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Lowering editing costs (part 2)

In the past, I’ve talked about how freelance editors might charge for their services. There are many ways professionals might do this, but one way I discussed was using the sample edit to determine how many hours a project is estimated to take, applying an hourly rate, and then charging a full project fee. Time is, therefore, money, as the saying goes.



Logically, it makes sense then that saving time will also save you money. Now, before anyone objects, let me explain what I mean by this. It’s not hard to find editors and proofreaders on the internet who promise a quick turnaround and a suspiciously low cost no matter how long the manuscript is.


Particular types of indie authors actively seek out these sorts of services, so there’s a market for them. The credentials and training of such an editor may be nonexistent. The experience and results are usually poor. It doesn’t take much effort to search writer, author, and self-publishing Facebook groups to see posts about supposed editors who ghosted their client, never returned a manuscript, or edited so poorly that even the little amount of money spent on the service was wasted.


I could say more about and break down the math on, for example, a $100 line- and copyedit (if that’s even what you’re getting!) of a full-length manuscript, but I don’t want to waste your time. Let’s jump into the good stuff. There are ways to save money on editing, and they’re directly connected with a topic that I included in my last newsletter (preparing a book file for editing). That’s right. There are steps the author can take long before editing to lower editing costs. I’ve addressed the topic of self-editing and revision as a means to lower cost in an earlier post.


This time, I’d like to take a closer look at using formatting to lower editing costs. This is a shout out to the power of Word styles. If you don’t know how to use them, I recommend Louis Harnby’s post on the topic. Here, I’m going to talk about why you should use them. In my most recent newsletter, I gave practical tips on how to prepare your book file for editing. This is not quite the same thing as formatting, but the topics do overlap a bit because formatting involves considerations like page and section breaks, font size, style, and color, etc. Save yourself time and effort by preparing your book file by using Word styles.


Let’s break down the pre-editing process to illustrate the point at which formatting adds time (and therefore, money) to an editing job. When I begin any editing project, the first thing I do (after saving the original file and creating a new editing file, project folder, etc.) is clean up the document. This includes the following steps:


  1. Making global changes (Track Changes turned off): changing double spaces to single, single quotes to double (or vice versa), checking the position of punctuation and quotation marks, and changing smart quotes to curly quotes.

  2. Taking a “walk” through the manuscript to note items of interest for the style sheet, to check for missing text and correct chapter number order, and to get a feel for the general shape of the manuscript.

  3. Formatting all text within the manuscript with Word styles.

  4. Running PerfectIt to begin making changes to the document that don’t affect style or tone or require a query to the author.


Let’s take a look at number three on that list, since it’s the topic of discussion for this blog post. For each type of text block (heading, subheading, first paragraph in a chapter, all other paragraphs, special text, book title, author name, section breaks, etc.), I have a Word style with preset settings for font size, type, and location (right, left, justified, centered) and paragraph settings (space before or after the paragraph, widow and orphan control, page breaks, etc.). With one click, I can use the Word style pane to apply that style to any block of text within the document.


In order to do this in a complete way to make it easier for placing the document into a layout template or formatting software, every piece of text in the document must have a Word style applied. In the traditional publishing world years ago, editors had a code or tags they would use to show the purpose of each piece of text to the book’s interior designer. Some publishers still use tags today, but in the indie publishing world where most authors will either use a free layout template or a formatter using InDesign or Vellum, Word styles act as the tags, telling other industry professionals the purpose of each piece of text.


Going back to the list of four pre-edit items, you’ll notice that none of them are actually the manual line-by-line edit. If you don’t edit, you may not know what goes into the editing process and the cost of services. Well, this list of four pre-editing steps is one part of the process and the cost. Another part is the time and effort it takes to read line-by-line through the manuscript, editing and adding relevant information to the style sheet. As mentioned, you can already read about how to save money in that part of the process in a previous blog post.


To save money in this first part of the editing process though, you may need to brush up on your Word styles skills. Formatting with Word styles can be a time-consuming process. It could potentially add more than a couple of hours to the overall work, especially if the manuscript is long or has complicated formatting choices. So learning to apply styles and having them in place before you send them to an editor could save the editor time (and you, money!). It won’t mean they won’t check formatting at all. It just means that they’ll spend less time checking formatting and more time actually editing your work.


As a final caveat: don’t confuse applying Word styles with the actual formatting of your book. Word styles should be basic, giving the future formatter or interior designer a clear picture of the different parts of the book that can then be tweaked and customized to create the beautifully designed book that you desire. You should only send a fully formatted book PDF file to an editor if they are going to proofread your page proofs; otherwise, it’s important to make sure editing, especially heavy editing such as in line editing, comes before the full book design and formatting process.


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