The Editing Process of Self-Publishing

This year, to complete my Bachelor of Creative Arts Industries, I enrolled in the core unit of Studio Project 1 and Studio Project 2 (it’s the same subject, just continued through both semesters). Now the objective of Studio Project 1 and 2 is to complete a project and present that project by the end of the semester. This project can be anything you want and, unlike a lot of subjects, group work is optional or you can work on your own individual project if you wish.

Most people did visual art exhibitions, one group worked on making a tutorial website for digital media, and a few people worked on individual writing projects (myself included). I thought, “This is a great opportunity to get my 2015 NaNoWriMo project fixed up and published. I’ve already written six thousand words for it; it can’t be too hard to get it ready for publishing.”

And this, my dear readers, was my first mistake.

From the very get go, I underestimated how much time it would take to get the project finished, and even though I’ve been working on this project for a roughly a year and it’s all edited and published, most readers will probably be able to tell the process was a little rushed. BUT! Despite all the obstacles, I am in fact a published author and no matter what happens next, no one can take that from me, not even myself. In saying that, I wanted to write this post as a way of letting other writers know what they’re getting into when they say they want to self-publish.

A Clear Scale of the Project:

In order to complete a project, I feel a project manager must have an idea of where the finish line is, even it’s just a vague idea in the beginning. A writer needs to complete one stage before beginning another. Now, my major problem was that I was trying to do too much within a short time frame. You can’t begin the editing phase if you haven’t finished the writing phase. So, decide where your ending is. It’s better to break your project up into smaller 60K word volumes then to have no finished product at all.

Another problem was that while my Studio Project was working on her doctorate at the time and, while she knew what it was like to work on a writing project on a deadline, she wasn’t a writer and had little to no experience with the writing industry (my teacher was primarily interested in visual art and performance art). A teacher with a background with writing and publishing would have looked at my project and told me it just wasn’t possible to write, edit and self-publish a 120K book by the end of the university semester. A teacher with a writing background would have told me:

“Look, Julia, I can see you’re enthusiastic about this, but you’re just not going to have enough time to do all that’s required. How much time have you set aside for editing? Only two months? You’re going to need more than that. Six months would be best, but four months is manageable. Why don’t you focus on getting the 60K section edited over the break instead?”

Here’s the thing: I don’t blame my teacher. I blame myself because I do this every damn time I attempt to take on a project. I take on a project not realising just how HUGE it is, panic and flail about, and I must have a friend or multiple friends step in to help me. I engineer a smaller project to meet the upcoming deadline (or this case, scale back the original project to a 60K word manuscript instead, which ended up being 45K after all the re-drafting and editing), and the project gets completed (to varying degrees of success). Then I stand there and wonder why I did not think to do the smaller project in the first place. It honestly does not occur to me; unfortunately, I have no concept of time and scale.
Which leads me to my next point,

Time Management:

Because of my inability to grasp the true time-cost and scale of the project, this leads to poor time management skills. Being able to manage your time, or at least being able to track what tasks you’ve been working on throughout the day, is a very important skill not just for a writing project but for any project. Case in point, I’ve been trying to write this post for the last three days now as I keep being distracted.
One of the problems with the Studio Project unit was that I was often in a class with twenty to thirty people, all talking and/or consulting with my tutorial teacher (and, yeah, there was only one teacher for all those people). It was super distracting environment for a person like me to work in. The first half of the class was usually spent on a power-point presentation or TED talks that focused brainstorming and generating ideas. These felt pointless to me because I already had my idea and I already had an estimate of what I wanted to do. So, every week, an hour of time I could have used working on my project was wasted.

In fact, a lot of class-time felt wasted because I kept getting distracted, and it wasn’t like I could just not go because I had to be marked for attendance (even though a lot of people just stayed for five minutes and then left, which is probably what I should done, but meh). I mean, I get it, not everyone had a solid idea of what they were doing and a couple of people did change their project idea half-way through and managed to pull it off (I would consider them the exception). My thought process was that by the end of the first couple of weeks of semester one, you already had to know what you were doing, by the allotted time frame, it was too late to change your mind. In my view, you had to go into that subject with a project already in hand, ready to go.

Poor Communication Kills:

The ironic aspect of this project is that from the very beginning, I wanted to hire Kim to be my editor for the project, but there were multiple reasons why I did not think that was good idea. Some of the reasons were silly reasons like “Kim’s probably not interested in editing a project like this” and “Exposing Kim to my word-garbage is a terrible idea”, but amongst the self-esteem issues, there were valid concerns.

I didn’t want to bother Kim with my project because I didn’t want to cause tensions between Kim and their previous employer: I didn’t want to put Kim in a position where they had to choose which one of us was the higher priority. I was also concerned about Kim’s health: Kim experiences chronic pain with their hands, and I didn’t want to put Kim in a compromising position where their chronic pain situation would become worse because of my project.

The problem here is that if I had just asked Kim in the first place, we could have sat down and worked out a proper time-line so that Kim could do the job to the best of their ability but also be able to pace themselves and not aggravate their chronic pain situation. But, because of my last-minute panicking, Kim had to take the project on and, although they were able to pace themselves and while I consider it a success in the end, I feel terrible for putting my editor under that type of strain. I should have organised myself better so that this situation never occurred in the first place.

The reason why Kim had to take it on was because the editor I had previously selected had to remove themselves from the project, which, because of poor Time Management skills, left me with no time to find a suitable replacement. Now, as I’ve stated, I have poor time management skills, but communications can go both ways: the other editor I contacted could have emailed me and told me that they were unfortunately booked for x-amount of time. I contacted them on separate occasions concerning editorial inquiries, and both cases it took them almost four days to get back to me. In four days I could have hired another editor.

Kim, however, got back to me straight away. We had multiple forms of contact (email, phone and Tumblr). I made sure to give Kim all my contact details. For any writers and/or authors reading this, do make sure your editor can contact you in multiple ways if one method doesn’t work out. But do not harass your editors on their progress: in fact, don’t harass your editor in general. Give them the space they need to do their job: it’s what you’re paying them to do. Use this time productively, do the stuff you have been neglecting around the house, refresh yourself with editing resources:

Such as these (if required)
Such as these (if required)

This isn’t a break: it’s the Eye of The Storm.

For any editors reading this: I know editors are busy, but a quick note to the client/writer saying that you’ve got the email but don’t have time to respond right this minute (even if you don’t intend to take on the project) will go a long way. Make sure to ask your client/author/writer how much they know about the editing and publishing process (do not make assumptions). I also found that when my editor gave me WRITTEN systematic instructions (I am terrible with verbal instructions, everything needs be written) for things that needed doing, it was not just calming but helpful. I recommend other editors do the same (if appropriate).

The Right Person for the Right Job:

A lot of freelance editors tend to specialise. A lot of the editors I looked up on Editors Victoria “find an Editor” page were mostly non-fiction and academic editors, which isn’t useful for my project, a fictional genre novel. So, finding the right editor depends entirely on the project.

With regards to my area of interest, which would be editing services for a fictional genre novel, there are editorial businesses available, such as Christine Nagel’s Literary Services. Christine Nagel was one of my teachers in the PWE course and she’s a great editor with loads of field experience (if you’re looking for an editor for a fictional genre novel project, go check her out). A writer can consider the options of a manuscript appraisal and/or editing services (these are vastly different services, more on this in later post).

If it were possible, I’d hire Kim to be my editor for all my novel-writing projects. As an editor, Kim gives me the one-on-one attention and time that I require. However, I’d like to point out that most editors won’t do this because it would cost more in time resources, they would consider this an extra (but an extra I’m willing to pay for). I didn’t know what I was doing but also because I don’t think I’ll be comfortable completing the Editing and Self-Pushing process all by myself just yet either (perhaps one day I might be, but not yet). Kim also gives me lengthy Reports on my manuscripts, which I have found immensely helpful. Kim is also willing to give a hundred and ten percent to make sure the job is done to the best of their abilities.

Like myself, Kim has also studied Professional Writing and Editing at Victoria University, has a lot experience not just with fiction writing (my area of expertise) but has also been the leading Editor for several projects like Platform Magazine, The Professional Writing and Editing Anthology and has edited and self-published two of their own novels. So, in my view, Kim has the right qualifications and right practical experiences, and therefore ticks all the boxes I require in an editor .

I’ve also worked with Kim before as a sub-editor for Platform and the PWE anthology, so I trust Kim’s judgement and trust is very important factor. In fact, I would go as far as to say that trust is the most important factor.
Let me use an example of my manuscript:

Kim put forward the proposition of removing two important (to me) chapters: the first chapter, which is a prologue from Robert’s point of view (Robert is my MC’s stepfather), and a therapy session chapter from Mary’s point of view (Mary is Beth’s autistic sister). Kim raised the valid point that, technically, these two chapters could be removed for multiple reasons such as number of Point of View narrators, cutting down on word count and the fact that the plot relevant information that was revealed in them could be revealed to the reader in another way.

I was adamant they remain in the manuscript. The Robert chapter showcased that Robert was making the effort to be accepting of James and the blended family situation from the very beginning (even though it wasn’t something he had any prior experience with) but I also wanted to show Robert’s acceptance was an ongoing thing and didn’t stop the moment he and Emilia got married. As I have experiences with blended/divorced family arrangements, I felt this was important to showcase.

The chapter featuring Mary’s POV was super important for me, and not just because I wanted people to understand the perspective of an autistic woman, but because I wanted to present both sides of the family drama situation. If I only had a chapter from Beth’s perspective explaining why she was upset about the family drama situation, I considered that unfair to Mary. As far as I was concerned, both sides need to be presented, although the chapter from Beth’s point of view will occur in Volume II instead of Volume I.

But that is not to say that both of those chapters were perfect as they were, both of those chapters required re-writes for them to be better, in fact the chapter from Mary’s POV was the hardest to re-write for me because I find it difficult to describe something I haven’t seen or experienced. So, as an Editor, Kim would raise valid concerns about how I had described the counsellor’s office.
The office should have been described as sparse and clean with little to no distractions. Whereas every counsellor offices I’ve been inside were small cramped office spaces with journals, books and client files scattered all over the place. So, that’s naturally how I described it.

The result was that I had to acknowledge that Kim was right, a good counsellor office shouldn’t look like that (even if it was based on real-life experience), so I took out the distracting elements. After all, a reader isn’t going to know that scene is based on a real-life experience. All the reader has is the words on the page. If a scene only makes sense to you because you know the deeper context, then the scene doesn’t work and you have two options: either you need to add that deeper context or the scene should probably be removed.

So even when I wanted to keep those chapters, I had to justify it and improve them so they worked properly. I’m not saying all editors are perfect and that an author/writer must obey them always: an editor is just as mortal as the rest of us, but an editor’s job is to advocate for the reader and you do need to trust their judgement in the matter (it’s why you’re paying them). While I’m sure that there are bad editors or scam editors out there, a professional editor wants your book to be the best book it can be. An editor will raise a red flag on what they perceive to be a problem, but at the end of the day, it’s up to the author to decide what to do about it.

Then there’s what I like to call the “Close Encounter” factor. Now, near the end of the editing process, Kim and I were working in close quarters for twelve hours (though we took breaks and stuff) and, while I’m sure I was aggravating in my inability to focus, we managed to get through it. This might not be a consideration at first, but you and your editor need to be work-compatible and you need to be able to work together to a professional standard over a long period of time (a novel is a long-term time investment).

But how can you tell if you’re work compatible with your editor? How can you tell if the editor in question is skilled and qualified enough?

Do some research.

What kind of prior work have they done? Do they have a website? Do they have links to their articles on their website? Have they edited and self-published a book before? Do they have testimonials you can read?

The Price Is Right

Now, this is the most important aspect of the editing process.
According to Kylie Mason (a freelance fiction editor):
Kylie suggests that a copy edit or a structural edit for a ‘normal book’ would each take roughly around 15-20 hours, depending on word length. While one is a line-by-line approach, the other needs you to stay focused and alert to things that don’t make sense – meaning both take about as long as each other to get right.
As for the cost of completing an edit (particularly relevant to self publishers), depending on the amount of work required to ‘overhaul’ copy or structure, it may be anywhere between $1500 and $3000. This of course varies between editors
.” –5 insights from a freelance fiction editor

Now, while I don’t have the official number of hours, most of my editing associates charge on a $40 per hour basis. The more work a writer does on the editing process, the less hours an editor will have to complete. Now, I’ll confess, I underestimated just how much the editing and designing process would cost, I had budgeted for a price range of $1500 – $2500 for the Editing, Cover Design and Layout process, but I’m guessing it more likely to be within the $2500 – $3000 price bracket.

Here’s the thing: the $2500 – $3000 price bracket is still manageable for my partner and I. We both work and we’ve both put money aside, so even if the worst-case scenario comes along, we can handle this. But, I want to clarify that not all writers can afford to spend three grand on editing. In fact, in the long-term, I can’t afford to spend three grand on editing either (I’m going to try and make this a once off thing). But I am also going to defend this.

As a first-time publishing writer, I didn’t know what I was doing, and the services that Kim provided was not only invaluable but necessary. If you are, as a writer or an author, considering the self-publishing path, you need to adjust to the mindset that editing is not an optional feature, editing is a mandatory feature of your book. My book would not be the finished product it is without Kim’s editorial expertise. Kim is worth every cent.

In saying that, the price of editing (which can be difficult for most writer’s budgets) shouldn’t prevent you from publishing at all. I don’t want to promote the idea that only those with money get be published authors. But a writer seriously considering the self-publishing option needs to know how much things will cost and what services are available. Kim just happened to be able to do multiple services, such as cover design and book layout, not all editors will be able to do this.

Writer Reflections

Editing is something I struggle with, but, most importantly a one-on-one editing working relationship is what I require. There was no way I could have sat at my computer and done twelve hours of editing without Kim sitting there beside me, as well as keeping me on track, sending me reminder emails, such as the reminder email that I haven’t given a yay or a nay to the latest version of the cover design.

In fact, it is because of Kim and their attentiveness that I feel I may not be able to pursue a publishing contract with a traditional publishing house, even if I wanted to. While Kim did have another occupation, Kim could work around it and give my project the focus it required. An editor in a publishing house is working on multiple manuscripts at the same time: it’s not possible for an editor in that position to give my manuscript the proper attention it deserves. A traditional publishing house will not be willing to give me the extra time and attention that I clearly require.

At this point, I don’t know whether this is a limitation I just have to work within and make sure to always have a day-job to help pay for my extra expenses, or it’s possible to improve as a writer so I get to a point where I won’t need that extra attention. The problem is that, at this point, I just don’t think it’s possible. As a writer, I need that extra help; I need that extra one-on one time.
All in all, this has been a valuable learning experience and I hope it helps other people who might be considering self-publishing their own novels.

~Christine Nagel Literary Services

~5 insights from a freelance fiction editor by Kylie Mason

~What does editing cost? – Jae Writer

~Editors Victoria:

~Writer’s Victoria

~Australian Writers’ Centre

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