Self-editing draws the praise and criticism of authors on both sides of the self-publishing issue. Some roar that no author can produce quality work without enlisting professional editors. On the other end are writers, often facing a lack of production funds, who endlessly seek alternatives to major financial investment in their first book. Every reader/writer has their own reason to support or oppose self-editing, but most messy arguments result from a misunderstanding as to self-editing’s place in the writing process.
Those who insist self-editing is an awful practice are actually referring to content, copy, and proof edits done exclusively by the author. For those who are not aware of what each of these editing terms mean, here is a reference:
Content Edit: “In its most basic terms, ‘editing for content’ is making sure you’ve made your point effectively, accurately and clearly.” (Study.com)
Copy Edit: “The aim of copy-editing is to ensure that whatever appears in public is accurate, easy to follow, fit for purpose and free of error, omission, inconsistency and repetition. This process picks up embarrassing mistakes, ambiguities and anomalies, alerts the client to possible legal problems and analyses the document structure for the typesetter/designer.” (Society for Editors and Proofreaders)
Proofread: “The proofreader uses care, judgement, skill, knowledge and experience in checking that the work of author, editor and designer/typesetter is satisfactory, marking amendments and advising the client of problems, all with the aim of optimizing the result while minimizing cost and delay.” (Society for Editors and Proofreaders)
Each of these individual passes through a project require a different approach, and all are best done by someone who is both experienced and up-to-date on industry standards. Of course, not everyone can afford to pay the going rate for this level of “best”. Instead, some opt for less expensive options, including, but not limited to:
Exchanging editing services with other writers individually.
Collaborating on editing projects with groups.
Asking favors of friends or relatives who read.
The technicalities of the English language are accessible to anyone with an Internet connection or access to quality style guides, but that doesn’t make everyone an editor. Conversely, not all writers are editors.
Editing long works is an intense job, and one that deserves to be recognized as a professional skill by those who go looking for quality work. Just for some perspective, consider the task ahead for an editor of a novel. They are expected to find and correct language errors in the equivalent of 2-8 hours of spoken word, identifying which issues are errors and which are effective stylistic choices. They also check for continuity, searching out the places where specific detail is either incorrect or inconsistent (including identifying when the actions of characters are physically awkward or impossible). When it comes down to production time, editors sometimes also format the text to the appropriate specs, applying the instructions for the entities the author lists for submissions. Then, after these many hours of work are finished (often coming out to 3-4 full reads of the same manuscript), they come under intense fire for even a single missed typo, misspelling, or debatable comma.
This should not only help writers appreciate the work an editor does, but it should also show how attempting this alone is a monumental task. Anyone who has ever written something they were proud of, and then showed to someone else, knows that the creator sees their own work in a drastically different way than anyone else sees it. There’s such an intense familiarity that an objective edit is nearly impossible. Some writers attempt to relieve this issue by leaving their work alone for months before picking it up for more work, but the effect is still present at a lesser degree. This often shows up in the form of missing or repeated words that the mind fills in out of simple expectation. You know what it should say, rather than seeing what it does say.
Working with partners can be an excellent solution for this post-revision/pre-publication editing, but precautions should be taken to ensure the end product is of good quality. When setting up an editing exchange, it’s critical to set up expectations. Some options to do this:
Create a checklist of issues to be addressed. (See Checklists in the Resource/Links section below.)
Create a list of questions about the project’s quality to be answered in-depth. (See the Guides links below.)
Establish a reasonable time span and minimum hour-count of work.
Decide on regular check-in schedules for clarifying questions and updates.
Working with other authors on projects requires a delicate balance and a high level of respect for one another. Among artists, the Golden Rule is priceless, especially when the writer is excited about their work. The following comment, shared by an author and cover artist who regularly works with self-published authors, perfectly shares the frustration of ineffective collaborative editing.
“Well-meaning friends do favors for each other, but I still think it’s important to double check your quality, especially if you’re getting the editing done for free! … When you know you can trust that friend, it’s fine. But even then, I’ve seen a group of authors who are all helping each other. … [T]hey have half their book with one friend, the other half with the other, and then when I’m reading the final draft, I can tell the difference! Either that, or there are some pages that were totally a mess. They’re rushing to publish. … The hard part about trading favors is when they’re waiting on each other for edits, but they’re trying to finish their own. … I think that’s how so many mistakes end up on the [first printing].” – Rachelle Hearn (cover artist)
As difficult as it is to wait, having clean copy right at the first printing is essential to establishing a sales foundation. The impressions of the very first readers can be the first reviews, and no one wants their book to start with a lukewarm audience. Self-editing carries risks, but for some it’s the most responsible option. A final plea: No matter who edits your work, look it over yourself in its entirety before sending it out to the world. In the end, it is the author’s name that is connected with the book. It’s the creator that will get the dishonor or the credit for the quality of the book. That name misspelling on page 302 will be on your head, so don’t rush to print. Get it right before it goes out.