Quick Guide for Self-Publishing Writers: Am I ready for an editor?

Are you ready for an editor?

dog reading a book with glasses

CC image “Lucy-Book” courtesy of Nickkay on Flickr. Some rights reserved.

The advantage as well as the challenge for self-publishers is that you are in charge of the entire publication process, including aspects with which you may or may not be familiar. It’s all up to you. Including editorial work.

Which is great, if stressful.

Below, please find an extremely abbreviated guide to the three main types of editing which I introduce all my clients to, and what you need for each type of editing to apply. I’ve included tips on when each scenario is or is not for you. These topics are much deeper than this, and in future posts, I’ll be looking at them more closely. For now, you may use this as a shorthand to find out where you are in the process. For a more detailed description of services, visit my Manuscript Editorial Services page.

Types of editing: The three buckets

Editorial help can enter the picture at any point during the writing process, beginning with the initial outline and brainstorming, through various drafts, to print/e-publication. Whether you are ready for an editor depends in large part on what you want or need.

Editing lives on a spectrum. For simplicity and ease of understanding, you should be familiar with the following basic categories (my “three buckets”):

  • Developmental/content editing; Ghostwriting
  • Copyediting
  • Proofreading

Developmental/content editing

Both developmental/content editing and ghostwriting deal with the big picture of your manuscript (MS). Although they are very different processes, they have a lot of requirements in common. In the former arrangement, you remain the writer and are responsible for the content. In the latter, your ghost is responsible for doing the actual writing.

This type of editing is mostly about: structure.
The primary work is: conceptual, writing revision.
The goal: a good, and complete, first (or second) draft.

What you need: For nonfiction: a clear idea or topic, your goal or takeaway, the main points you want to address. For fiction: your overall plot structure, one main character at least, and the main character’s challenge. For any genre or topic: you will need to know your audience, and be open to discuss what you hope to achieve with your work.

You are not ready if: You are considering a variety of themes or big-picture topics, and are undecided which you want to pursue; you don’t yet have a main character or plot conflict; you are not sure what audience you want to address. If this is you, you may wish to look into book coaching, peer writing groups, and/or networking organizations in the area(s) of your interest first.


Copyediting is where form meets function. The big picture is set, and you want to make sure the content does the job you want it to do.

This type of editing is mostly about: consistency and clarity.
The primary work is: fact-checking, editing at the paragraph and chapter level.
The goal: a tight, convincing manuscript ready for proofread.

What you need: an MS that has completed at least one full draft, and which you are not planning to change in any dramatic way. Copyediting is like working with Jell-O: the structure is malleable, but it needs to set first. You are ready for this step if you are happy with the overall flow of the manuscript, and want to make sure the paragraphs, sentences, and style choices play nice together. You want the manuscript to flow cohesively, and be consistent in tone, word choice, character details, and formatting.

You are not ready if: you are still playing with narrative structure. If you think it likely you will write entire new sections of the MS, move big pieces around, change character names, choose a different audience or reorient your topic focus, you are not ready for a copyedit. If this is you, you may wish to spend more time with your draft, or, if you want outside feedback, consider peer writing groups or a developmental/content edit or manuscript critique.


Proofreading focuses on presentation and accuracy. It does not care about the literary merits of any content. Proofreading wants to know, “Is this correct?”

This type of editing is mostly about: accuracy.
The primary work is: verification of content, elimination of errors or glitches.
The goal: a clean and accurate MS ready to publish.

What you need: an MS whose content is complete and set in stone. You want to verify spelling, grammar, punctuation, the accuracy of any links you include, and ensure your formatting hasn’t made a mess when you move from one file format to another. You are ready to print or e-publish after the proofread.

You are not ready if: you are still considering the best way to phrase certain paragraphs or sentences, or big pieces of the MS are still up for consideration. If you are unhappy with transitions or debating stylistic choices such as headings, layout of any images, or names of chapters, you are not ready for the proofread. If you want more engagement with the text, you may wish to consider a copyedit or developmental edit first.

The bottom line

Every single manuscript you publish deserves a second set of eyes. You’ve worked hard to create the book. Don’t torpedo your efforts by skipping an editorial review. When in doubt about what you need, ask a professional. Your book will thank you!

As always, contact me with questions at any time!

Thoughts, questions, comments, suggestions, and blarney (bonus points for wit):