Lesser Known Pieces Of Editing Advice From 14 Publishing Pros

In the spirit of helping you write the best book possible, we’ve gathered a list of lesser-known editing tips from 14 experienced editors and authors. Between them, these ladies and gents have been through the editing wringer hundreds of times, and house worlds of wisdom we should heed.

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Beth: BZHercules.com, a low-cost editing and consulting service

In short, don’t do it [editing your own work]! It is a huge mistake that can cost an author time and money, as well as cause some embarrassment. Whether the writer is seeking to publish traditionally or to self-publish, there are certain guidelines, rules of grammar, and formatting requirements that are best left to an experienced editor. For example, many of the smaller “boutique” publishers that have popped up on the Internet require use of Chicago Manual of Style formatting for submissions. Many authors do not know what to look for regarding this style (e.g., how to write numbers, titles, and abbreviations, or indent paragraphs) and should use an editor that is familiar with it. The placement of commas is another frequent issue for authors (The serial comma is a killer!), and don’t even get me started on semi-colons (Okay, I will get started—it is necessary punctuation and it cannot just be thrown out of writing because the author doesn’t believe in it! That is punctuation-discrimination at its worst.).

If an author is self-publishing, the risks associated with posting work that is riddled with errors on many of the outlets are actually higher than submitting to publishers. At least the publishers will be discerning. When posting to the DIY outlets, there is a low filter for screening errors until the work is already out there. Often, outlets such as iTunes and Smashwords will ticket submissions that have been reported as containing mistakes, and Kindle will pull them if the “right” complaint is given. Additionally, the reviewers are another source of misery for a self-publishing author who is trying to gain readers. Reviews regarding errors found in books are not always accurate, kind, or specific and giving critics fuel for the fire is never a good idea, possibly damaging an otherwise great piece of work.

My advice, then, is to find an editor with a track record of success. If you are an author who is new to publishing (You are obviously not new to writing, but that does not make your work showroom ready.), then your editor ideally is college-educated in a writing-related field (journalism, English, education, linguistics, communications), open to collaboration, and experienced at navigating through traditional and/or self-publishing (Most editors will provide a free sample edit of a few pages to you; do not, however, ask to see the edited work of others. That is confidential information and if it is provided to you, be wary of the ethics of that editor.). As the author, expect to pay for several passes through your work (one or two isn’t going to be enough if there are thousands of changes needed—although using a couple of editors isn’t a bad idea if they have similar editing philosophies. Again, ask for samples and compare the styles.), be open to criticism, and be cognizant of what you yourself are attempting to put out in the public eye. Every author needs another set of eyes that has an experienced view.

 

Meredith Efken: Fiction Fix-It Shop

Many writers tend to discount the importance of content editing. They focus on copy or line editing, and they either believe they don’t need content help or they fear a content editor will take over the story or change their voice. However, if a story fails, it’s not usually because of a couple of typos but because the story structure itself is weak or because the character development and portrayal doesn’t ring true on an emotional level. The biggest downfalls I see in many stories are:

  1. a lack of understanding of scene structure and a wobbly or disorganized story structure, and
  2. character emotions that are either too shallow or not psychologically accurate for what the character is facing.

A good content/substantive editor should be able to help spot these problems—and do so in a way that enhances the story and your voice. But if you’re not able to hire an editor, at least study some good how-to resources on those topics. My top recs are these: For story structure, Michael Hague at storymastery.com has an excellent seminar called The Hero’s Two Journeys that explains how the outer plot meshes with the character’s inner transformation. For character emotion, Margie Lawson at margielawson.com approaches character emotions from a psychological background and explains how to convey emotions in a fresh and authentic way. For scene structure, take a look at Randy Ingermanson’s article “Writing The Perfect Scene” which draws on the concepts taught by Dwight Swain in his book, Techniques of the Selling Writer.

 

Helen Baggott: Editor

Many writers embark on the editing process and assume it’s all about trimming things down. Often it is, but it’s too easy to edit out a crucial element that causes the plot to crumble. And because you, the writer, have the complete manuscript – warts and all – in your mind, you can’t distinguish between something that is still in the book and something that’s just a memory from a previous version. If you do decide to go for the chop, make sure you look at the bigger picture and resolve any potential issues before moving on.

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C. S. Lakin: Author, Editor

Writers should consider getting a manuscript critique or evaluation before any line editing. Most books have a lot of structural flaws and weak components that the writer can’t see, and it helps to have a professional work with the author to strengthen or fix these weak areas. I always say that getting an edit done on a flawed manuscript is like putting pretty icing on a yucky-tasting cake. The book may look nicely edited, but it’s not going to hold up. So getting that critique done first, at any stage, is so helpful.

 

Kristen Weber: Freelance book editor, Co-founder of ShelfPleasure.com

Put your manuscript away for at least a couple of weeks. When you come back to it for editing, change the size of the font. You need to make it look different so you can actually see it. It’s like when a chair in your house accidentally gets moved – you won’t notice it until you trip over it! It is important to present your eyes with something different so you see what’s really there. And then once you think it’s perfect, give it to someone else to read – and they’ll find even more to fix!

 

Chandra Clarke: Editor

As everyone knows, the problem with editing your own work is that you’re too familiar with the material. My best tip for mitigating that is to change both the font type and the font size on the document. If you’re working in a serif font, change it to something sans serif or vice versa, and make it a bit bigger. This will change the way the text looks just enough to make it seem different, and that will force you to focus more on what it actually says, as opposed to what you think it should say.

 

Gary Gibson: Author

One of the best ways to learn how to edit your own writing is to edit someone else’s. I started writing paid critiques of unpublished novels more than five years ago, and I think it did a lot to improve my understanding of my own writing and in the process made me a much better writer. Before that, I’d been an on-off member of a writer’s group in my home city for more than twenty years.
Taking part in a writer’s group can be invaluable, because you have to think about why someone’s story or novel does or doesn’t work. Even better is when you get to tell them what you like or don’t like about their work – and explain why. Doing that gets you thinking about the process, and the how-to of writing, and how to apply it to your own work. It’s a bit like the old saying: if you want to master something, teach it.

Rebecca Horsfall: Author

We’re taught at school that good writing involves using adjectives liberally in our compositions. In truth this is just plain wrong. The use of many adjectives is a sure sign of immature writing. When editing our own work it’s important to notice where we’re peppering our prose with adjectives and prune away all but the essential ones. The same is true of similes; you remember them: “his joints were as creaky as the old barn door,” or “her sudden smile was like the sun appearing from behind a cloud.” Similes almost always seem clunky and immature in prose. Same goes, in fact, for all the elaborate metaphors and figurative language so beloved of our school teachers. The more simple and uncluttered our prose, the more mature it will feel to readers (and publishers!)

Laurence Daren King: Literary Consultant

Set up the word processor for writing a novel, not an essay or letter as seems to be the default. Increase the margin size or font size until you have about eleven words to a line. You will then get a realistic idea of paragraph length. So many authors have paragraphs that are far too long. They think: ‘It’s only three quarters of a page long, I see that in novels all the time’, but they have eighteen or twenty words to a line.

Tania Hershman: Author

Change the page from portrait to landscape and change the font, to try and see your writing with fresh eyes, as if you hadn’t written it.

 

Sam Jordison: Author, Founder of Galley Beggar Press

If you can, cut the first chapter. It’s almost certain to be your worst bit of writing.

 

Fay Sampson: Author

Even after you’ve edited your book to the highest standard you can, get it professionally copy-edited. Writing consultancies like the Writers’ Workshop can put you in touch with an editor who will bring your work up to a professional standard and save you embarrassment later.
If you’re adamant on editing your own work, these professional editing tips will serve you well. After all, having a great story interspersed with mistakes and plot holes is a sure-fire way to have critics pounce, and readers close the book.
What other editing tips do you have? What do you look out for when editing your own book? And what are your most common mistakes?

How to Publish Stress Free with Kindle Direct Publishing

When Amazon launched Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP), the way an author delivered their work to their audience changed forever. This week we’re going to give you a crash course in KDP publishing, to help make your experience as stress free as possible.

Let’s Begin!

Log into KDP using your Amazon account, or create a whole new one if you wish. When setting up your account you’ll need to add your Address, Tax details and Bank Account. This is so that Amazon can pay you directly. Be aware that you will only receive your royalties from your home country direct debited into your account. Overseas royalties are still paid via cheque.

A special note about Tax

Australian KDP users should be aware that Australia has a Tax Agreement with the US so that we can earn royalties without having to get hold of an American IRS number or lodge a US Tax Return (hooray!). We can use our Australian Tax File number, but the IRS withholds 5% of royalties (as you can see below).

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Creating Your Book

Once all of your account details are completed, click on “Bookshelf” on the top menu.

Click on “Create New Title” so you can begin to add your new book details. Most of this section is relatively straight forward but there are a few things you should have ready.

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KDP Select and Exclusivity

The first thing that KDP asks is whether or not you want to be enrolled in their KDP Select Program. KDP Select is about making your title exclusive to Amazon and Kindle which means, legally, you cannot publish your ebook on iTunes or any other digital book store not owned by Amazon.

It is a contract that you enter into 90 days at a time that allows you multiple benefits. Some of these include free book promotions, higher royalties and a cut of their Kindle Owners Lending Library (KOLL) revenues.

At the end of the 90 days you can opt out or stay in, but you must wait the full 90 days if you choose to be in the program. KDP Select and its effectiveness is controversial, but like any contract read the fine print so you know what you’re agreeing to.

Your book description is what’s going to appear on your book’s sale page. If you haven’t read our blog on How to Write An Effective Amazon Book Description, I recommend you do that before you start.

Note: Do you have an ISBN? While technically you don’t need one to publish your boo,k it is important to have one as it can help book distributers and customers locate your title.

Pick your Categories with Care

Do you know where your book sits in the genre world? One of the most important things you need to get right is your categories. I’d recommend thinking of categories like you would think of good to think of sections in a book store. This is where your target audience will go hang out and peruse the shelves. If your book isn’t there, they won’t be able to discover you.

One great thing about KDP is that it gives you the chance to have two separate lots of category options, as you can see below. This allows you to reach more customers that wouldn’t have found you if you were only listed in one category.

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KDP also lets you have seven different key words of your choice that will link Amazon’s search results to your book. The flexibility of KDP means that you can change these up at any time if you find that they aren’t effective. It’s important to note that all changes have an average turn-around of approxmately 12 hours.

Uploading your Files

When it comes to uploading your cover and manuscript files, you must remember that KDP has formatting rules and regulations. If you haven’t gone through a designer that has already formatted your cover to correct specifications take the time to read the “Cover Guidelines.” The same applies for uploading your manuscript.
KDP also have a handy automatic spell check that will scan your book once it’s loaded. If it flags any errors, do take the time to check them to ensure there aren’t simple error’s that you can fix before the final upload. If you have lots of errors, then you aren’t ready to publish. You are a professional and you should see your book as a representation of you and your brand. You want people to buy it and enjoy it, not place it down and leave bad reviews because of sloppy grammar.

DRM

DRM stands for Digital Rights Management. This is a digital lock that you can place on your ebook so that no one can convert it from the Amazon .mobi files to other formats that can be used on multiple devices. Like KDP Select, there are many conflicting views on whether or not DRM is a good thing, but be warned, once you publish your book you can’t change your DRM setting.

Preview your Book

This is a fantastic perk put in by KDP that simulates how your book will look on a Kindle screen. It gives you a chance to really pick up any formatting errors that you may have overlooked.

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Setting your Territories and Prices

If you hold worldwide rights for your book select this option so Amazon can make it available to all possible countries. If you don’t hold world wide rights (you should already know your rights before you get this far) only select the countries for ones that you do.
The pricing table you’ll be able to see allows you to enter potential sale amounts, and view the royalties that you’ll earn. Read KDP’s “Pricing Page” if you find the royalty rates confusing. Also note that you are restricted on how low or high you can price your book depending on whether you select the 35% or 70% royalties option. The 35% royalty rates mean you can sell your books cheaper, but if you go for the 70% royalties, the cheapest you can sell your book for $2.99.

Once you’ve selected (and double checked) all of your details and agreed to the Terms and Conditions, you can now press the “Save and Publish” Button. Your book and all of its details will now be reviewed by the KDP team. This can take up to 48 hours.

In Summary

KDP is a great publishing program, but make sure your cover all your bases and know what you are agreeing to, like in any other business venture. Make your publishing experience far more pleasant by being prepared before you begin.

Ask yourself:

  • Do you have all of your bank account and tax details?
  • Do you have a cover that will meet KDP Standards?
  • Is your manuscript correctly formatted?
  • Do you have an ISBN?
  • Have you written an enticing book description?
  • Do you know your genre, and have you picked your key words?
  • Do you know which countries you hold rights for?

If you answered no to any of the above, take the time to do your research, ensuring you place your most professional publishing step forward.

I get asked all the time: What’s the most important element on a book cover?

the_war_on_words.largeI get a lot of e-mails from designers finishing school, to designers just entering the industry and have changed from a hobbyist to a professional, and there is one reoccurring question that comes up:

What is one thing that will help me create a good book cover?

You can’t ever just say it’s one single thing, design is such an all-encompassing experience. It’s like building a house, you can’t ask: what will help me build a good house? without expecting a list.

I’m going to tell you the one thing that is at the very top of the list. Often ignored, rarely thought out, and separate from the imagery. It’s seen as like a third cousin who lives out in the country, people don’t really want to talk to it.

What is it?

TYPOGRAPHY

the_king_of_methlehem.largePurpose of type:

Pfft, game over, I can hear you saying. I just put on some Garamond, or even just Arial or Times New Roman and it’ll look great.

NO, it doesn’t.

The purpose of type is to support the design, enhance the message, while being completely undetected. When you open a paperback and start reading, it is considered good typography when you are never distracted by the font face and the layout, and it is an ease to read. This is the same with type faces on a book cover. It should almost remain invisible, but add to the beauty and grace of the cover.

If the interior of a paperback looked like this it would drive us mad and we’d have to put the damn thing down:

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Think of it like… a bride getting her hair done for a wedding. The rest of her looks beautiful, from make up to dress, but if the hair isn’t done it’s alarmingly offensive. When it is done, it works together with the ensemble and never draws attention to itself, yet it can be complemented and singled out as beautiful on its own.

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Typography rule 1: Keep it simple, and legible

The first mistake I see on book covers is the use of overly technical, decorative or distorted font faces. The author/designer thinks:

Well, the genre of the book is paranormal romance so I’m going to use some really curly font I found on 1001 fonts, because it looks paranormal-ish.

Like this:

vtks-38.regular vtks-beauty.regular billy-argel-font.regular

The rule keep it simple means: Let the image do the talking. Choose a font face which takes a back seat and doesn’t scream LOOK AT ME!!!! 

The rule make it legible means: Your readers have to be able to read it fairly easily.  The typeface is going to get completely lost if there’s already a lot going on in the imagery, so don’t be scared to pull it right back.

utopia.largeTypography rule 2: Don’t use more than three fonts, try and just use two

What is the main focus of your book cover, regarding type? It’s the title. If you decide on a decorative or distorted or flourishy font then use it for the title to bring it to attention. You can also combine a decorative font with a serif/sans serif font face in the title to create a bit of excitement, and you’ll see this done a lot in Romance.

The second focus is the author name. If you want to use the same or a different decorative font face for the name then you end up diluting the focus of the title. To support the title rather than fighting with it, go with a serif or sans serif font face. Your name can still be big if you want, but there is a hierarchy to everything.

Title is King, the name is Queen.

At the high court of typography if the Queen wants to look like the King then the people won’t know who to follow, or focus on.

The tagline needs to be smaller than the name and very easy to read. I suggest using the same font face as the name, if it is a serif or sans serif. Consider it a whisper, but it has to fit with everything else. By going for a third type face at this point can splinter the cover unnecessarily, especially if it’s a poor choice.

the_mad_ones.largeTypography rule 3: Your type should be a part of the design, not an afterthought. Integrate it.

A pet peeve of mine is when I see a piece of art work that’s been created specifically for a book cover, by an artist that is so talented I want to puke, and the title name and author is plastered on in five minutes, and it shows.

What is the relationship of the title to the image? Does it need to be in the same colour palette, placed carefully into the right corner, does it need to be big or small? Take care when choosing font faces and try different layouts. Just like writing you have to work through drafts before you find the right one.

we_must_love_one_another_or_die.largeTypography rule 4: Work with grids

Grids are used everywhere in design. You can head on over to The Grid System or Thinking With Type to see how extensive working with the grid can be.

Grids bring control and balance to design. Don’t be afraid of them but work within their boundaries. Set up some margins over your document and follow them to ensure the width and height of words, letters, and lines fall into the same structure.

You can follow this tutorial at typophile to figure out how to layout a grid in InDesign.

This tutorial shows you how to set them up in Photoshop.

the_thing_about_life_is_that_one_day_youll_be_dead.largeTypography rule 5: If unsure, get a professional to do it

If you’ve hired a professional illustrator for your cover, why aren’t you investing the same sort of time and money into a designer who really knows their typography stuff? Learning how to work with type takes time and experience, the greatest typographers can act like an invisible Superhero. They take out the baddies, but you never see them or hear about them.

It is the typography that can make or break a cover, in some instances. 

If you don’t have the knowledge, invest in it. I offer type-only book cover packages for a much cheaper price than my standard book cover packages.

 

This article is for those still learning design, or aren’t a designer and still want to give their book cover a crack. Once you get a handle on typography you can go ahead and break all of the guidelines I’ve mentioned here. Experiment with it, see what comes about. Learn from example and research other book covers, look to see how others have done it. You don’t have to start from scratch. You’re allowed to seek out inspiration, direction and motivation.

What are your experiences with typography? What have you learned along the way that you can share with others? What is a book cover you’ve seen where the typography makes or breaks it?

How does a book cover look in the early stages?


You’ve been waiting for it all week… the first visual concepts from your book cover designer… and they’re going to be AH-MA-ZING. You’ve seen everything else they’ve done and this is just going to be the icing on the cake.

A ping in your inbox; it’s here! You open it up and… what the hell is this?

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Imagine that designing is just like writing (because it truly is).

The first drafts are always, always the worst.

You’ve been dreaming and imagining for a while now, expecting you’ll be overwhelmed with the first magical round of design, but that’s not how design works. Design is a collaboration, and requires input from two people: The designer and the client.

Step 1: Your expectations are too high

The first obstacle is that you’ll already have something in mind. Something that crosses all boundaries of standard design. You’re imagining the Willy Wonka magic ticket and setting yourself up for disappointment.

Willy wonka golden ticket

How to fix it: Enter your partnership with your designer knowing it is art, and art requires time, feedback, and development. Don’t expect your designer to create something off the bat that is 100% what you want because you’ll be writing yourself into a corner. Talking about, and working with the design, is normal.

Step 2: You lose trust in your designer

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The second obstacle is losing trust in your designer. Because your perfect book cover hasn’t immediately happened, the trust and confidence you had in your designer dims a little bit. You start asking yourself,

“How did we get here?” [Naturally. This is a part of the process.]

“Why did they misinterpret what I wanted?” [They didn’t. More communication is needed.]

“Should I have gone with someone else?” [No.]

How to fix it: Understand that this is part of the process. Remember, design is like writing. The first drafts are never the perfect ones, and the designer needs to start somewhere in order to work towards the final result you really love. You have to make the first step before getting to the top of the mountain, or something like that…

concept_rough_examples_scarlettrugers

Step 3: It looks low res and choppy

You were expecting perfection and it’s possible you got something with watermarks, low res images, and a whole lot of collage-like mess. They might have sent over three or four different designs, but they all look like this.

How to fix it: Let it go. If you’re responsible for purchasing stock images then the designer has to work with what they can (i.e.: low resolution, watermarked stock images) before you commit to the final concept and they can buy the high resolution images. Trust the process.

Step 4: There’s been a lack of communication

This cover isn’t what you were expecting at all. It has totally different concepts. You wanted people; they’ve put on scenery or use symbolic images.

I specifically wanted salmon

How to fix it: Did you tell them you wanted people? Did you share with them other covers you like that have models on them? Did they read the brief properly? It’s just down to communication. Before jumping the gun and telling them they did it all wrong, perhaps ask them to explain the concepts to you and why they went in this direction. They might just change your mind.

 

All of these conflicts can be solved with communication. Remember talk to your designer, ask questions. You aren’t expected to know how it works, that’s the designer’s job. And remember that design is an artistic job and will always need your direction and feedback to end up where you are totally happy with it.

Have you had a shock when dealing with designers? Ended up with something totally different? How did it work out for you?