If you plan to go the route of traditional publishing, you may want to hire a professional to help you get your manuscript in good enough shape to catch the eye of an agent or acquisitions editor, but the bulk of the burden for editing will fall on the publisher.
However, if you plan on self-publishing, you are your own publisher and are responsible for making sure your work is ready to meet your readers’ standards. But many self-published authors (especially those new to the craft) don’t have a lot of funds to throw at the project.
While it’s really not a good idea to try do everything yourself, there are some tasks that can be done for free or at a lower cost, freeing up your funds to pay a professional for the things you can’t do on your own.
While developmental editors and writing coaches are worthwhile expenses, you can often get similar services from writing groups and peer reviews.
Other writers, especially experienced ones, can provide you with insights into what works and will resonate with readers and what won’t. And it rarely costs you money because while they’re critiquing your work, you’re paying for it by doing the same for them.
Collaborating with other writers aids your manuscript, but helping others polish theirs will make you a better writer as well.
Another option is to get the input of beta readers. Many authors use beta readers even if they plan on hiring a professional. While some beta readers expect to receive a fee, many offer to critique manuscripts simply because they love doing it in their free time, though authors will often send them a free copy of the finished book. While they don’t have the training a professional does, they’re readers and can give you valuable input from that point of view.
Exchange of Services
Another great way to save money is to propose an exchange of services. Perhaps you have a day job as an accountant and could offer to prepare a book designer’s taxes in exchange for their services.
Technically, exchanging peer reviews with other writers is an exchange of services.
I should note, though, that proposing an exchange of services is best approached with caution and humility, especially if you don’t know the other person well. You want to avoid offending someone’s professional pride if you can. Remember that this is their livelihood rather than a hobby, so whatever you offer should be worth their time.
Webinars and Online Tutorials
If you have more time than money, you can find a lot of information online about preparing your manuscript for publishing, usually for free. Lynda.com is an excellent resource for learning software and can be accessed through LinkedIn Learning or often for free through your local library.
And there’s more information than you could ever dream of assimilating available through the miracle of Google. You just have to spend some time wading through it all.
What You Should Spend Your Money On
All of the steps in the publishing process are bound to yield better results when you hire a skilled professional, but if you’re forced to make sacrifices, your money is best spent on the steps you can’t do for yourself: copyediting and proofreading.
Even professional editors need someone else to edit their writing. It’s not about not having the language skills. It’s simply that it’s incredibly difficult to step back from your writing to see what the words on the page actually say rather than what you meant them to say.
Then, there’s the matter of technical skills. Newcomers to the publishing process frequently think editing and proofreading is just about correcting spelling and punctuation, but the truth is so much more. I have a bachelor’s in English language, but when I started courses for my copyediting certificate, I couldn’t believe how much I didn’t know, about style and the publishing and editing process and about all of the false language rules we’re taught in school.
A good professional copyeditor is well worth their fee, but if you can afford it, a good proofreader is an excellent investment as well. Note that I said a good proofreader. A professional proofreader will catch any technical mistakes missed by the copyeditor (hey, we’re only human) or introduced in the design and typesetting process. But they don’t just know what to correct; they know what not to correct.
Also, how much your editor charges often depends on the amount of work your manuscript needs, so the better shape you can get it in before sending it to them, the less time and effort they have to spend on it. That means a lower fee for you.
If you’re operating on a tight budget, you can still produce a quality product. You might just have to get a little creative. Remember, though, that there are some things worth saving for and investing in. Just do your research before hiring anyone.
Hiring someone who doesn’t have the training and skills can cost you more in the long run, even if they charge less, but a good professional who understands you and your project is worth every penny they charge.
Rebecca has a passion for helping you fill the world with great literature and making sure said literature doesn't get passed over for the lack of a little editing.