Tag Archives: editing

The different types of publishing

Traditional Publishing

A traditional publisher will choose to invest in your work. They will help you to edit and polish your manuscript, organise a cover design and publish the book. They might or might not pay you an advance – a lump sum. Once the book’s royalties earn out that advance (if it ever does), you will receive royalties on sales, but the publisher will take their cut as well. They will almost certainly do some marketing, although they will still expect the author, especially if a first-time author, to do plenty of marketing of their own. They will be very fussy about who they take on – their goal is to run an efficient business. The biggest publishers will only accept work submitted by an agent, not work submitted directly from the author. The advantage of traditional publishing is the power of the publisher to promote the book and get it into bookstores.

Be aware:

If going with a traditional publisher, be aware of their reputation. How much marketing do they do? What quality editing do they provide? What is their quality control like? How fussy are they about who they pick up as an author? The main danger is signing your rights over to a publisher who does very little for you. Using an agent might help with this, but the agent will take a cut as well for the privilege.

Vanity Publishing

Vanity publishing has a bad reputation, but it has its place.  With vanity publishing, you pay the publisher to prepare and print copies of your book. Ideal for those with plenty of money, limited time and the wish to produce a one-off pet project, they are less than ideal for those actually seeking to earn through their writing, as they make their money from their writers and not for their writers. They might charge high prices for their services, and marketing may well be minimal or non-existent. They will probably take a large chunk of any royalties as well. The advantage of vanity publishing is the convenience.

Be aware:

The main danger is paying a large amount of money for services that at best you could have obtained cheaper elsewhere and at worst are poor quality as well.

Self Publishing*

With the ease of publishing these days, some people will finish a draft and immediately publish it, particularly as an ebook, with no quality control and with a cover design that marks the work out as amateur. Unfortunately, these tend to make little money and damage the reputation of ebooks generally, as well as producing a raft of scathing reviews that hurt the author. The advantage of self publishing is that it’s quick, easy and free.

Be aware:

It’s important not to rush a project out with no quality control, damaging your reputation as a writer. All the best-selling authors will have gone through a rigorous editing and proofreading, and professional cover design. That’s what your writing has to compete with if you’re trying to sell it.

Indie Publishing (Independent Publishing)*

An Indie publisher will also publish their own work, but will treat the whole thing as a business, investing in their writing via editing, proofreading, formatting and a professional cover. There are many writers who have chosen to publish independently after being traditionally published. There are some examples (but nowhere near as many) of writers going the other way – of being picked up by a trad publisher after publishing their own work. The advantage of Indie publishing is that the author maintains full control over the project and the end result.

Be aware:

You will need to act as a professional, investigating different editors, finding a cover designer who produces quality covers, and mastering marketing and other ancillary skills. An Indie publisher is a business person, handling all aspects of the publishing trade. It is hard work, but can also be very rewarding. An indie author does not do everything themselves, but engages other professionals to handle aspects of the publishing process, ensuring that each section is handled by someone who understands the job and can do their best for the project.

*Please note:

Not everyone makes the same distinction in terminology between self-publishers and indie publishers. The difference is in the attitude of the author, not in the term itself, but I find the distinction a useful one.



Alpha reader or beta reader?

Most writers these days are familiar with the concept of a beta reader – someone who reads your work and gives you feedback on it. But what is an alpha reader, and what’s the difference?

An Alpha Reader

An alpha reader is usually a fellow writer, who might be reading the story as you write it, giving technical feedback and helping you to shape the story. They should be familiar with how to structure a story, technical issues such as passive voice, foreshadowing, character development, point of view, etc.


An alpha reader is reading a story that could be very raw indeed, maybe even first draft, and needs to be able to look past the rawness to the heart of the story, and give feedback accordingly.


An alpha reader is the free equivalent of a developmental edit or full critique. It could be a way to help reduce the cost of developmental editing, but be very careful that your alpha reader is experienced enough to be of real help.

A Beta Reader

A beta reader is a reader. They should not be giving technical feedback, but should be explaining how they relate to the story – where do they get bored? Which bits were most exciting? Which characters do they love/hate? Can they understand the story? Do they get lost anywhere?


A beta reader should be reading a story that’s as polished as you can make it. They should be the last step before you pass the work to a professional editor. They might catch typos and other errors, but that is not their job and you should not consider them to be your proofreaders or editors. Instead, they give a reader’s eye view of the story, picking up weaknesses and strong points.


Neither type of reader will fully replace a professional editor, and you should still consider paid editing and then proofreading as your final quality control. But these two stages will help to ensure that the product you pass to the editor is as good as you can make it.




How much does self-publishing cost?

This question receives many different answers, from thousands of pounds to nothing. So what’s really going on?


First of all, actually publishing your book costs nothing. Uploading files to Amazon and creating either ebook or print version does not involve a fee.


But it’s not as simple as that. There needs to be quality control of what you’re uploading. Has your work been reviewed, to ensure that it makes sense, that it’s well written, that it doesn’t contain silly typos or other errors that will put your reader off? Will your cover design attract readers to your book? Is your layout correctly formatted for whatever platform you want to publish on?


If you’re self-publishing, then all those quality control issues come down to you. It’s your responsibility to get an editor to go through your work, to get a good cover design done, to ensure the formatting is correct.


Some of these you can do yourself, if you have the skills, but editing is one of those jobs that must be done by someone else to be done well; you are too close to your own work, and just can’t see what you’ve actually written as opposed to what you think you’ve written.


Even cover design and formatting are worth paying experts for; while anyone can throw a cover together, books are a competitive market, and your book deserves a cover that will attract the reader. Likewise, formatting can be fiddly and frustrating if you’re new to it. Why not spend your time writing, and pay the experts to do their job?


There are publishing companies around who offer to do all this as a package deal, for a price. Be very wary of these; generally, they make their money from the services they sell to you, not from their share of the books sold (although they take a good slice of that too). You risk paying a lot of money for services you could have got cheaper separately, and losing control of your book as well.


What if you can’t afford to pay an editor, cover designer etc?


The answer then is not to just put it out anyway. The quality is likely to be poor, and that will put readers off anything else you write, and weaken the reputation of self-published books generally.


Traditional publishing involves a publisher liking your book enough to invest money in it. They keep part of the sales, yes, and you might lose some of the control over your book, but they are the ones who take the financial risk. Remember, if they ask you for money to publish, they are not a traditional publishing company.


So in the end it comes down to this: please either be prepared to invest money as well as time in your writing to ensure quality (after all, you’re expecting others to invest money in your books!), or find someone else who is willing to do so.



Within the first page, you need to catch the reader’s attention.

  • What does your character want or need? What’s in the way?
  • What are they like as a person? Does a real sense of personality come across?
  • Is everything happening in a vacuum, or is it solidly grounded in time and space?
  • Is there a sense of direction in your story?
  • Is there a sense of unease, of something wrong?
  • How does the writing flow? Silly errors will put the reader off.



I’ve finished my novel

I’ve finished my novel! I have a complete, readable story. So now I knock together a cover, upload the cover and Word file to Amazon and hit publish, right?




Now the real work begins.


It’s really important to understand that there’s a continuum in writing. There isn’t any bad/good writing divide. There’s a whole range of qualities between barely readable and compelling writing. Just because you’ve completed a draft, and maybe a friend has enjoyed it, doesn’t mean it’s ready to publish. It means you have something you can work on and develop.


In this age where we can literally type “The End” on a draft and then have it for sale within minutes, some people are tempted to do just that. The result is often a barely readable mess, with spelling, punctuation and grammar issues, random tense changes and very odd, distracting formatting and a cover that screams Self Published!


If you just want people to read your work, then there are platforms where you can upload it and have a ready-made audience. In fanfiction particularly, writers can upload stories and be inundated with praise. That’s often not because of the writing, but because of the ideas they express about the characters people have already bonded with.


If you want people to pay for your work and feel so happy they’ve done so that they’ll tell others, then you need to put in a lot more investment – in terms of time, effort and usually cold, hard cash.


I can’t afford it, you might say. That’s where the traditional publishing market comes in. Find yourself a publisher, often via an agent, and they will invest in the writing for you, as long as they feel it’s good enough. Of course, they’ll take their share of the profit for doing so.


Failing that, you need to be prepared to put in the effort yourself. This means revising until you can’t see any way to improve it, asking beta readers to help, working on it some more, and then when you’ve taken it as far as you can, you enlist the professionals – the editors, the formatters, the proofreaders, the cover designers.


After all, the traditionally published writers expect to be put through such quality control, and they will be your rivals for sales. And you have not only your own reputation as a writer to protect, but the reputation of indie authors as a whole.


So now I have a full draft of my novel, I’ll be going back through to beef it up, and then seeking help, and I’ll be saving up for an editor, because even though I’ve studied writing and editing intensively, I know that I’m too close to it to edit my own work. And I’ll be making sure that what I do eventually publish will be the best I can make it, because I want my readers to want more, not to feel they’ve wasted their time and money on an inferior product.





Reading as a writer

Stephen King, along with many other writers, is firm in saying that if you want to write, you also have to read a lot. So what can you learn as a writer who reads?


There are many books around that teach you who to write better, but one of the best ways to learn is to see the advice in action. You want to master Point of View? Study books to see how they handle it. I have a list of books that I turn to when I want to see how to handle First Person, for example, to see how they deal with transitions between the present tense and the past, or to see how they make dialogue sound like fiction and not memoir, or avoid telling instead of showing. You want to see how books handle description? You want to see how they handle pace? How long a chapter usually is in that genre? How long the book is? Find a book and read it as a writer.


There are different levels of reading. Firstly, you learn to read for information and entertainment. Then you start to notice the little tricks that the writer uses to create an effect, or to make a point. Then you reach the point where you can start to use those tricks yourself. How can you expect to use those tricks if you’ve never seen them in use?


It’s also useful to make a note of books that use specific techniques – for example, The Martian is a great book to study. It makes use of first person via logs. It makes use of third person when it needs to. And, of course, it was a self-published book that then attracted a contract and a huge movie.


Beta reading can work too; sometimes it’s even more informative to see a less polished piece of work, and try to figure out what the issue is. But don’t assume that beta reading is enough. The wider you read, the better, and enjoy what you read. Just keep at least half an eye on the tricks the author uses, and think about whether you can adapt them for your own use.


Producing a book

Beyond the Beach HutsA writing group I’m part of is currently celebrating the release of its first book – Writers of Whitstable has produced a collection of short stories all set in the town. The collection includes a variety of genres, from around a dozen different writers.


The project started around September last year, when it was suggested we produce a book to release in conjunction with Whitlit, a local writing festival. We came up with a theme – all stories were to be set in the town of Whitstable or have some connection to it – and the title – Beyond the Beach Huts, suggesting an insider’s view of the town – and writers each came up with their own ideas.


Stories were brought to writing group for critique (we send stories around a week before the meeting, so on the evening we can discuss them) and then the writers continued to work on them privately, returning them for further critique if they felt they needed it. We had a few months for this process, with final copy being in by the middle of February.


My role in all this, apart from writing my own stories to contribute, was to accept final versions, give them a proofread/very light edit, send them back for approval, and then assemble them into a book. An editorial meeting between the leaders of the project led to a running order for the stories, and final proofs were sent out for everyone to check their own pieces and also glance over the rest of the book. I was also responsible for obtaining an ISBN and dealing with the publishing side.


Meanwhile, one of our members worked on the cover art, coming up with an eye-catching cover that we’re all very pleased with.


Once cover and interior PDFs were approved, we sent them off to a printer who specialises in books, and three weeks later we were proudly opening three boxes of books.


Minor adjustments to the files made them suitable for Createspace, Amazon’s Print On Demand service, and for ebook, so now as well as copies to sell at local events, we have the book available on Amazon in both paperback and kindle versions.


It’s been a really fun project to work on, and the big debate now is whether to do a similar project next year, and if so, what the theme should be.


Writing strong scenes

When writing your novel, it’s important that each scene carries its weight. How about using a checklist? Each time I look at a scene, I ask myself:

  • How has this developed the storyline?
  • What have I learned about the characters?
  • What have I learned about the setting?
  • How have I developed the theme of my novel?
  • Is the right person telling the story here?

Do you have any other suggestions for ensuring a scene is strong?


How much does an editor cost?

One concern of a writer getting ready to publish is how much an editor will cost. I’ve seen much resentment on all sides, from professional editors accused of high fees, from writers convinced the editor is charging far too much, and from those who charge very low fees and are surprised that others get upset.


So just what is a reasonable fee editing a novel? First of all, ask yourself some questions.

How long have you spent on your novel?

Just for fun, take a rough guess at how many hours you’ve spent on your novel. Bear in mind that in the NaNoWriMo challenge, some writers have managed to churn out 50,000 words in 24 hours, working flat out. Then there’s the time spent staring at the screen, trying to work out the best way of phrasing something. And the time spent working out your plot and whether things happen in the right order.

How long would it take to read through your novel?

If a reader were to sit down and read through it, how long would it take them? Okay, reading speeds vary, but you can get a rough idea. If we take a very rough estimate of 100 pages per hour, at 250 words per page, that’s 25k words per hour. And that’s reading very fast, not taking in every detail. So for a nano novel you’re looking at two hours minimum for a readthrough. That’s the reading time for an edited, published novel, though, not for a raw manuscript that still might need a lot of work. That can easily take four or five times that reading time.

How long would it take to edit your novel?

How long do you think it would take for someone to read through your novel carefully, line by line, making notes, checking every word, ensuring it all makes sense, ensuring continuity, and becoming as familiar with the text as you are?  This is very hard to estimate, so I would suggest that as an absolute minimum, take the reading time and multiply it by ten. The time taken will vary widely with the quality of the original writing, of course. Some texts only need a clean-up, while others will need a lot more work, entailing not only close reading but constant checking backwards and forwards. Novels written by someone who is not a native English speaker can be even more complex.

What’s a decent hourly rate?

The minimum wage in the UK is around £7 an hour. The recommended rate for editing in the UK is £20 – £30 an hour plus, depending on level of edit needed and quality of writing to be edited (Society for Editors and Proofreaders).  Editors with a great deal of experience might well ask for a higher fee, while some jobs are more complex than others. Don’t forget that an editor is also usually self employed, so responsible for covering their own tax, pension, sickness cover, holiday pay, training, national insurance and costs of running their office, such as heating and lighting. Admin also takes up part of their time, so time available to do paid, chargeable work is reduced accordingly. One estimate is that of any hourly fee they take in, around 75% maximum is actual net income, so here we’re talking about earning around £15 an hour net.


Look at those figures in relation to your estimate of time taken. What do you notice? For your nano novel, we’re talking about a minimum of around 20 hours of editing, at £140 minimum wage or £600 recommended rate. And most novels are more like twice that size. As the size grows, so does the complexity of the edit. For the 100k novel, we’re looking at a very rough estimate of £280 ($360 approx) at minimum wage and £1200 ($1500 approx) recommended rate. And that’s  for the bare minimum level of work on a very clean original. If you’re paying a lot less than this, then what’s happening?

Why are some editors much cheaper?

You will always be able to find editors offering to work on your novel for a low fee. This probably means one of the following:

  • They’re just setting out in business and trying to get experience and testimonials.
  • They cut corners and don’t give your work the time it needs (some may well just run the spell and grammar checks and claim to have edited your work).
  • They’re just editing as a hobby, and the money is an extra bonus.

Each group has its own drawbacks:

  • The first group lack experience and are likely to be inundated with requests. They will either buckle under the pressure or soon find they can’t afford to work at that rate for long and their fees will rise with their experience level.
  • The second group – well, just don’t expect them to add much quality to your novel. If you’re lucky, they won’t actually do any harm.
  • The third group forms more of a grey area. On the one hand, if your writing is a hobby, then maybe a hobby editor is suitable. I’m sure there are some out there who can consistently offer a good service at or near minimum wage. On the other hand, they are likely to lack the experience that a professional editor has gained over many years of working in the business, or they might be tempted to rush through the job or not understand the full implications of editing.

How hard is it to edit?

Editing is a highly skilled job, but a good edit is invisible, so it’s far too easy to get the idea that anyone can do it. A little knowledge can be a dangerous thing – be very careful of editors who apply rules rigidly, for example. In all writing, but especially with fiction, an editor needs to understand when a rule may be broken, and be aware of regional variations in usage, among many other issues.


Editing is not just a question of being good at grammar, punctuation and spelling. Your editor should also be drawing up a style sheet – noting anything from whether to use anymore or any more, or where to hyphenate, to whether John has blue eyes or brown, and the fact that Jane is left-handed and lives in a bungalow. The style sheet can be very complex, for example if writing fantasy, and will be used to check consistency throughout the manuscript in conjunction with a style guide that advises the editor on whether capitalisation is needed, where italics should be used, how to deal with abbreviations, and many other issues.


If they’re carrying out developmental editing, they may well also have many other tools such as a timeline they can check against and a way of checking the progress in each scene for balance between action and backstory.


A fiction editor also needs to understand the intricacies of issues such as consistent point of view, consistent use of tenses and how to retain the author’s style while polishing it ready for publication.


Always remember that there are three aspects to editing, as in many things: good, cheap and fast. You can always get one of the three, and usually two. But three out of three? Never! Which are you willing to sacrifice, and which is most important to you and your novel?






Writing books – Writing Deep Point of View

2016-01-26 08.47.57Point of view is one technique that many beginning writers struggle with. Writing Deep Point of View by Rayne Hall is number 13 of a series of 16 Writer’s Craft books. This one explains the appeal of deep POV to the writer and to the reader, and guides you through strategies to hook the reader and pull them into the story and into the narrator’s mind.


Twenty chapters take you through topics such as the sensory experience, trigger and response, male and female POV, switching POV, and cover topics such as how to get across what other characters feel and what’s going on elsewhere in the world.


The book is available in both kindle and paperback formats, although the kindle version offers much better value for money. I found it very useful as a reminder of the purpose and techniques of deep point of view, and it covers the topic in suitable depth, with plenty of examples. As a bonus, two complete short stories by the author illustrate the strength and flexibility of deep point of view in getting to the heart of a story and in twisting traditional stories.


Each book in the Writer’s Craft series covers one aspect of writing in great detail, and together they serve as handy, useful guides.