Revising, Editing, & Proofreading for the Indie Author

Congratulations! You finished the first draft of your novel! It’s a brilliant concept, passionately crafted, and bound for the best-seller list. But you’re not done yet. Far from it. Whether you’re being traditionally published, or you’ve chosen to publish yourself, there’s a lot of work ahead. Today, I’m going to share my experience with self-publishing my debut novel, Sovereign.

When you go Indie, there’s no one to make sure your bases are covered. No agent reading it before passing it to the editor, who then prepares the book for publication. But that doesn’t mean you get a free pass. The book still needs to be revised, edited, and proofread. And I don’t mean your friend from high-school who is really good at grammar… Here’s what the process of Sovereign looked like for me.

Creating Sovereign

Upon finishing my first draft, I proceeded to go through it again. I’m not keen on sending out a first draft. Chances are there are glaring mistakes, inconsistencies, overly wordy places, underdeveloped places, telling instead of showing, and dare I say *bad writing*. It’s a waste of time for them and yourself because they will likely be so distracted by your blatantly obvious mistakes that they won’t focus on the parts you actually need help with. So first order of business is going through it, reading it all the way through from start to finish fixing anything that needs fixing.

Next, I was ready to share. So I sent it to my long-time writing partner. While she had it, I continued improving my draft. By the time I had a solid third draft, I sent it to a handful of beta-readers. From beta-readers, I’m looking for anything they are willing to offer: mistakes or plot problems they notice, how they feel about my characters, places that need more clarity or development, too-wordy dialogue, etc.

As feedback continued to come in, I was continually improving my draft. Some people like to walk away from the project while it’s out for feedback, but I was just too passionate to put it down. Perhaps I should have. Alas, I simply took the notes that felt right, passed on the others, and paid special attention to anything that was brought up by more than one reader.

I would often discuss notes I wasn’t sure about with my husband and one or two of the other beta-readers. I had many brainstorming sessions to work out problems with my writing partner, my husband, or my good friend and fellow Gliterary Girl, Sara Benedict, who was instrumental in getting Sovereign in top shape (especially with the characters). I had a few back and forth’s with other beta-readers, too. Different perspectives help. That doesn’t mean you have to take every piece of advice that comes in. Having a group of beta-readers is designed to help you tell your story as best you can, while still doing it your way. Weigh their opinions and do what feels right.

A Little On Beta-Readers

Beta-readers, for me, are absolutely critical to the process. When choosing readers, it’s important to select a small variety. Use people who are also writers and others who are not. Avid readers can give you great feedback, so don’t overlook them. Also, make sure to include readers of your genre if possible, as well as some who are not. A good story should transcend genre, and a good beta-reader can be helpful even if your book isn’t in their wheelhouse. Skip over family and others who will likely just tell you how great your book is. That’s not useful (although I’m sure it makes you feel good).

Now What?

After all my beta-feedback was in, I’d probably done at least another two drafts worth, but it’s hard to say since it was a continual process, not really one where I was numbering drafts. So, again, I read through from start to finish to see what I had. How did it flow? Did I still notice errors or problems? If so, I addressed them. When I was confident with my start to finish, I did two things simultaneously.

First, I sent the draft back to my writing partner for proofreading. She’s an English teacher and a very seasoned author, so she catches a ton of my mistakes. Of course she was still at liberty to point out any kind of problem she saw. While she was working on that, I sent copies to two beta-readers who’d already read it and agreed to read it again. I wanted to know their perspective on the improved manuscript now that I’d addressed all of the issues that came up in the beta round.

Meanwhile, I did my first “official” round of proofreading (I’d been proofreading with each pass of editing/revising I did as well). When I received my marked up copy from my writing partner, I address her edits, and again, did another pass from start to finish alongside her markup.

Side note: Too many writers don’t take the time to actually READ their book once they’ve finished it. Do this! Trust me.

Proofreading

Now that it appeared I had a finished project, I took it to the professionals. I found a proofreader that I could afford and I hired her. She addressed only errors (no character or story). Punctuation, grammar, missing words, wrong words, etc.

After this, I decided to still do one more pass myself. And I STILL found mistakes. Then one last time, I put my manuscript into a program that read my text aloud. And I STILL found errors. It’s amazing how many mistakes were corrected from first to final draft. If you take one thing away from this, please let it be to play your text in a speech program. It’s amazing what you will hear that you don’t see.

Then, I finally had a final draft that I considered publishable. And would you believe there were still problems noted by some readers who reviewed the book after it was published? It’s bound to happen. I’ve read books from huge publishing houses with mistakes, so if those books can’t be perfect, the odds are Indie books can’t either. However, to put your best foot forward as an Indie, at the very least, pay for quality professional proofreading.

Wow, that’s intense. Is all that necessary?

Yes. I’ll tell you why. There is a stigma with self-published books, and sadly that stigma was earned by poorly edited slush that resulted from how insanely easy it has become to publish a book. Seriously, anyone can do it.

Readers have been turned off because they’ve taken gambles on Indies only to be disappointed by books so riddled with errors they couldn’t even finish reading. It puts a bad taste in their mouth, so much that they don’t want to read Indie anymore.

I’ve seen this myself in plenty of self-pubbers. Lack of or poorly done proofreading is a huge problem for a few reasons. First, it’s unprofessional. Second, it gives the impression that your book isn’t on par with the quality of books being put out by publishing houses. Last, it’s a distraction. If I’m reading along, each time I spot an error it pulls me out of the story, even if only for a moment. So you can imagine, by error number ten, my enjoyment of the book has been stalled as many times. Eventually, I can’t enjoy it anymore.

Trust me, it matters.

Next Time

I learned a few things the first time around that I will do differently moving forward. I used too many beta-readers and I won’t do as many next time. Most people in your life won’t give you useful feedback. They’re just excited you wrote a book and they want to read it. Now I know. I will also give drafts out in waves instead of giving the same draft out to everybody. I’ve heard this is NOT the way to go, but I feel I can be more strategic now that I know which readers give which types of feedback. I will use them accordingly. Lastly, I fully intend to pay more money on my proofreading. While I got a great deal, clearly a substantial amount of errors were missed (considering I published a book that still contained errors—I’ve corrected them, by the way, but the damage is done for the readers who bought copies with mistakes).

So, that is my experience with revising, editing, and proofreading. I realize the process may be different for others, if not the majority of others, but this is what worked for me and helped me learn what to do better next time. No matter how one feels about my book, no one can say I didn’t put the work in! 😉

Recap of Takeaways

-Don’t give out a first draft (waste of time)

-Vary your beta readers (to get a variety of perspectives)

-Play your text in an audio program (or have your Kindle read it to you)

-Pay for proofreading (and content editing if you can afford it)

-READ your book, start to finish, peel through it with a fine-toothed comb

– Revise, edit, repeat, repeat, then proofread as many times as possible

As the saying goes, writing is re-writing, Friends.

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