Are you paying for book editing too early?

You want your book to be perfect before anybody sees it, right? Resist! There are a few steps ahead of final formatting.

Many authors make the mistake of paying for editing before they've shown it to beta readers or even critique partners. Why is this a mistake?

  • It is psychologically difficult for early readers to "mess up" a beautifully formatted manuscript. 
  • Editors require a stripped-down manuscript with no formatting whatsoever. They want it in 8.5x11 so they can print it out, double-spaced, with 12pt or larger text, and no headers or footers.

So keep it in Word, or Scrivener, or whatever tool you use to write in, until after the professional editor finishes.

Start early to get community feedback

The simple fact is, if you've already paid for editing, you'll be less likely to want to make changes to your book. Consequences? Yes. This can create a cascade of disappointments—launching to silence, getting few reviews, getting reviews that cite issues in the story or presentation of information, which may result in you pulling your book for a do-over, or quitting in discouragement.

I'm not trying to put editors out of business. Quite the opposite. When an editor gets a book that's already been workshopped they can concentrate on making it even better without getting bogged down by plot holes and dropped themes and fact-checking. Editors want to help you create better scenes, layer in dialogue and sensory detail, and smooth out your prose. 

Editors tell me over and over again that they love editing a manuscript that's already been critiqued by a writing group and early readers. That way, they can concentrate on the much more rewarding work of improving your story. Find a professional editor at the Editorial Freelancers Association.

Read on for the editing and formatting process, in order.

1. First, run it by your critique partners & writing groups

Critique partners serve as developmental (structural) editors. They should not copyedit but look at the big picture: The story arc, the character arcs, the sense of place, world-building, the plot, the theme, and other story elements. Expect your writing group to mess you up, to make you think, to give you ideas, and to encourage you to keep writing until you finish your story. 

Yeah... workshopping your book from first draft to final can take a while.

How to format your book for critique partners

Use very simple formatting for critique partners:

  • Serif font (not Times, but Georgia or similar)
  • 12pt or larger
  • Double-spaced
  • Pagination in the footer
  • Chapter headings and "normal unformatted paragraph style"
  • Any other character and paragraph styles that are absolutely necessary, such as pull quotes, text messages, and thought indicators like italics 
  • Normal margins set for 8.5x11 paper

How to share with critique partners

I think the best way to share with critique partners and writing groups is with Google Docs, where everyone can comment and make suggestions on the same document. That way, you don't have to track and compare different feedback from different reviewers.

Google Docs is free and super easy to use. I use it in all my writing workshops. Simply copy and paste your manuscript into a new Google Doc, and set up who to share it with. Here are instructions.

Get a critique group.

I'll show you how.

2. Self-edit your manuscript

Once you've got your story right, run it through an editing tool. I use ProWritingAid (free trial period) every day to identify spelling and grammar mistakes and also your writerly bad habits. ProWritingAid has taught me to vary my sentence length, write in active, not passive voice, and has also broken me of overusing adverbs. Use my affiliate code J5HHXWZ4KN to get 20% off when you're ready to purchase it. (I purchased the lifetime subscription.)

ProWritingAid coupon

Use my code J5HHXWZ4KN for a 20% discount.

Using a copyediting tool will help your early readers focus on the story, the characters, and other important elements, and not the spelling and grammar.

I also love the Fictionary story editing tool and founder Kristina Stanley's Masterclass for Fiction (and Creative Nonfiction) Writers is amazing. 

3. Share it with early (beta) readers

Early readers are critical for these reasons:

  1. They will help you edit. Not spell check, or move commas around (though some like to do that), but ask smart questions like, Is Marie and Marie-Lizette the same person? Are you sure cedar trees grow in Morocco? Why does the price of Bitcoin go up when the government prints more money? Can this really happen, or are you trying to inject a bit of magical realism here?
  2. When you share your early drafts with readers, they get to help you "fix" issues, and this is how they begin to feel connected with you as a person and invested in the success of your book. They will be excited about your book because, after all, they helped you write it, right?
  3. It naturally follows they will be the first to review your book on Amazon when it launches. These early readers are the core of your book marketing street team.

Beta readers are the core of your book marketing street team. Find them early and get 5-star reviews on Amazon on launch week.

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Your critique partners should have probably caught the big stuff already. But often, it's difficult to find critique partners (other writers) who are intimately familiar with your genre. Your writing group may be a mixed bag of genres. That's why it's essential that your beta readers are actual fans of your genre.

Challenges to overcome

In my work with authors, I've seen three major challenges when it comes to sharing their early manuscript:

  1. Being in a hurry
    If you just want to get your book edited and published so you can move on to the next one, I want to urge you to wait, so you can publish a truly good book worthy of five-star reviews. Most of the authors I work with decide to wait three to six months, or even a year, to publish, once they understand the book launch process.
  2. Perfectionism
    If you're a perfectionist, the thought of sharing your imperfect, unfinished manuscript is difficult to overcome. I want you to share your with as many people as you can, before you publish, so you can gather your tribe of readers and publish a perfect manuscript.
  3. Price
     If you have money (and I'm talking thousands, here, not hundreds), you can hire an outstanding editor who is expert in your genre.

Have you ever seen the Good, Fast, Cheap diagram? You can only pick two.

Book editing, choose 2: good, fast, cheap
If you have already cultivated a readership⁠—that is, if you've already a member (or leader) of a tribe of people who are interested in the same things you are, you know influencers and you are familiar with the media who covers that genre. 

If the above is true for your book, you can publish to a market fairly quickly, that is, if you have the budget to hire a lot of it out. If not, you will need time to get to know your market and do a lot of the tasks yourself.

I actually recommend that, because talking with your tribe (aka "marketing") is one of the most enjoyable aspects of being an author.

Getting to know your market could take weeks or months, depending on your motivation and willingness to intensify your efforts toward finding other authors like you, micro-influencers, and media. 

You're going to love this

Best Seller Book Marketing: The system I created just for you so you can launch your book to five-star reviews... with a little help from your friends, beta readers, influencers, and the media.

You'll need to do some advance work if you want reviews on Amazon when you launch. If you just want to publish and get reviews later? Well... first, please have a professional editor take a look at it to make sure it's going to be a success. It takes more than a good manuscript to sell. It takes adherence to genre standards, which is why it's so important to choose an editor who understands the marketplace for your genre.

Again, there are multiple benefits to sharing your imperfect manuscript. You get to:

  1. Address any issues early, and for free.
  2. Involve your readers in the process of writing your book.
  3. Prove that your book will sell.
  4. Build a marketing street team of readers who will give you five-star reviews on launch day.

Writing, editing, and marketing are not separate processes, but are inextricably intertwined. It's also a lot more fun to write in community rather than in isolation.

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Reader participation is so important

Early readers, even when they're critical, especially when they're critical, are showing you they're truly engaged and they like the book enough to read all of it and give you feedback. Mind you, these need to be actual readers of your genre, not your mom and your brother-in-law, but people you find in forums or on social media, in business groups or book clubs.

There are all kinds of ways to find and engage early readers. Ideally, you'll develop a process⁠—a foundational system to automatically deliver your manuscript and keep in contact with them using email autoresponders. (Including that special autoresponder series that remind them to review your book on Amazon on launch day!) Foundational tech systems help you handle and track (and simplify) your book marketing and launch activities. Find out how to build your book launch street team in this blog post.

Build Your Book Marketing Launch Street Team

4. Now hire a professional editor

Too many authors don't hire professional editors, and it shows. Reviewers will notice and they're not shy about saying so. Your book cover and your book editing are the two things you truly need to spend money on if you want to succeed with your book. 

When your book has been professionally edited, and you have finished incorporating all those edits, there are more steps.

5. Self-proofread your edited manuscript

I suggest running your manuscript through ProWritingAid again to catch any typos, spelling, and grammar errors that might have snuck in during the editing phase. Now it's time to format your manuscript like a real book.

6. Format your manuscript as a book for advance review copies (ARCs) and final proofreading

Even if you plan to create your final book in InDesign, I often suggest creating it first in Word for several reasons.

  1. It's a lot faster and cheaper, and you can get it to reviewers quickly.
  2. You can send it to a proofreader (professional, paid) concurrently.
  3. It will help your designer more quickly lay out your interior (if you prefer InDesign).

How to format ARCs

It's important to create a PDF, MOBI, and EPUB version of your book so reviewers can read it in the format they like. You can do this yourself or hire it out.

How to distribute ARCs

You can distribute your book to reviewers in several ways. NEVER attach a file to an email. 

  1. As with beta book distribution, you can use BookFunnel, ProlificWorks, or StoryOrigin to allow reviewers to view the book in PDF, MOBI, or EPUB. I like these tools because they track who downloads the book and, if you have the paid version, will send automatic reminders to those who have not.
  2. Use DropBox Transfer, WeTransfer, Microsoft OneDrive, Hightail, or similar to store your book, provide a link to it, and track downloads.
  3. If you just want to provide a link and don't care about tracking, then you can use Dropbox, GoogleDrive, or OneDrive without the transfer option.
  4. Print ARCs and mail them. Use IngramSpark (unlimited ARCs) or Amazon KDP Print (limit to 5 at a time) to print. 

7. Print and proofread

Use IngramSpark or Amazon KDP Print to print ARCs for final proofreading. Consider printing many and give them to friends, family, beta readers, and writing group members. Also gift them the final published copy, autographed. (Also consider thanking them by name in the acknowledgements.)

See this post about using a combination of IngramSpark and Amazon KDP Print to publish and distribute your print book.


Hold your breath, press the Publish button, tell everyone about it. (See my book launch planning template in the Self-Publisher's Toolkit).

Don't forget to have fun!

Need formatting help?

What if all your formatting needs were taken care of, from beginning to end? After working with authors from manuscript creation and completion then through the entire publishing process, I created a formatting service to do exactly that, enlisting trusted partners to help. You just send us your manuscript and we'll do the rest. We'll even upload the manuscript for you!

Book formatting services

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Carla King

Carla King is a travel and technology writer turned author and self-publishing expert. She started self-publishing in 1995 and founded the Self-Pub Boot Camp series of educational books, workshops, and online courses in 2010. She runs the self-publishing and technology track at the San Francisco Writers Conference and a series of online courses at www.selfpubbootcampcourses.com.