Five steps to reduce your editing costs

Cleaning up your manuscript as much as possible before submitting to an editor will significantly reduce your costs. Here's how to do it.


As an indie writer, chances are you’re on a tight budget, and editing can be a major expense, in some cases the biggest expense you will incur as a self-publisher. Luckily there are ways for you to lower that bill without compromising on quality.

Editors charge either by the word or the hour, but either way the more work they have to do, the more you pay. I charge by the word, but I will adjust my fee based on a sample edit of your manuscript; the worse shape it is in, the higher the quote. An editor who charges by the hour will naturally take more time to edit a poorly presented manuscript than one with fewer errors, and will therefore charge more for the former. Cleaning up your manuscript as much as possible before submitting to an editor will therefore reduce your costs.

On a typical 80,000-word novel, an experienced editor will spend anywhere between 60 to 80 hours editing your manuscript, more if the work requires fact-checking, has illustrations with captions, a plethora of footnotes, complex formatting, or a lengthy character list for the editor to keep track of.

Anything you can do to reduce your editor’s workload, then, will be time well spent and money saved. Here are five things you can do yourself that will lessen the workload for your editor and the financial load for you:

1.  Create a style guide specific to your document, and give that to your editor along with your manuscript. If you don’t have one, a good editor will create a style guide for your manuscript; do this yourself and you can save yourself a good deal of money — I charge 15% less if I do not have to create a style guide for a client. (I also provide deductions for authors who are willing to dispense with explanations of my changes.)

Use your style guide to check your manuscript for errors. For example, if you prefer cellphone to cell phone, do a search for cell phone to see if you typed that in by mistake (it’s easy to do because your word processor will not flag cell phone as an error). If you named your character Elisabeth, check for Elizabeth because Spell Check will not.

2.  Put your manuscript through Spelling and Grammar Check. While that seems like common sense, you would be surprised how many authors don’t bother to, assuming their editor will find and fix everything. We will, but at a price. Note, however, that Word’s Grammar Check is actually quite prone to errors, often unable to differentiate between it’s (it is) and its (the possessive), to cite but one annoying example. Word’s Grammar Check also has a real problem with stylistic choices such as sentence fragments, and you will find yourself rejecting much of what Word thinks is an error. Still, it’s a good idea to put your manuscript through Grammar Check at least once in case it finds a few things you missed that are truly in need of fixing. The same idea applies to other word processors. If you have words you commonly misspell, consider building a custom lexicon.

Integral to Spell Check is to ensure your document language is set correctly. Microsoft Word (and most other word processors) usually ships with the default English dictionary set to U.S. English; if you’re writing in Canadian English, or UK English, and so on, you need to change the default dictionary. You would be surprised how often I am asked to edit manuscripts where the author is not writing in U.S. English but the default dictionary has not been changed. As a result, American spellings are not flagged as errors, and the author has missed a multitude of mistakes.

The other thing to remember about your word processor is that its dictionary may be out of date; investing in a current dictionary is money well spent. You can then add updated options to your word processor’s custom dictionary.

A quality editor will never rely on either Spell or Grammar Check — I only do so with my own manuscripts, and only as an initial “walk-through” — but if you use it at least once you will likely find errors, errors your editor will not then have to fix.

3.  Check your paragraphs and headings for consistency of font, font size, and placement. It’s best to use styles to create this consistency; in fact, learning and using styles now will save you enormous time and effort later. This is particularly important in non-fiction works, which may have many paragraph, heading, and subheading formats.

4. Go into your Word options, select Advanced, then under “Show document content” check every “show” box. Then return to your manuscript and click on Show/Hide (the ¶ symbol on your toolbar) and check for invisible markups or text. Authors often accidentally add (or fail to delete) bookmarks, hyperlinks, soft returns where a hard return is required (and vice versa). Hyperlinks are often imported from text taken off websites, and bookmarks are left behind if you at any time created a table of contents or an index. Cleaning these out will not only benefit an editor working on your final draft, but will be absolutely necessary before creating an ebook from your text.

5. Learn your craft. Indie writers make significantly more mistakes than established writers, yet indie writers are usually the least willing or able to spend the money required to hire a decent editor. Invest in the appropriate style guide for your region, then reference it often. American authors for the most part rely on The Chicago Manual of Style; Canadians do too, though we occasionally follow conventions found in the U.K.’s Oxford Manual of Style. (I keep and use both books to cover all bases.) Chicago is of help to everyone, though, as it includes comprehensive coverage of grammar and punctuation. (Oxford covers punctuation but not grammar.) There are also style guides for specific manuscript types, such as those for academia, business, science, or law.


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