Louise Jordan of the Writers’ Advice Centre. She talked about structuring a children’s book. I dived into the exercises, despite not having a children’s book on the go, thinking, ‘I’ll just have to make something up.’ It then occurred to me that that’s exactly what writer’s do! Her advice was so useful that you might be seeing my book on a shelf near you soon! (Well, that last bit might be a slight exaggeration.)

Next, I listened to Rachel Gregory from Troubador and Barbara Scott from Surrey Libraries talking about how to maximise your ebook’s potential. Most people know that you can borrow ebooks from libraries, but they don’t take ebooks directly from authors. Barbara was a great advocate for libraries. It might be free for people to borrow books, but the libraries have to buy the ebooks in order to stock them, so it’s still worth getting your book into libraries if you can! It was heartening to hear that library loans of self-published material are growing.

Professor Alison Baverstock from Kingston University gave an excellent plenary session about her research into self-publishing. I felt like jumping up and shouting, ‘Yay!’ (I didn’t. I just went up to her afterwards to say it in slightly more articulate words.) When I was planning the marketing for Help For Writers I noticed that there’s a lot research into readers – demographics, habits, what they like – but precious little about writers. Alison’s work helps to fill that gap. I can also confirm one of her findings from a personal perspective – editors enjoy working with self-publishing authors!

Prof. Alison Baverstock
Professor Alison Baverstock talks about her research.

Mike Bodnar, author of humorous travel book Against The Current, talked to us about self-promotion for self-publishers. He gave us loads of useful information with a few jokes thrown in. I covered several pages with notes – thanks Mike!

Cressida Downing of The Book Analyst probably thinks I’m stalking her, because this is the second time I’ve been to one of her workshops in a short space of time. She’d asked people to submit synopses in advance, and she read out excerpts and gave some insightful criticism of each one. Don’t get your synopsis confused with your blurb – it’s perfectly OK to give away spoilers in the synopsis; in fact the whole point of a synopsis is to tell the reader what happens in your book!

After the conference came the drinks reception, where we mingled and talked.

Group of people talking
Networking in progress.

One of the authors I spoke to was Julian Jackson, who has written his own account of the day. Apart from Mike Bodnar’s talk, he attended different sessions from me, so it’s well worth a read if you want to find out what was going on elsewhere!

Thanks to Matador for putting on an informative and well-organised day.

 

Categories
Events London Book Fair

The London Book Fair 2016: Beautiful pigs & lots of colour

My first London Book Fair was an amazing* experience. It made me realise how lucky I am to work in the field of books and writing. Being surrounded by so many books – and, more importantly, people who love them – was energising.

The world of books is a colourful one. Lush displays of children’s books, coffee table books (some of which were large enough to actually be coffee tables) and art books reminded me why the industry hasn’t mirrored the music business in its rapid move from physical to digital formats. There’s something especially attractive about an origami book, a book you can scribble in, or a book that includes balsa wood. It’s also useful to own a book that you could use to knock an intruder unconscious.

 

Origami animals at London Book Fair 2016
You can’t make these out of an ebook.

 

I was there to promote Help For Writers – I’ll be writing a more detailed blog for them soon – but I couldn’t stop my enthusiasm for copy-editing from surfacing from time to time. I hope I managed to convince a few writers of the importance of a good copy-edit!

I found the the wonderful unexpected around every corner – including beautiful pigs.

 

beautiful pigs London Book Fair 2016
You never knew you wanted this book, but now you do.

 

I was honoured to take part in an Author HQ panel on ‘How to prepare for self-publishing’. I hope people found it useful. Thanks to Fiona Marsh (Midas PR) for chairing the session and to my colleague Nikki Halliwell (Marketing Executive at Help For Writers) and self-published author Will Green (Default Setting) for being on the panel with me. You can’t beat advice from someone who has ‘been there and done that’. Luckily there was only one mic between us so I couldn’t interrupt them too much.

Now it’s time to get some caffeine into my system and start the follow-up…

 

London Book Fair 2016 How to prepare for self-publishing Help For Writers panel Fiona Marsh Will Green Nikki Halliwell Catherine Dunn
Will imparts some words of wisdom on the ‘How to prepare for self-publishing’ panel. L to R: Fiona Marsh, Catherine Dunn, Will Green, Nikki Halliwell

 

(*Dipping into the thesaurus in search of a less clichéd word to replace ‘amazing’, I was confronted with the suggestions ‘shocking’ and ‘prodigious’. That, my dear reader, is why you can’t write well by following a set of rules.)

Categories
Authors Christmas Help For Writers Personal

Happy New Year: 2016

Happy New Year! I hope 2016 is a great year for you.

I’m really excited about 2016. There are going to be fantastic new developments at Help For Writers! In the next few days I’ll finally be in a position to reveal all. (Sorry for the vagueblogging in the meantime, but I couldn’t wait to greet the New Year anyway!)

If, as a writer, there are any services you’d like to see that you haven’t been able to locate anywhere, or some way that existing self-publishing services aren’t fully meeting your needs, please drop me a line because I’d love to hear about ways we might be able to help make your life easier.

On a personal note, I’ve been in India for the last three weeks. As per all good cybersecurity advice I decided not to broadcast my absence on my blog in case hordes of rampaging looters descended on my house to strip it bare. (I needn’t have worried.) I spent a few days in Mumbai, then five days touring the Golden Triangle (Delhi, Agra, Ranthambore, Jaipur and back to Delhi again) and finally a week soaking up the sun in Kerala. This was my holiday of a lifetime and I feel extremely lucky to have seen some wonderful sights and met a bunch of super-friendly people. I didn’t take many photos but here’s a gratuitous Taj Mahal shot.

Taj Mahal
Taj Mahal