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Editing for the Indie Author

So you wrote a book... now let's make it better
An essay by author and editor Jessa Slade on the importance of professional editing

I am so relieved no one read my first book.

Maybe that sounds strange, but the first book I ever wrote was bad. Oh, it had potential, with a suitably handsome and brooding hero, a heroine with excellent one-liners, and a workable plot. But it also had elements from three distinct, unrelated time periods (and it wasn’t a time travel story), rampant headhopping, run-on sentences like you wouldn’t believe, waaaaay too many ellipses and exclamation marks, (did I mention run-on sentences?) and a wildly delusional sense of its own perfection.

You, dear reader, also should be relieved you didn’t have to read the first book I wrote.

Today, self-publishing has removed nearly every barrier to entry when it comes to making stories available to readers. (Available is not the same as discoverable, but that’s a different article.) I shudder to think, if my writer-self was coming of age now, I might have sneered at all the “gatekeepers” who didn’t “get me” and uploaded that story posthaste across the internet. I was impatient and arrogant (arrogance being an adaptive trait for writers, I believe; impatience, not so much) but my stories were just not ready.

Are your stories ready, dear writer?

My greatest fear when I joined the stampeding self-publishing hordes (THE DARKEST NIGHT, Oct 2012, HOTTER ON THE EDGE 2, Feb 2013) was whether I could give my readers the same quality of work as my New York-published stories. I wanted systems in place to meet or exceed the standards of a “real” publisher, even if the publisher was now just little ol’ me.

While cover art, formatting and marketing were all concerns, I knew content was the key. I didn’t want my first self-published story to be like my first-ever story! But how could I be sure the story was the absolute best it could be when I was on my own?

You aren’t alone.
Writers spend a lot of time alone, cranking out words. But the instant we become authors, we are no longer alone. Now there are readers. To keep my readers, I knew this was one place I couldn’t be on my own. In self-publishing’s Wild West, I needed a posse before I stormed my reader’s castle. (See what I mean about mixing time periods?) I needed fresh, sharp eyes on my story. I needed critique partners, beta readers and last-pass readers to stand in as my editors, copy-editors and proofreaders.

Just as finding a way to recreate an editorial framework worried me, many new writers are nervous about the editing process in general: What if editing changes my story?

Hopefully editing will change your story! By making it better. Finding the right eyes you can borrow to help improve your work—whether it’s a developmental editor who refines your character arcs or a proofreader who catches those last inevitable typos—is as important to creating a readable story as getting the words down in the first place.

Where to find your editing posse
Skilled editorial feedback benefits every writer—self-published, NY-published or pre-published. No reader should be forced to read a writer’s first draft. That’s just cruel, not to mention bad business. So how does a writer find someone to provide honest, useful, critical feedback? Moms and significant others are usually poor choices because they love you. You want someone who sees what is actually on the page.

-- Hard-core fans: A devoted reader with an eye for detail can be an excellent resource, especially in the latter stages of the editing process. Readers often know your stories better than you do, and they are invested in the stories in ways even you, as the writer, can’t imagine. But what if you don’t have fans yet?

-- Fellow writers: Trading favors with other writers is a great option. They’ll know the rules of your genre and will have read the best examples of what your kind of stories can achieve. Also, secretly, they probably feel a tingle of glee that they finally have a chance to tell you what they really think of your story. But what if you don’t have time to cultivate a critiquing friend?

-- Professional editors: Finding the right editor for you might take some poking around. Ask for recommendations from other writers, and ask the editor for a sample read. This is the more expensive but sometimes the more reliable option.

As an author, you will get feedback. It’s best to get that feedback from someone who isn’t the reader before the story is published. As an author, you owe it to your reader to give them the best book you can write. And as a writer, you owe it to your story and yourself.

Jessa Slade’s first four urban fantasy romance books starting with SEDUCED BY SHADOWS (NAL Signet Eclipse, 2009) came out as the publishing industry was in the midst of change. She has since epublished and self-published five more books. The third in her Steel Born paranormal romance series MATED BY MOONLIGHT (Harlequin Nocturne Cravings) will be out in July 2013. Read more about her books and suggestions for writings at She also offers content editing services at

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