Editing with the Story Grid

Editing with the Story Grid

I’ll be honest. One of my biggest challenges as an author is editing. First drafts are easy. It’s pure creativity, dumping words on the page like sand into a sandbox. When you start editing, you have to turn that sand into the complex and well-thought-out sandcastle that will become your novel. 

So, I was surprised to find out that there aren’t a lot of books on editing. There are hundreds of books on how to write a great work of fiction, but in my opinion, the pickings on editing are comparatively slim. I tried a few, but none really gave me a method. They gave me plenty to worry and think about while editing: plot, story structure, characters, pacing, dialogue, tense, point of view…but in what order? How do you edit for the macro and the micro issues your novel might have? To actually conceptualize the cohesive whole of those 90,000 words as they currently are, let alone how they should be.  None of those books told me how the heck to actually go about self-editing a novel.

When I wrote my first novel Moonburner, I kinda winged it, cobbling together a method from these various suggestions. But before I wrote Sunburner, I found The Story Grid. This book is a game changer! The Story Grid, written by editor Shawn Coyne, gives you a method for full-on nerd-level dissection of your story. While other editing books generally said: make sure the patient doesn’t have one of these ten diseases…this book shows you in detail how to diagnose, and treat, those illnesses, right down to where to put the scalpel. Warning: this book is a tome. It took me months to read it and digest all of the nuggets in here, and by the time I got to the end I felt like I should re-read it all again! There’s that much good stuff in there.

Though this is a huge oversimplification, my key takeaways from the book fall into four main categories. 

  • Genre: Coyne has a complex view of genre that encompasses more than the categories we typically think of when we think of genre, e.g. mystery, western, sci-fi, etc. He looks at genre through a five-leaf clover of choices the author makes, from content (traditional view of genre) to structure, style, reality, and time. Each of these different elements come with different reader expectations, called “obligatory scenes.” You need to hit the right obligatory scenes, depending on what genre you are writing in, or your book won’t work. I have found these obligatory scenes to be a helpful road map for drafting and editing, to make sure you’re making your readers happy. 

Told you! There’s a lot here!

  • Internal versus external arc: Books are often described as “plot driven” or “character driven.” But in most well-written novels, you will have some aspect of both an external story arc (plot), and an internal story arc (character) (though the ratios between the two will look different between a James-bond type thriller versus a literary novel). Coyne talks about this in terms of “internal content genre” and “external content genre” and explains how you have to know both (1) your protagonist’s external story arc, and (2) the transformation they are undergoing on the inside. While this may be intuitive to many authors, I found it super helpful to name my internal (maturation plot) and external arcs (savior plot-action genre), so I could keep this front of mind during my editing process.
  • Units of story structure: Coyne breaks down story structure into its component parts. The smallest unit of story structure is the beat: which involves five steps–inciting incident, progressive complications, crisis, climax, and resolution. This structure then repeats itself in larger story units: the scene, the sequence of scenes, the act, and the story as a whole. This is a good gut check when something doesn’t seem to be working–often you find that you are missing one of these key elements.
  • The Story Grid: The Story Grid is the most exciting take-away from the book for me. The Story Grid is a method by which you set up an excel spreadsheet with each of your scenes, identifying numerous elements: such as character, point of view, value at stake, and change in the scene. You then turn this itemization into the story grid, where you can generate a visual representation of the changes in your story (see below). In my opinion, the key element of this method is identifying the value-shift, or turning point, in each of your scenes. According to Coyne, each scene needs to have some shift in value, to move the story in some direction, either good or bad, otherwise you should cut it. Example: your characters are chatting over coffee. Nothing new or exciting is revealed that effects the plot or their character arcs. No value shift. You need to rework that scene. Versus a scene where your characters are chatting over coffee and one reveals that they’re sleeping with the other’s boyfriend…now there has been a value shift. From trust to distrust and belief to disillusionment. That will be an exciting scene for your reader! 

    The Story Grid for the middle build of the Silence of the Lambs

I ran Sunburner through the Story Grid (a somewhat tedious process), but I learned that I had about six scenes that were effectively filler, with no real value shift. Often these were scenes where I was trying to reveal some tidbit or backstory about a character, but in the focus on character, the forward progress in my story totally stalled. The Story Grid told me I needed to re-work those scenes (see scenes below where I couldn’t come up with anything to put in the “value shift” column). Obviously, it’s ok to have moments where there isn’t traditional “action” happening in the story, but then revelations about your characters need to provide the value shift. If I include a tidbit about a character because I really like that tidbit but it doesn’t actually matter for the story…well, that’s the exact type of darling you should be killing in the editing stage.

There are a bunch of other story elements that the Story Grid will reveal to you, but identifying these turning points, or value shifts, was the most helpful aspect of the exercise for me. 

The beginnings of my story grid analysis of Sunburner

If you’re a fiction writer who has struggled to find a tried and true method of self-editing, (especially large-scale, structural edits), I would highly recommend you check out The Story Grid! It will definitely play a big role in my editing process going forward.

Shawn also has a podcast called the Story Grid where he helps book marketing guru Tim Grahl try to write his first book, as well as a website and newsletter with great resources. Check out both at http://www.storygrid.com.

Update on Sunburner (Plus Some Editing Insights)

Update on Sunburner (Plus Some Editing Insights)

I’ve been posting a lot about reading and books lately because I’ve been indulging in some summer reading. But that’s not all I’ve been up to! I’m now working on my second big edit of Sunburner, the sequel to my debut novel, Moonburner.

Some Sneak Peaks of Sunburner:

If you’ve read Moonburner, you know that in the epilogue, the moonburner oracle tells a new prophecy: “And in the reign of Kailani Shigetsu, daughter of Azura, there will be a great war. A war of gods and men. For Tsuki and Taiyo are displeased with the lands of Kita and Miina, and only one side will remain standing when it comes to the end.”

As much as Kai wishes that this prophecy was a dud, it’s not! When Sunburner opens, one year after the end of Moonburner, the lands of Miina and Kita are in trouble. They are suffering through a terrible drought and famine, and a new disease has cropped up–a spotted fever that seems to have no cure. Kai, Quitsu, Hiro and the rest of Kai’s friends and allies have to figure out if these deadly conditions are really the result of the gods’ displeasure, and how to stop them.

I’m excited about several aspects of Sunburner! First, there are some new characters, including Colum, a mercenary-adventurer (remember the guy who worked the dirty-tavern song into the steps of the moonburner treasury?) and Jurou, a sunburner historian with his nose buried in a book. We get to visit new corners of Kita and Miina, including the Misty Forest, the high Akashi Mountains, and islands in the far south of Kita (palm trees, anyone?). You’ll learn about what really started the Burning War all those years ago and finally understand the magic of the seishen. You’ll even get to meet the seishen elder himself!

Sunburner is told from two points of view, Kai’s and Hiro’s, which is a big change from Moonburner! I’ve been having fun figuring out how to write from a male POV, and will be blogging on that in the coming weeks. Kai and Hiro’s relationship has evolved from googly-eyed infatuation to more mature love as they try to figure out how to balance the running of two countries and their different cultural backgrounds. Is Hiro man enough to handle a relationship with a strong woman in a position of power like Kai? We’ll have to wait and see!

How’s the Editing Going?

In case you’re curious about my process, I thought I’d share how things are going in writing this second book. I’ve streamlined the process a lot since I wrote my first book, which involved so much trial and error.

I don’t outline much before I write my first drafts. I know generally how things will start and end, but there is a lot of discovery in the middle as the draft gets written. So I’ve learned that it’s very important for me to take a good hard look at plot and character after that first draft. I now write an outline with one-sentence summaries of each scene, to help me get a sense of plot and pacing of the whole book. I don’t write in chapters anymore, just scenes, waiting until much later to put the book into chapter form.

I also do character sketches of my main characters at this point. I identify their internal and external character arcs and motivation, likes and dislikes, mannerisms and key traits. These are helpful for me to keep in mind as I’m doing my first edit, and allows me to be consistent as I’m working through the draft.

Then, I identify what big picture items I want to change. Big stuff, new scenes, plot points. I resist, AT ALL COSTS, line editing or correcting grammar or punctuation at this point. It is so hard to ignore these easy-to-fix glaring errors, but the fact is, I might end up cutting that scene tomorrow, so why should I spend an hour line-editing it today? It’s not until the book is in roughly the shape I want it to be in that I start worrying about such things. This was also a big lesson learned from the six months it took me to edit Moonburner.

I made some significant changes to Sunburner after my first draft, and basically rewrote the entire final battle and closing scenes. I am now feeling good about where it is, after having completed one whole edit! On my next edit, I’ll be focusing on making sure every scene and plot point has a purpose and moves the plot forward at the pace I want. I’ll also be keeping a careful eye on my characters, and adding more backstory if needed to make them feel robust and well-formed.

Timing!

My goal is to finish editing Sunburner by the end of October, so the book can go to beta readers in November (If you’re interested in beta reading, send me an email!) I am aiming to finish two more complete editing passes by that point. I have a new book idea in a totally new world, called The Confectioner’s Guild, that I want to write in November through NaNoWriMo.

Helpful Resources:

For you authors out there, I highly recommend the following three books for editing your manuscript. All have been invaluable to me in my learning and editing processes!

The Story Grid, by Shawn Coyne

Manuscript Makeover, by Elizabeth Lyon

The Selling Writer, by Dwight Swain


Featured photo by Claudia, cc license https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/

Claire Luana is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com.

At the crossroads

Umberto Nicolleti, cc https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

Umberto Nicolleti, cc https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

I am doing some soul searching. I have come to a crossroads with my book. I am just finishing up my last bit of editing after a round of beta reading. I think it is ready for the next step. But deciding what the next step is…that is tougher.

I was planning on querying some literary agents and indie publishers, with the full expectation that I would hear nothing but crickets for a few months, and then decide to self-publish. But I have discovered some other next steps, and now I am torn.

A lawyer colleague of mine put me in touch with a woman at a company here in Seattle that helps authors. It’s called Girl Friday Productions. The folks at Girl Friday are editors, publishing consultants, publicity gurus…basically they provide whatever you need at whatever stage you are at. We had a great coffee session and she told me that what I most likely needed at this stage was a developmental edit. She said their editors have a lot of experience in the biz and know what sells to agents, publishers, and readers. She said they would then be able to help me with the query process to try to maximize my success with traditional publishers.

I have shied away from the thought of doing a professional developmental edit because of the cost. But I do see that there could be tremendous value there. It could put me in a better position to get the attention of traditional publishers, and even if it didn’t, I feel fairly confident that I would end up with a manuscript that would sell better, even if I ultimately self-published. And yes, I understand that this company could be pulling the wool over my eyes to part me from my hard-earned cash (though I didn’t get that vibe). But that is factoring into the calculus.

There are some other options out there that are attracting my attention, as well. One is another Seattle-based company, called Booktrope. Has anyone heard of this company, or published with it? According to their website, there is some sort of vetting process, and if you pass, you get added to their author pool. Once in their pool, publishing professionals like editors, cover designers, and publicity folks can sign onto your project. You then form a “team” that works together to publish your book through Booktrope. Rather than pay them upfront, Booktrope and your team get a cut of the proceeds from your book. This, in theory. keeps your team invested in the long-term success of your book in a way that other publishing models would not. This is a fascinating idea!

I have also been hearing about other “hybrid publishers” like SheWrites and Christopher Matthews Publishing. These companies (I’m sure there are others out there as well) also have a vetting process before you go into their publishing lineup. Once you are given the green light, you pay a pretty little fee for a copyedit, proofread, cover design and interior layout. But these companies help you with all the publishing and distribution, and the books look very professional. Yes, this seems like “vanity publishing” on the one hand, but on the other hand, a self-published author would have to pay a number of freelancers for similar services if they want their book to look professional, anyway. So what is the harm in getting it in one package?

There are so many options out there, it is overwhelming. I would love to talk to others of you who have been through the process or worked with any of these companies. How did you decide what your next steps would be?

Once more, with feeling

Roland Hasert, https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/

Roland Hasert, https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/

Is there anything more annoying than a whiny protagonist? I mean, maybe you shouldn’t have taken on this “hero” bit if you didn’t think you could handle a little hardship now and again!

Oh sure, every protagonist hits rock bottom at one point. It’s part of the story arc. All has to look hopeless before the hero rises out of the dark valley of crisis into the climax of the plot. But too much “why me” can get old fast.

I tried my darndest when writing my novel, Moonburner, to ensure that my protagonist, Kai, was not whiny, mopey, or full of self-pity. Sure her parents die, but welcome to young adult literature, folks. It kinda goes with the territory.

In particular, I didn’t want her to cry very much. Sure, she cries when she is sentenced to death, but even then, not until she’s all alone, and has been sufficiently stoic when the bad guys are around. Maybe I was projecting my own internalized beliefs about how to be taken seriously as a woman in a man’s world. Rule number one: you don’t cry.

I also tried to avoid too much inner monologue. I have read that newer authors frequently include too much inner monologue because it is easier to write than dialogue or action. How do young authors explain how the character is feeling? Tell! Because showing is hard. Anyway, I wasn’t going to make that mistake.


Because of these efforts at the drafting stage, I was both surprised and not surprised when I got feedback from my beta readers. I had a couple of readers tell me that Kai felt cold and impersonal. I got comments along the lines of: “her parents die and she just keeps going on. Doesn’t she even care?” Clearly, in my effort to avoid a whiny, sobbing, inner-monologue ridden protagonist, the pendulum swung too far. My protagonist now seems like a heartless bitch. Also not good.

I’ve been thinking about how to address this without running afoul of my prior concerns. How do you show a character is grieving without going into sappy inner monologue? (Although I know, sometimes inner monologue is ok). The first example that came to mind was the Hunger Games. When Prim dies, Katniss takes the time to decorate her body with flowers and sing her a song. The author clearly could have said: “we’re in a fight for survival here, no time to dilly dally playing with flowers…” and cut that scene out. But that would have been a huge loss. The scene is very powerful in how it shows Katniss’s sorrow.

Clearly, the trick is to go back to the handy writer’s motto: show, don’t tell. Show the character’s immediate reaction to grief through physical sensations, immediate action, and more long-term reactions. Sure, it takes more brain cells as a writer, but that’s why it’s so much more effective. I will be thinking hard about ways to show Kai’s sorrow over her parents, without going into whiny inner monologue. Hopefully I’ll come up with something brilliant!

Robot Editing: Putting Editing Apps and Programs to the Test

Robot Editing: Putting Editing Apps and Programs to the Test

Last week I posted about hiring a professional editor: when, why, how much. But there is another alternative. Editing programs.

There are a lot of different editing programs out there. Not having any experience with the options, I tested out a few. Here are the programs I checked out this week:

Consistency Checker

Cost: Free

Screen shot 2015-07-06 at 9.47.30 AM

If you have a gmail account, it is easy to upload a document to the cloud through “Google Docs.” I then accessed the add-on through the Google Docs store. This is a free feature of the greater program ProWritingAid, which provides a lot of different reports for a license fee of $35/year. Other free reports include the Cliche and Redundancy Check, Acronym Check, and something called Corporate Wording Check.

Consistency Checker ran a report on my whole 94,000 word manuscript in a few seconds. It caught the following:

-Inconsistent hyphenation: There was a fair amount of inconsistent hyphenation throughout my manuscript, and to be honest I never would have noticed, because the words were so far apart. Sometimes, I had correctly hyphenated (“The door was still smoking…” versus “the still-smoking door,”) but at least I could check and confirm that I had used the correct form.

-Spelling variations: Among vs amongst; channeling vs channelling; leapt vs leaped;

-Commonly misspelled words: In some cases this was helpful, but in others, it was not smart enough to recognize that the “misspelled” word was actually part of another word. It kept thinking I misspelled “assess” as “asses,” when this was in fact the end of “classes.”

This program was quick and easy to use, but I couldn’t figure out how to jump to the error it was bringing my attention to. I am not going to scroll through all of the pages in my 300 page book to try to find the one instance where I failed to spell out a numeral. However, for many of the spelling and hyphenation errors, I was able to go into Scrivener, search for the word, and quickly make the correction. So it was still helpful.

Four stars for this one.

Grammarly

Free, or Premium for $25.95 per month

Screen shot 2015-07-06 at 5.08.05 PM

This program was super easy to add to my browser, Chrome. Now it will grammar check all of my activity on the web. That’s great! But I wanted it for my WIP, which is on my desktop. Never fear, once I created an account, I was able to upload my document to grammarly.com for proofing.

Oops, turns out that Grammarly only edits 20 pages at a time, unless you pay the hefty $26/mo price tag for a nicer version (at least, I believe this version would allow unlimited uploads–it wasn’t entirely clear). I saved the first 20 pages of my WIP in a separate document, and tried to upload it. It was still too big, so I cut it down to about 10 pages.

Grammarly caught a lot of comma misuse. Apparently I have a habit of using a comma before the word “and.” Grammarly definitely wasn’t going to have any of that nonsense. I also wasn’t consistent about using a comma when ending quotations. It also caught a few misspelled words that were helpful, like “chirurgeon.” (Who the heck knows how to spell that, anyway).

Another nice feature was that it recommended changes, which you could make with the click of a button. I think for an article or shorter piece, it would be quite helpful. For me, since I would be making any edits to my master document in Scrivener, this wasn’t useful.

Overall, the app was helpful in catching my comma misuse, but would definitely not be worth the trouble of uploading and checking my entire manuscript 10 pages at a time. It also kept trying to change “moonburner” to “moon burger,” which just annoyed me.

Three stars.

Hemingway App

Cost: $6.99

Screen shot 2015-07-06 at 9.43.59 AM

I went ahead and shelled out the $6.99 for the desktop version of the app, which is supposed to better handle large blocks of text and have a function to save your work.

Despite this, appears you also have to upload into the app in chunks. The program was not particularly intuitive, and there didn’t seem to be any Help or Tutorial options I could find. I did manage to upload my first chapter. The program noted that I had used 6 adverbs, 2 of which were the same (softly). This was good for me to know. It highlighted 3 instances of the passive voice, but I liked all of them, as they were used purposefully. So I left them. It found one possibly confusing sentence, which I ended up keeping the same, too.

Overall, I did not find Hemingway app to be helpful. The annoyance level of having to upload chapter by chapter is such that I will not be using it for larger works. I didn’t feel that it caught many grammatical mistakes. Again, it might be good for a short story or smaller piece you are focusing on.

Two and a half stars.

Edit Minion

Cost: Free

Screen shot 2015-07-06 at 4.53.57 PM

This is a beta web-based program that allows you to copy and paste chunks of text. I pasted just one chapter and it wasn’t too big for the program to run. It highlighted the following possible mistakes/weaknesses: adverbs, passive voice, weak words (mine was “a little”), and a sentence ending with a preposition. The highlighted items are color-coded in a handy dandy colors.

Overall, I would compare this to the Hemingway app, but it is easier to use and free. It does not appear to catch confusing or long sentences, which Hemingway app does, but on the other hand, it has a cute Strunk minion cartoon, which endears me to it.

Screen shot 2015-07-06 at 4.54.39 PM

For its limited functionality, it was pretty cool. Four stars.

AutoCrit

Cost: $12/mo for unlimited words

Screen shot 2015-07-06 at 9.39.10 AM

This is also a web-based editing program. You upload your work and it edits it for you. I uploaded the first chapter of my book to see what it found. This was definitely the most thorough of the programs I used so far. It was also the most overwhelming. I need a drink just looking at that bar chart.

Auto-Crit generated a report that breaks down: dialogue tags, adverbs used, adverbs in dialogue tags, passive voice, showing vs. telling indicators, cliches, unnecessary filler words, word frequency and word use (apparently I used the phrase “on a rickety” twice in a paragraph–that was good to know), etc. It also compares your work to overused words in published fiction, letting you know that there are too many words like: look, had, could, knew, just.

I was impressed by the depth of analysis this program provided. But in a way, it was TOO deep. This was only one short chapter of my work, and it gave me about 20 different areas to work on. That is just too many. And sometimes you HAVE to uses words like “could” or “look,” sorry Auto-Crit! To run an entire manuscript through this program would give you a Herculean amount of data that if fully integrated would leave your novel sounding like it was dictated by a robot. I think the better use of this program (at least for longer works) would be to use it on shorter sections to familiarize yourself with (a) common mistakes, and (b) common mistakes you make, in order to better self-edit down the road.

Of the programs I viewed so far, this is definitely the Mercedes model, with the most bells and whistles. It seemed to catch all the items the other programs caught bits and pieces of, and more. And at $12 per month for unlimited words, the price tag is pretty reasonable.

Five stars.

Overall, I would use Auto-Crit and Consistency Checker again, mostly because of the ease of uploading an entire manuscript. I would also use EditMinion for shorter pieces. I found Grammarly and Hemingway app to be more frustrating than helpful, and would not use them again.

There are some real benefits to utilizing these programs. They are not a comprehensive edit, and do not replace a professional editor, but they are an excellent tool to help you self-edit. In just an afternoon, these programs helped me identify some common mistakes I make, which will help me catch those when I do my next edit down the road. You could also utilize these programs right after finishing a draft or an edit, when you are too close to the work to perform a traditional self-edit.

What about the rest of you self-editors out there? Have you had good luck with these or other programs?

Going pro: When should a writer hire a professional editor?

Photo by Nic McPhee, cc license  https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

Photo by Nic McPhee, cc license https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

I’m kind of sick of editing. There, I said it. Admitting you have a problem is the first step, right?

I’ve been editing my WIP, Moonburner, fairly consistently since January.  Currently, I am completing the fourth edit before I send it to some beta readers. I think part of my problem is that I keep seeing the same issues with my manuscript and trying to fix them, but not quite knowing if my fixes are effective. I end up going in circles. I need a fresh perspective. I think my beta readers will help a lot with this. But I have also been thinking about hiring a professional editor.

Is this a cop-out? I don’t know. One the one hand, you could argue that you are hiring someone to do the hard work for you (although you will still have to implement the changes they recommend). On the other hand, I am a total rookie at this, and it would be helpful to have a seasoned pro give me some pointers.

This got me looking into the different stages of editing. Turns out there are a number of discrete stages of editing, and different types of editors themselves. Many editors may handle some or all of the stages, while other might specialize in one. Much of the info below comes from a great post by The Book Designer.

Developmental Editor

A developmental editor comes onto the scene fairly early in the process, and helps with big picture things. Does the plot work? Are there holes? Are your characters flat or not believable? Advice from a developmental editor might lead to some serious changes in the book. Parts will be cut or reworked. The status quo will be challenged. It works best when this process is collaborative, with ideas and changes bouncing back and forth from writer to editor.

Line editing

I have seen developmental and line editing described interchangeably, but I agree with folks who consider line editing to be a separate stage. Line editing is about readability, about the words being used, while developmental editing focuses on the underlying components of storytelling (theme, character, plot, etc.). A good line editor will dive into the choice of words used to eliminate clumsy phrasing, repetitive words, passive voice, or overly wordy prose. They will reorder sentences or paragraphs to improve transition and flow.

Copy-editing

Then comes copy-editing. Copy-editors are the grammar nerds, those who sleep with a copy of the Chicago Manual of Style under their pillows. They will fix your formatting, your punctuation, your split infinitives, your misspellings of common words. (Did you really mean accept instead of except?) This editor focuses on whether your work is grammatically correct and complies with the applicable style guide, not whether or not it actually sounds good or is enjoyable to read.

Proofreader

This is the last stage. Proof-reading should occur after the book had been formatted for publication, preferably with proof pages that look just how the finished book will look. This editor will catch inconsistent formatting like pagination or spacing, fonts, headers and footers, and more. Catching these details will likely be the difference between your book’s pages looking professional and polished, or slapped together screaming “self-published!”


There are other individuals along the way who also play an important role.

Beta reader

Beta readers are third parties (preferably not Mom and Dad or your best friend), who will read your work and give impartial feedback. They are the one to tell you that your main character isn’t likeable, the book jumps around too much, or the great battle scene at the climax of your book kinda falls flat. They will help you figure out what readers won’t like about your book, so you can fix it before publication.

Cover designer

I have heard that if a self-publishing author spends money on anything, it should be a professional cover designer. Maybe others disagree, but the fact is, people judge books by their covers. A quality cover will put you above the self-published pack, and will signal to the reader that you took care with what was inside the cover, as well (which is hopefully true).

Interior layout designer

A proofreader will be able to help catch mistakes in interior layout, but if you don’t know where to start when designing your book, an interior layout designer might be a good investment. There are a number of uniformities in book formatting that we don’t think about as a reader–unless they’re not followed. Where to leave blank space, where to start your page numbers, how to format your table of contents, your headers, your title page…these are all things you should be making conscious decisions about, not hoping you got it right.


To hire each of these editors and experts would cost an arm and a leg, and might not be a wise investment for a self-published work that will cost readers $.99. How much exactly are we talking?

Some editors quote by the word, some by the page, some by the hour. It can be difficult to even compare prices. A good starting point is to remember that industry standard sets 250 words per manuscript page.

According to the Writer’s Market, book development/line editing should cost $6-7 per page, copyright editing should cost around $4 per page; proofreading $3 per page. Translated to price per hour, that equals $50 per hour for development/line editing, $35 per hour for copyediting, $30 per hour for proofreading.

The Editorial Freelancers Association tends to agree, estimating $55 per hour for developmental editing, between $30-50 per hour for copyediting (depending on how heavy the editing is), and $30 per hour for proofreading. The EFA estimates that the average editor can developmental edit 1-5 pages per hour, copyedit around 5 pages per hour, and can proofread 9-13 pages per hour. The figures don’t exactly add up, especially on the developmental editing end, making me tend to think that paying by the word or page would be a better deal for an author at that stage.

As for cover designers and interior layout designers, you should be able to find a cover design, which includes spine and back cover, for about $500-700. More like $200-300 for just an eBook cover. For interior layout, probably a few hundred dollars. For beta reading, you shouldn’t pay. You should be able to find willing beta readers on sites like Goodreads or Wattpad who are willing to beta read for free.

So where does this leave me? Moonburner is about 88,000 words, or 352 pages. It would cost me ~$2000 for a developmental/line editor, ~$1400 for a copyeditor, and ~$1000 for a proof reader, based on Writer’s Market’s estimated prices per page. Add $500 for a cover, and this is looking pricey.

Those who have been through this process and hired professional or freelance editors, what type of editor did you hire? What stage were you at? Do you have regrets? I will likely only spring for one professional edit, perhaps a copyeditor after beta reading. I know I want to hire a cover designer. But I would definitely appreciate any wisdom about whether this combo represents the most bang for my buck.

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