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Self-Publishing: With or Without an Editor

Alright, my fellow self-publishing authors, let's break down the written word into roles. By that, I mean, can we afford to work with editors? Conversely, can we afford not to? Editing is tough, particularly for people like me who have lysdexia, I mean dyslexia. So, let's go.

Self-Publishing: With or Without an Editor
I write for myself, revise twice to tell my story, then edit for everyone else. –J.F. Lawrence


Before diving into the challenges, let's meet the key players on this editorial stage, each with their own focus. Editors can come in any combination of the following.

Developmental Editing focuses on the big picture items in your story like plot, structure, and character development. Market prices can range from $1,000 to $5,000 or more, depending on the scope of work. Editors often charge between $0.04 and $0.10 per word depending on experience, expertise, and the specific demands of the manuscript.

  • Structural Improvement: This helps refine the overall structure and flow of the manuscript, ensuring a cohesive and engaging narrative.

  • Content Enhancement: Editors can provide feedback on plot, character development, pacing, and theme, enhancing the story's depth and appeal

  • Idea Clarity: Developmental editing aids in clarifying and strengthening the author's ideas, ensuring the book’s message is clear and compelling.

Line Editing involves wordsmithing. The editor delves into the nitty-gritty of your prose, smoothing sentences, refining language, and catching grammatical errors. Costs typically range from $0.01 and $0.05 per word, which can also mean $1000 to $5,000 depending on the length of your work.

  • Language Refinement: Polishes the manuscript at the sentence and paragraph level, enhancing clarity, tone, and style.

  • Flow and Pacing: Improves the rhythm, structure, and tone of the text, making it more engaging and easier to read.

  • Voice Enhancement: Helps maintain and enhance the author's unique voice while ensuring readability.

Copy Editing deals with grammar, punctuation, and consistency. Prices vary widely, from $500 to $2,000, depending on your needs.

  • Consistency: Ensures a uniform style, tone, and formatting throughout the manuscript.

  • Grammar and Syntax: Corrects grammatical errors, awkward sentence structures, and syntax issues, improving readability.

  • Accuracy: Checks facts, dates, and details to ensure accuracy and prevent errors.

Proofreading gives you a final set of eyes before you send it off. They catch those pesky typos and formatting issues. Costs can range from $200 to $1,000.

  • Error-Free Text: Catches any remaining typographical, spelling, and punctuation errors, ensuring a clean final manuscript.

  • Final Quality Check: Provides a last round of quality control before publication, ensuring the manuscript is polished and professional.

  • Presentation: Ensures the text is formatted correctly and consistently, giving the book a professional appearance.

Hint: Never hire a proofreader until you know you're done with your revisions. Otherwise, you plunked down a large sum of money for a partially perfected manuscript.


As a self-published author, budget constraints are a reality. Navigating the sea of editors and their varying price points can be challenging. You often get what you pay for, and sometimes free is too expensive. We can’t afford to turn off readers, and good editors will help you keep them happy and reviewing your book positively.

Brush Up: Purdue OWL (Online Writing Lab) offers extensive guides on grammar, style, and formatting.


On my first novel, I splurged on a top-notch developmental editor with a hefty price tag, only to receive feedback that boiled down to, "Do a better job." I remember staring at the half-page of comments, feeling a mix of frustration and bewilderment. She was highly reputable and had worked on successful novels in the genre that I’d read. It turned out that she usually dealt with more experienced authors and didn’t know where to begin with me. She did not offer a refund. When asked, she said she put in the hours and would need further pay for further feedback. After bewilderment, I went through grief, denial, and landed on anger before reaching acceptance.

Resource: The Elements of Style by Strunk and White is a classic reference book available online.


Investing in a professional editor is like polishing the treasure chest that holds your literary gems. Readers can spot a well-edited book from a mile away, and it often translates into greater sales and positive reviews. The credibility gained from a polished manuscript is a priceless asset in the competitive realm of self-publishing.

While tools like Grammarly, MS Word, and Google Docs can catch glaring errors, they can't fully replace the nuanced touch of a human editor. (Yet?) Line editors bring a professional eye that goes beyond mere grammar correction. They consider your writing style, voice, and the overall coherence of your narrative.


Working with an editor requires a willingness to embrace critical feedback. It's a dance of collaboration where your creative vision meets their professional insights. Learning to accept and trust their experience-driven advice is a skill that evolves with time and writing maturity. Leave the ego at the door. Give your hard work a chance to benefit from their help, because that’s what they’re in it for, to help authors.

Hint: Some editors will work through a few pages of your manuscript to show you how they work before moving on. This is particularly important if you hire them through services like Fiverr or Upwork.


In the quest to keep costs down, many self-published authors, including me, turn to low-cost or free editing tools. While Google Docs is perhaps the best free tool of all time, it is far from perfect. It will find some grammar and spelling issues while overlooking others. Grammarly is fantastic, but many of the more advanced tools come at $12/month. Note that Grammarly doesn’t work as well on longer documents and may behave differently from within Google Docs than in other places like Atticus. MS Word, which many have for other reasons, will catch problems missed by G-Docs and Grammarly and vice versa.

All of these lack the finesse and nuance of a human editor. When comparing $5000 and $0.00, most of us are forced to go with $0.00 (or $144 per year for one software package or another).


For some authors, the allure of self-editing beckons while for others, the idea is a worse punishment than death. The reality is that editing your own work is challenging and many people would rather focus on writing. If you have the means and desire to offload your least favorite part to someone else, then I envy you. Even after editing my novels 10 times, readers still spot typos. Unfortunately, I’ve had errors in each novel I published, all of which I fixed after the fact for all future readers because I could simply edit the manuscripts and upload the new version because I am a self-published author.

Without an editor, you may always have a nagging feeling and want to go back to revise your work. At some point you have to let it go. If you aren't the type who can, then hiring an editor might be the right choice for you.


The fellowship of literary comrades should be your first line of developmental editors who offer valuable feedback. They’ll show you how they see your story every time you exchange works. I’ve tried virtual writers’ circles, but consistently fell away from them because I struggle to visually read (for reasons…), but with the advancement of modern text-to-speech, I’m planning on joining another group.


Some beta readers are self-publishing authors’ greatest friends, providing feedback after critique partners and before sending the manuscript on to eyeballs who will judge your manuscript in some way, whether they're ARC Readers, agents, or editors. While you should treat all beta readers with gratitude and respect, when you find one that points out the occasional grammar issue or awkward sentence in addition to general feedback, go above and beyond to make sure they're happy and willing to help you next time.

Hint: I've gone as far as sending gift cards or free copies of the hardcover. (It's a lot cheeper than an editor.)

Sometimes Betas are authors as well, in which case, they understand a great deal about the process and what makes a story even better. Listen to them. Don't take criticism as an attack on your writing, but an opportunity to improve.

Hint: Authors are always looking for reciprocal beta reading. It's worth doing for more than transactional reasons. You'll learn about the process from the other side, which is invaluable.

While they can't fully replace the expertise of professional editors, beta readers' insights have been a crucial part of my editing process, saving me from ruining a story with a single plot error or character inconsistency. Don't skip this step.


I no longer use an editor, instead relying on friends, fans, and what I’ve learned over the years. It takes more effort to convert my stories from ugly monsters into well-told gritty stories. It takes a lot of time to revise my novels in 10+ rounds. The sooner I get outside eyes on it, the better it works. If for no other reason, there’s nothing like hitting send on an email to find a hundred errors in what you just sent.

For line editing, I heavily rely on text-to-speech. If it doesn’t sound good when read by a monotone computer voice, it isn’t good enough for print. Here's my post about this.

For proofing, I rely on a combination of MS Word, Google Docs, and Grammarly. Interestingly, Kindle Direct Publishing sometimes finds misspelled words when I upload my manuscript even after I’ve been through it a thousand times.

Someday, I hope to have enough sales to cover professional editors. Until then, I’ll do what I can with what I have.

(Did you spot any editorial issues in this post? If so, ping me at @jflwrites)


As always, I appreciate your support of self-publishing and indie authors. In the name of putting myself out there, here are a few of my works.


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