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Edit Thyself?

Author J.K. Rowling signs copies of her book ‘Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows’ (Getty Images)

You can ask J.K. Rowling, author of the wildly successful Harry Potter series, one question about publishing your first children’s book. What would you ask her?

Based on posts in LinkedIn’s groups for writers, many would use this golden opportunity to ask Ms. Rowling whether they should buy a block of ISBN numbers. Or which print-on-demand company is best. They might ask how to get their book illustrated on the cheap.

This is embarrassing to admit: Those were my first questions, too.

Four years and over a dozen self-published books later, the first question I would ask Ms. Rowling is: “Can you recommend a great editor?”

Some indie authors don’t think they need a professional editor because friends and family tell them their story is great. In a survey done by of 307 self-publishers, only 46% paid a professional editor to review their manuscript before they published it. 20% had a friend do it and 34% did it themselves.

In 2013, I decided to self-publish a children’s story I had written in 1995. I read Chloe and the Belly Beast to a few family members and friends through the years and always received positive feedback. I personally liked the story. So – there you go – ready to publish!

We all know the truth, don’t we? Our friends and family don’t want to hurt our feelings or discourage our dreams. Once my sister, an award-winning TV promotions writer, editor and producer, knew that I was actually going to publish this book, she started to get real with me. She provided – gasp! – honest feedback on the story.

Sketch from Chloe and the Belly Beast — still unpublished (Artist: Indrachapa Weerasinghe)

The story was confusing. She couldn’t tell over what time period it took place. Days? Weeks? Years? Some of the language sounded dated and vocabulary too advanced for the age of my target audience.

Most of us are not lucky enough to have an award-winning writer available to review our work. For free. But, she’s my sister, with all that history of sibling rivalry. I realized I couldn’t have her edit my work. The process transformed me from a middle-aged woman into a sullen teenager.

By this time, I had written several stories. Like many writers heading down the self-publishing path, I had no idea where to find an editor and assumed it was expensive. With online freelancing companies now plentiful, it was easy to find out. I posted a job on what is now

After reviewing multiple bids, I hired two editors. It turned out that it was very reasonably priced. I had the first one edit the stories, then gave those versions to the second editor. Then back to the first editor. This was done a few times until I had a version of each story that I liked. They made some of the same edits my sister suggested. But, it was far easier to have strangers make changes to my “babies.”

Often, self-publishers assume they can’t afford an editor. But, if you don’t know how much it costs, how do you know you can’t afford it? (Tip: The most expensive editor is not always the best.) If your story is so important to you that you are willing to share it with the world, why are you not willing to put some money where your pen is?

Many indie authors wax poetic about their love and sacrifice for the written word. Prove it. Forgo take-out food, lattes, and quit smoking. Before you know it, you’ll have enough to pay a good editor. Should you ever run into Ms. Rowling, ask her for a referral. I’m betting she has a few great editors on speed dial.

Other Aviva’s Advice articles: Is Your Book Global?    How Do You Market Your Books?

Aviva Gittle Publishing offers great stories for children in English and Spanish, including the Kitten and Friends / Gatito y amigos series. Aviva’s website, shares the stories of authors, illustrators and others who create books and creative media for children.


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Published inArticlesAviva's AdviceIndie AuthorsSelf-publishingWriting & PublishingWriting Tips

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