When most first-time authors complete a book draft, they think they need a proofreader. They don’t. What they usually need is a developmental editor, or at least a content editor. No matter how painstakingly you’ve reviewed your non-fiction book, there will be redundancies. There will be gaps. There will be organizational issues. Proofreaders don’t generally look for these issues.
There are two main reasons authors need a good book editor. One is obvious: you’ve been looking at it too long. It’s difficult to proof your own 800-word blog post. Your mind fills in missing words, reads awkward text as smooth, and misses flow issues. It’s impossible to catch major problems when you’re looking at 90,000 words or more for the 20th time.
The second issue is organization. Most new authors write chronologically. This can work as a strategy for some books, but most need clarification that requires providing information out of sequence. You’re too close to your book – and your subject matter – to realize when what seems obvious to you is something the reader needs you to explain.
New authors tend to include too many details. They miss important how to steps. They jump into a topic without providing basic information a reader needs for understanding. Writing a book isn’t like any other kind of writing you may have done.
When to engage a proofreader
Most think editors check for grammar and spelling issues. That’s part of it, but frankly, you’re best engaging a proofreader after the design process to check for minor errors. This would include pagination issues, which is why it’s best done after initial design. Do this before you’ve sent it out to be published. Changes after a book has gone to press (even for ARCs, or Advance Reader Copies) can get expensive.
Proofreaders are there for a final check. If you’ve engaged an editor, like you, she’s now too close to the book to be able to catch errors that come from too much familiarity with what it’s supposed to say. Many proofreaders don’t even read the text. They’re scanning content for common errors. That’s why their rate is relatively low. Still, a good proofreader can be priceless.
What does a good book editor do?
What a good editor does is look at the book from the reader’s perspective. She’ll suggest changes to make the book more engaging and effective. This will likely mean moving chapters around. First-time authors rarely start a book with material that’s going to grab the reader’s attention. This is really important when writing a non-fiction book.
New authors also tend to present book information in the order they recall it, rather than an ideal way to help the reader progress in a sensical manner.
Count on your editor to catch pet words and phrases you use too much. We’re all guilty of this, but rarely recognize it’s happening.
An editor may suggest rewriting entire sections. Some will help create new copy or reword chunks that don’t work.
Smart editors also ensure you stay focused on the major theme of your book. It’s easy to go off on tangents when you’re excited about sharing all you know. Books are better when they dig deep into a section of your knowledge.
Story telling is the latest craze. Most people don’t know how to engage readers with a story. A talented editor will help you flesh out key points and better ways to illustrate and underscore your message.
Editors look at the flow of the book. What’s missing? What’s extraneous? Are there ways to better organize your material to lead the reader through the journey you have envisioned for them?
Great editors think about outcomes
The best editors have a keen understanding of marketing. After all, presumably you’re writing a non-fiction book to compel people to do something. Whether that’s implementing tools to live a happier life or taking steps to open a successful franchise, how you guide readers to that place with your writing is important.
Even if you believe there’s no commercial aspect to your book, you’re writing it for a reason. Hopefully, that includes your reader. Creating compelling copy to get them to where you want them to go helps make your masterpiece more memorable and effective. That’s marketing.
But I want my book to sound like me
If you’re concerned engaging an editor to help rework your book means it will lose your voice, you’re not alone. That doesn’t mean you’re right. Talented editors adopt your language even when they’re providing long blocks of suggested copy rewrites. Most will offer edits in track changes, where you’ll be able to see exactly what was altered. You make the decision accept or reject those changes. That is not the case if you’ve signed a contract with a traditional publisher, but it’s rare for a first-time author to land such a deal.
The right editor will build rapport in a way that has you calling them friend as you delve into this project together. That means they’ll take the time to get to know you, understand your objectives, and ensure what they’re suggesting reflects your personality. They’ll help you better understand who your ideal reader is and how to best reach them. When you finish this project, together, you’ll be proud of the results.
Justifying the cost
Will your book earn out the investment in sales returns? Probably not. According to the Nonfiction Authors Association, most self-published authors sell about 250 books. Of course, that’s not you. But even if you’re selling thousands and getting 70% on each sale (the top tier for Kindle Editions), that $10 or $20 book isn’t likely to make you rich. What you’re building is reach, credibility, and authority. Think of your book as a calling card.
Of course, as such, you’ll want it to present you in the most positive light possible. That means creating a message that’s clean, compelling, and interesting. Agencies charge tens of thousands of dollars to create advertising campaigns. Your book can serve the same purpose with more credibility for a lot less.
If you’re a talented public speaker, you can require book purchases for all attendees as part of your fee. If you’re selling high-priced consulting or coaching services, one prospect turned client after reading your book can cover all the production costs. If you’re trying to change the world, getting your message out can be priceless.
What’s probably most important as you consider whether to write a book or not, is how passionate you are about the subject. Writing a book isn’t easy. Trying to pull one together when you’re not excited about what you’re sharing is a waste of time. You won’t likely finish and your reader will disengage.
It’s up to you to decide if writing a book is worth the cost in time and money. If you do decide to proceed, it makes sense to put a good team in place to support your effort. A good editor is critical member to help you toward success.