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September 3, 2013
By Alex Palmer
To ensure a manuscript is polished before publication, tap the talents of outside professionals.

A common pitfall for self-published authors is to release a book before it’s actually ready for readers. While you may have constructed an entertaining and marketable work, it won’t make a difference if readers are too distracted by typos, an amateurish cover, or inconsistent formatting to get past the first page.

One of the best ways to ensure a manuscript is polished before publication is to tap the talents of outside professionals, including an editor, proofreader, and designer. Here’s how.

1. Hire an Editor

Before you publish your book for the world to enjoy, first consider hiring an editor to read over the manuscript to catch any issues you may have overlooked. This does not mean asking a friend or spouse to give it a read (though that’s also a good step to take), but securing the services of someone who edits manuscripts for a living and can offer objective, honest advice.

“You want someone neutral who can read your book with fresh eyes,” says Dara Beevas, creative director and co-owner of boutique publishing company Wise, Ink, and author of The Indie Author Revolution: An Insider’s Guide to Self-Publishing. “They should have a similar experience as a reader who would pick up your book knowing nothing else about it.”

For a 50,000-word manuscript, an author can expect to pay at least $1,500 for a professional edit, which might scare off budget-conscious writers. But services can often be secured for lower costs from a number of sources, including:

Editors specialize, so find one that has edited manuscripts in your genre. After selecting an editor, go over the specifics of the book with him or her and consider having the editor edit a sample chapter before confirming them for the whole project.

2.  Track Down a Designer

"Books from all publishers now compete in the online space on equal footing. In exchange for a level playing field, [self-publishers] have to meet the standards set by traditional publishers, or face the possibility their books will suffer by comparison."
While we’re told not to judge books by their covers, few readers follow this advice when searching out a book online.

“Books from all publishers now compete in the online space on equal footing,” says Joel Friedlander, a book design veteran who runs the self-publishing blog The Book Designer. “In exchange for a level playing field, [self-publishers] have to meet the standards set by traditional publishers, or face the possibility their books will suffer by comparison.”

One way to compete on this level is to track down a big-league designer. Go to a bookstore and note the designers of book covers that have the look you would like for your book. Even those working for major publishers are often open for a quick freelance project on the side, and may charge a cheaper rate than you would expect.

Authors can also seek out designers through an agency or their individual websites, which will include samples of each designer’s work.

Those looking for a less expensive option should check out design bidding sites such as crowdSPRING or 99designs where you can crowdsource a designer from dozens of proposed designs.

3. Secure a Proofreader

While an editor can identify major issues an author has overlooked, a proofreader can handle the nit-picky points. Proofreaders can often be found through the same organizations as editors, listed above, but online proofreaders are also available and offer quick turnaround times and reasonable rates, though their service can be more impersonal than going directly to a proofreader. These include:

It will cost at least another $500 to $1,000 for proofreading (which typically costs a penny to a penny and a half per word). The costs of all these services can add up, and a self-publisher will want to decide carefully which of these areas are worth a greater investment than others. But when the alternative is a book filled with avoidable errors, the investment might seem like pocket change.

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