Whyte Ink


What editors can do for you, the self-publisher

Editors can turn ordinary books into good books, and good books into great books, but editorial skills, properly applied, do not draw attention to themselves, and therefore, they are often overlooked and undervalued.

Editors are pivotal figures in the book production process. They sit at the centre of a triangle:

An editor’s job is to assist an author to communicate with an audience.

Making your manuscript the best it can be

The world’s best writers use editors, because they know that a good editor enhances the quality of their work. Editors are the first reader, and they bring an impartial opinion to the table. If there are big flaws in your manuscript, it is best to find out early in the process, and to be given professional advice on the nature of the problem, and what can be done to fix it. Many is the best-seller that is a very different book from the manuscript first submitted, because an alert editor has seen an opportunity to make the manuscript something special by adopting a fresh approach.

An editor’s involvement in bringing a manuscript up to publication standard can range from:

Editor as project manager

Apart from polishing the manuscript until it gleams, as challenging as that may be, there are many other aspects of the publishing process that can be handled by an editor:

Publishers employ editors (either in-house or freelance) to do all these things, which accounts for a large part of their production costs, but is obviously aimed at producing the best quality book possible.

The importance of a well designed cover (and book) cannot be overstated, but many people are surprised to find that this aspect is generally managed by editors in publishing houses. This ensures that there is consistency between the design and the text.

Publishing houses are faced with another triangular conundrum – the competing tensions of time, quality and price.

As a self-publisher, you can achieve the best balance by using an editor. You have a lot more control, because the editor will always work to satisfy your needs. You won’t be told that there’s no time to fix corrections you’ve found. For a start, the chances that you will find any are considerably reduced by engaging an editor, and even if some do slip through the net, you’re the one controlling the publishing schedule, not the publishing house.

It’s a jungle out there

On a spectrum, at one end is the publishing house option, whereby they do all the work, from knocking your manuscript into shape to production, distribution and marketing – assuming that you can get in their door in the first place. Right at the other end is the self-publisher who attempts to do everything themselves.

But there is an enticing middle option – using an editor to polish your manuscript, manage the production project, and offer advice and assistance in relation to promotion and marketing.

Sure, it's another expense, but if your book ends up being a much better product, and you don’t have to negotiate the myriad challenges of publishing, leaving you to focus on marketing your book as only you can – and you earn so much more from the sale of each and every book – the option of using an editor has to be worth some serious thought.

The world is changing – and fast. Lots of top-flight editors (and the designers they work with) are working freelance, even taking large publishing houses as clients when it suits them. This fact, together with the amazing technology available, means that there’s no reason why you can’t self-publish a top quality book.

Editors come in many forms, and you can negotiate how little or how much you want them to do for your book. They’re human too, which means they like different colours, food, and even different types of books. So don’t be afraid to shop around until you find one with whom you feel comfortable.

Marketing if you do, marketing if you don’t

That only leaves the marketing, which, it has to be said, is going to be a hard slog. Sure, the large publishing houses have access to well-established distribution networks, but that is a double-edged sword. Your book will be churned through the system alongside so many others that it may never get a chance to prove itself. And a lot of smaller publishing houses aren’t a whole lot better off than the intrepid self-publisher when it comes to accessing the major distribution networks. Many of them have to go cap in hand to the big guys to ride along with them. Guess where their books sit in the pecking order?

Now look at the advantages of self-publishing with an editor as project manager:

Where to find editors

Many countries offer university level courses in editing, and editors have professional organisations which are bound by codes of conduct and professional performance.

Australia has societies of editors in each state, and a national body, the Institute of Professional Editors, that administers the Australian Standards for Editing Practice and is moving towards an accreditation system for editors. 

The United States seems to be a little more relaxed in this regard, but has the Editorial Freelancers Association: see www.the-efa.org

The Editors Association of Canada has an excellent website at www.editors.ca that includes explanations of the various roles played by editors.

At the end of the day

Given that so many publishing houses clearly expect you, the author, to drive the marketing bus, you might as well ensure that you get as well paid as possible for your efforts. You know the story better than anyone, so why not focus on selling it as only you can.

To enable you to focus on this critical task, it’s worth giving some serious thought to using the services of a professional editor to at least make your book the best it can possibly be, and then to steer you through the mysteries of the publishing process if required.


Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts.

William Strunk, Jr.