Joanne Phillips

A Writers Journey



Polished To A High Shine: Taking Your Book From First Draft to Reader-Ready

In a recent post here on the blog, a writer just starting out on her indie journey mentioned that she was interested in finding out more about finding, testing and paying an editor. (This one’s for you, Kate M. Colby.) That got me thinking, not just about editing, but about the whole process of polishing your book ready for publication. So here are my thoughts and advice about getting reader-ready …

pen and ink

Everyone Has A Different Standard

I know of authors who upload their first draft directly to Amazon, with the barest of checks beforehand – a quick pass round their friends and family (“My best friend used to teach high school English so she’s the perfect proofreader”), and off it goes. At the other end of the spectrum are authors who throw everything at their manuscripts – financially and otherwise: six drafts followed by a critique, then a structural edit, then a line-by-line edit, then beta-readers, then another ‘final’ edit, then proofreading. Which of these two examples would make the better book, do you think? (My answer might surprise you.)

The Writing Is Everything

I’d say that the better book would depend on the talent of the writer, and on the story and characters they have created. Yes, a novel with countless typos and grammatical errors would indeed be irritating to read, but equally you can’t make a boring, flat, tedious story fantastic just because it’s been edited and proofread to within an inch of its life. I have friends who are editors, and I watch them tearing out their hair with authors who are resistant to suggestions of improvement, or glued to ideas and characters that just don’t work. Why, I’m writing this blog post directly after a tutorial with my supervisor on the MA, and we had a very heated debate about whether a particular plot point in my next novel is or is not ‘convenient’. (I acceded to his viewpoint in the end, of course.)

Editing does not a great book make. Is is not substitution for great writing. So write and write and write some more, learn all you can, read widely, think about what you read and what makes it good or bad, learn some more, write some more, and then – when you are sure you have written the best book you personally can – start to think about the editing process that makes sense for you.

Options For Book-Polishing

Here are the various processes in getting a manuscript ready for publication, in no particular order:

Beta-reading. Beta-readers are lovely people who read your book (usually for free, or a reciprocal read) and give you informal feedback. The feedback may be detailed or brief, you can ask questions or leave it up to them, but the idea is to have a few beta-readers (three or more, but no more than six or seven) so you get a variety of views. Beta-readers are best for getting a feeling of the overall success of the book’s structure, and how effective the ending is, and also for likeability – or relatability – of the characters. Some beta-readers will make notes on typos etc, but it isn’t a substitute for proofreading, in my humble opinion. Find beta-readers via your blog or other social networks – just ask.

Critiquing services. A critique is a little like a beta-read, but by a professional who charges you for their time and comments. Usually this will be a published author, or someone who works in the publishing industry like an editor or agent. I once paid for a critique from the very well-known Hilary Johnson’s Critiquing Service. It was a bracing experience, let me tell you! But it certainly made me a better writer. Personally, I feel the critique should come at the point in your writing career when you are still learning your craft, and shouldn’t perhaps be part of the polishing process, but I know some authors are a little addicted to them so I thought I’d add it here. It should also be said, however, that taking a really good creative writing course will also provide you with opportunities to be critiqued and give you chance to refine your work and learn and improve. Critiquing services cost upwards of £400 for a novel, and as with all writing-related services, it’s usually best to go on a personal recommendation if possible.


Editing. Editing can be carried out on different levels, from structural to line-by-line, and each different type of edit will offer something different to your book. Structural editing may be needed when there is something about a manuscript that simply isn’t working, even though the story is good and the characters are well-drawn. Most authors can structurally edit their own work, and so this takes the form of redrafting. Line-by-line edits are self-explanatory – the editor considers the manuscript at a very detailed level, offering advice and making suggestions to strengthen the writing at the level of the sentence, as well as giving comments on the story as a whole. You can pay anything from £400 to £1000 for a good edit, and it is probably a good idea to get a price per 1000 words rather than per hour. Most editors will be happy to give you a sample before you sign up – you send them a sample chapter, which they mark up with comments etc. Be clear about what it is exactly you are looking for in your editor, both in your own mind and in all communication with them. Get an agreement in writing – email is fine – before you start which sets out how much the edit is to cost and how and when the editor should be paid. Ask your writing friends for recommendations, or join writing communities on Facebook or Twitter to seek out recommendations.

Proofreading. For some reason, people seem to confuse editing and proofreading, or maybe it’s a cultural thing. But as far as I know, in the UK proofreading remains the term for the very, absolutely final process in publishing a book. All editing should be done by now, all changes made. The proofreader checks the manuscript one last time for typos and errors, as well as continuity problems (eye colour changing halfway though the novel, that kind of thing – although the editor may have picked up on this already), before the book goes to print or is uploaded in ebook format. My proofreader currently charges around £4.50 per 1000 words, and is very good on the continuity thing. Again, ask for recommendations before you approach a proofreader – there are many so-called professionals out there who call themselves proofreaders but who aren’t properly trained and who don’t really offer value for money. The Society of Editors and Proofreaders is a good place to start, and where I found my proofreader. (I then contacted one of the authors she listed as a client and asked whether she would recommend the proofreader or not.)

How Much Is Enough?

Only you can answer that question, but make sure you answer it honestly, without being swayed too much by cost. If you are really good at editing your own work and reasonably experienced, you can probably get by with beta-readers and a proofreader. If you have zero budget and are willing to take the flak for errors in your ebook, do your own proofreading – like, a hundred times. If you have the budget and are publishing for the first time, or in a new genre, you could try a critique and probably should contact an editor. Beta-readers never hurt anyone, and often are the people who will pop those all-important early reviews on Amazon, so I would always recommend a beta or two. And don’t forget, when looking for your first beta-readers your blog can be a valuable source of support. Back in 2012 when I started blogging, I posted chapters of my debut novel Can’t Live Without on my brand new blog. The bloggers who commented were my very first beta-readers, and many of them went on to be readers of all my novels – and some went on to be really good friends too.


Is Anything Ever 100% Perfect?

I took my proof copy of Murder at the Maples on holiday with me and read it. You know, I’ve not had time to do this with my previous two books, but I’m really glad I did with this one and I’ll schedule in time to do one final paperback reading in future for sure. Because guess what? Even after all the editing, and all the proofreading – professional proofreading, mind – I spotted 3 mistakes.

I spotted 3 mistakes, but how many more lurk between the pages waiting to pounce on the reader who just loves to give 1 star reviews for books with typos? I’ll never know, until someone tells me. And that’s quite scary. I was talking to a fellow author the other day who told me about a trad-published author friend of hers whose book had been through 10 rounds of proofreading, only to still have errors. I tell you, something’s going wrong here …

Well, I have my theory, which I’ll come to in a minute. But first I have to say this: I’m not complaining about the quality of proofreading for Murder at the Maples. Jude has done a sterling job, as she always does – and let’s not forget the mistakes were mine and mine alone! Here are the three that were missed, for anyone who’s interested:

  • By the time Flora returned she’d make a tray … Should have been ‘made’.
  • … at the foot of stairs. Should have a ‘the’ before stairs.
  • Also, hadn’t Ida had left her entire … ‘Had’ should have been deleted.

Fascinating: three classic typing and editing errors here. A missing word; an extra word that hung around from an earlier draft; a tense error, which could either be a typo or also left over from an earlier version. Of course, hundreds of other errors or typos were picked up in the proofreading stage – hopefully this is all that was missed – and you have to keep reminding yourself that proofreaders are only human. They’re bound to miss a couple of things. The responsibility – always – is with the author/publisher who signs off the final version.

So, on to my theory about more mistakes in books these days – traditionally published as well as self. It’s simple: proofreading on screen.

I know exactly how this works because of indexing. Times past, editors would send me – through the post – a stack of A3 sheets to work from. I’d read through them and make notes, then transfer the terms and locations to the computer. Now they send me pdfs. It’s quicker, it saves trees, it saves money. When I download the proofs from the publishers’ FTP sites I can see the other jobs that are going out to other freelancers, proofreaders amongst them. I’d be willing to bet that the days of proofreaders, or editors, working from printed proofs – especially from printed and bound copies of the actual book – are long gone. I imagine it’s rare, at best. My proofreader works on my Word document, and gives me her comments and corrections in Track Changes. This is, I believe, fairly standard. Of course, professionals are trained to spot errors even in this format, and pick up almost all of the errors they most certainly do.

But not 100% of them. There really is nothing like the printed page to focus the eye on typos and omissions. And in the good old days, all proofing was done this way. E-format only traditional publishers are getting the same reputation as early self-publishing authors for failing to have their books properly proofread – but the sad thing is, they are having them proofed! But maybe because no paper copy exists, mistakes are getting through.

Well, this isn’t a rant by any means – at the end of the day, does it matter? I feel embarrassed – mortified – if a reader finds a mistake in one of my books, but that’s because I’m that kind of gal, and it’s all down to me as author/publisher and I want to be seen to be doing my absolute best for the reader. And I am. So if the odd typo gets through, so be it. I’m not going to lose any sleep over it. And I’m certainly not going to blame the proofreader, because she is also doing her very best. And hey, as I said before, all these mistake are mine and mine alone 🙂

Tips For Working On Your Proofread Book

I’ve just finished working through my proofreader’s comments on Murder at the Maples. This is a process I really love – my proofreader-stroke-editor, Jude White, is brilliant at picking up what I meant to say, at making my own words sound even better and more polished. This is the fourth book she’s worked on for me, and I think a working relationship between editor/author improves over time because the editor begins to get a real feel for your voice, and knows what to leave alone as well as when to jump in and suggest changes.

Flora Lively cover

Still, I expect Jude was tearing out her hair with my lack of knowledge of hyphenated words! Forlorn-looking and twenty-nine are just two examples of times I failed to join up linked words, and I tend to compound words that shouldn’t be, or fail to join words that should! Ah well, this is why we have a proofreader after all 🙂

But working on a Word document in Track Changes was a learning curve for me, and quite scary the first time I did it, so I thought a blog post about it was long overdue. Here are my top tips for working on your proofread book:

1. Save the master copy and leave it alone. I always save the copy Jude sends me and then make another copy called something like: Murder at the Maples proofed – working copy. This I save at the end of every session with the date and time, as it’s impossible to get through the whole document in one go. When I return to work on it, I make sure I’m working on the most up to date copy, but it also gives me the option to go back to previous copies if I suddenly decide I want to reject some changes but don’t want to have to start all over again from the original. (This happens, believe me.)

2. Get comfortable with Track Changes. When I received my very first proofread copy of Can’t Live Without back from Jude, I’d never used Track Changes before. I was terrified of the responsibility of clicking the right buttons, the whole concept of ‘Accept or Reject’, and worried I’d miss something, or change something by mistake thus making even more errors.

It’s not that bad once you get used to it. Here is a screenshot of Track Changes in Word, with the first page of my proofread document.

Track changes

The main buttons you need to worry about are Accept, Reject & Next, and under ‘Comments’, Delete. One tip I picked up is don’t click on Accept if you are happy to accept a change – this will automatically jump you to the next suggestion, and I get twitchy if I can’t see with my own eyes that the change has taken place! Instead, click on the drop-down menu underneath Accept and choose ‘Accept Change’. Then you can see the change has worked and click on Next to go to the next one. Remember for changes like those shown above, you’ll need to Accept twice – once for the deleted text and once for the new text.

If your proofreader or editor has put comments in the grey margin, you can read and then delete these using the Delete button in the Comments box, which is greyed out in the screenshot above but will show when you have clicked inside a comment. Sometimes my proofreader will query something to check it’s as clear as it can be, and sometimes I’ll take her comments on board, other times I won’t.

3. Take your time. There really is no point rushing this stage. You might even find other things you want to change as you go through, but I cannot stress enough the importance of not adding new material at this point. Who is going to proof the new stuff if you’ve already had it proofread? Only send your final, final, triple-final copy to be proofed.

4. Make a Master Copy of the finished document. From my master copy I then go on to format the book for Kindle, and typeset it for Word. You need to make sure you have one copy that is perfect, and make sure you give it a file name that identifies it as such. It’s easy to end up with so many copies of your book you can’t tell which is which!

5. Make a style sheet for next time. If you find there are certain preferences which come up a lot, you can save your proofreader – and yourself – time by making a proofing style sheet for future books. For example, my preference is to have numbers written out in words, and I also like to use okay, instead of OK. And forever, to mean ‘he’s forever telling me to eat my greens’, but ‘I’ll stay with you for ever.’ I can change my mind about this stuff, but it helps to think about it first and let your proofreader know so she/he can help you be consistent.

Well, over to you – what proofreading tips can you share? Does anyone have a proofreader who works on a printed copy? Looking forward to reading your comments.

pen and ink

Self-Publishing Guide Step 4: Your Timetable For Success

In Step 3 we looked at budgeting, and talked about what you can expect to pay to self-publish your book, and how soon you should expect to break even – and, more importantly, break into profit! Today it’s time to get down to the nitty gritty, and come up with a workable plan to make sure you don’t miss out any important parts of the process.

I did all this wrong the first time. I didn’t buy my ISBNs ahead of time, so I had to pay more for them to be rushed through (I’d set a publication date and I was loath to miss it). I didn’t list it on Nielsen’s early enough either, so the information didn’t filter through in time for it to show on Amazon etc by the launch date. I didn’t realise that I wouldn’t be able to get my paperback cover sorted until I knew the exact number of pages after typesetting, so that was a last minute rush too! And I failed to do a ‘soft-launch’ of the ebook – more about that in a bit.

Now I have a super-duper spreadsheet with all the timescales laid down, and from this I can see what I should be doing and when. Your timescales will be different to mine – some writers will need to start listing information while they are at the editing stage, others may be happy to wait until their book is proofread and ready to go. Really it depends on your own deadlines – but what you must do is be sure to set a date for your launch that is achievable! And the following information will help you do just that.

Lead Times – Paperback

So, let’s assume you are going through the usual process of planning, writing, and editing your manuscript. If this is your first ever venture into publication, I’d wait until you are ready to send your work off for final proofreading before starting the publishing process detailed below. Nine times out of ten you will find stuff you want to change even at this stage, and everything takes longer than you expect. There’s nothing worse than telling all your friends and family that you are launching on a particular date, and then feeling the horrible pressure as that date approaches and you’re not … quite … ready. Argghhh!

If you’ve done it all before, you’ll likely have a better idea of how long the final editing stages will take you, and you can start planning the process accordingly. Let’s start with the task that needs to be completed first, and work our way up to launch date from there.

Launch minus 8 weeks –  Buy ISBNS. Only necessary if you are planning a print version and want your own publishing name listed as the publisher of record. In the UK at the time of writing, ISBNs are available in batches of 10 priced at £126. Click here for more information and to order. Takes about 2 weeks for the list to come through – and you need this before you can register with Nielsen.

NB: If you are publishing a paperback with CreateSpace you can use their free ISBN (the publisher of record will be CreateSpace). Ebooks also need ISBNs, but Amazon assign their own ASIN, and Kobo will also let you use a free one. If uploading via a distributer like Smashwords you can also use a free ISBN. This is a major expense, so think carefully whether you really need them. I bought them because I was printing via Lightning Source, but for my next book I’m moving to CreateSpace so they may well be redundant!

Launch minus 8 weeks – Source Cover Design. You will want to start using your cover image as soon as possible to build pre-launch interest. It’s also nice to upload the cover to your Nielsen listing (see below), but this can be added later. Allow a couple of weeks for your cover to be completed. Although the designer will no doubt be able to produce something a lot faster than that, if you are paying for a couple of rounds of changes this will take time. If you have a really popular/busy designer you’d like to use, remember to book them up in advance! It’s a good idea to ask for the ebook cover first (you’re doing an ebook as well, right?). This is the most time-consuming part for the designer, and once you are happy with the main cover image, the back and spine can be designed to fit. Anyway, by this point you will have to be ready to provide a title and brief synopsis. A blurb is even better, but this can be added at paperback template stage (see below).

The cover of Can’t Live Without was a collaborative effort – sourcing the right photo took ages!

Launch minus 8 weeks – Beta Readers. The other thing to do around about now is get your book out to some Beta Readers. These are wonderful people who will read your book pre-publication and let you know if there’s anything that doesn’t work so well – great for the wider view that an editor may lack. And if you’ve done all your own editing then Beta Readers are essential. You don’t want to be putting your book up for sale when the only people who’ve read it are you and perhaps a member of your family. Get other opinions – it’s better to find out about holes or inconsistencies now, and not from reviewers on Amazon (who can be very cutting indeed). How to find Beta Readers? Just ask. On your blog, on Facebook, on Twitter – try to get at least 6 and a wide cross section. By the way, if you just said I don’t have a blog, Facebook or Twitter account you need to go back about ten steps and set them up!

Launch minus 6 weeks – Notify Nielsen. Again, only for print books, but it’s worth notifying Nielsen as this is the database bookshops, wholesalers and eretailers like Amazon pick up their information from. For a basic listing you need the ISBN (see above), meta data (publisher, title, author, category etc), list price, trim size and number of pages. Nielsen listings are managed via their portal PubWeb – it’s really easy to use.

A note on number of pages: If you are scheduling this before typesetting your book it will be hard to know exactly how many pages it might be for paperback. As a rough guide, a 5 x 8 inch paperback at 260 pages contains a 70,000 word novel. Obviously if you choose a large typeface, larger or smaller trim size (book size) the pagination will be different. You can always change this data later.

A note on CreateSpace: If you are using CreateSpace’s free ISBN you won’t be able to list with Nielsen until you start the process of uploading your book to CreateSpace. You can get around this by uploading a file you don’t intend to use, get the assigned ISBN, then simply replace the file with the real one when the time comes. Just don’t press publish!  

Launch minus 6 weeks – Advance Information Sheet & Marketing Materials. If you are planning to try and get stocked in bookshops, you need to send out AI. Ideally you’d send it 2 to 3 months before, but you can’t send it until you’ve got the ISBN. For a great example of an AI sheet see here. It’s also a great idea to order any marketing materials around about now. Think bookmarks and postcards – places like VistaPrint are cheap, but they charge a lot for quicker delivery, so you can save money on postage by ordering in plenty of time.

Launch minus 6 weeks – Proofreading. So, you’ve got your manuscript back from the Beta Readers and made any necessary changes. Now it’s time to get it proofread. This is non-negotiable, to be honest. Get. It. Proofread. Expect this to take from 1 to 2 weeks.

pen and ink

Launch minus 5 weeks – Blurb. While the book is with the proofreader, work on your blurb. Take your time over this – it’s the product description on Amazon and the stuff that will go on the back cover. Make it sing.

Launch minus 4 weeks – Typesetting. Once you’ve had your book proofed, and made any necessary changes, you have your master copy. Don’t make any other changes to it after it’s been proofread! Don’t suddenly decide to change a character’s name, or anything else. I see this so many times and it drives me insane. It’s really easy to avoid – just don’t send the thing to the proofreader until you are 100% happy with it. Okay, end of rant. Now is the time to typeset it for print. Coming up next time is my template for doing this easily in Word – anyone can do it, and you can save a packet and make your book look amazing. Once it’s typeset you’ll have the number of pages and you can pop that in your cover template calculator and get the spine width. Check out CreateSpace’s cover template and spine calculator – it’s brilliant.

NB: If you are producing an ebook, you can format for Kindle and epub at the same time, albeit in different programmes. More on this below.

Launch minus 4 weeks – Paperback Cover. As soon as you have the spine width and cover template – with barcode including ISBN (don’t worry, CreateSpace or Lightning Source produce this template for you), send it to your cover designer so they can produce the final paperback cover. Remember this needs to be a pdf, not a jpeg (the ebook cover will be a jpeg), and must be in CMYK, not RGB. If you don’t know what that means you cannot do your own cover. Also remember bleed. Ditto comment above it’s that foreign to you.

Launch minus 3 weeks – Upload Files to Printer. We’ll go with CreateSpace here, as the lead times are slightly longer than if you are using Lightning Source. That’s only because of shipping times to the UK (I’m in the UK, which is why this guide is written from that perspective, but of course the information here is universal). You’ll need to upload an interior file (pdf) and an exterior, or cover, file (also pdf, see above). CreateSpace have a brilliant online proofing widget, but if it’s your first book, or your first time with CS, or you just want to be doubly sure it’s perfect, order a physical proof copy to be sent out.

Launch minus 2 weeks – Approve Proof and Order Author Copies. Wow, we’re getting so close now! Once you’re happy with the proof (you can make changes and upload a new file to CreateSpace for free – Lightning Source have a fee), you should order your author copies for your launch party etc. Remember we are allowing for shipping times here – LS in the UK are super fast, so this can be done later if necessary. But there’s another difference to take into account, covered next …

Such a brilliant feeling when your box of books arrives!

Launch minus 1 week – Publish. This is the moment. You are basically clicking a button and telling your printer that it’s fine to start distributing to Amazon and elsewhere. Once you’ve done this, people will be able to order a copy of your book when it shows up for sale.

CreateSpace: Once you approve your copy and click publish, your book will show up on the Amazon sites very quickly, usually in a day or possibly up to three days.

Lightning Source: It takes longer – sometimes much longer. Once you approve your title with LS it goes into their distribution network, but this takes a while to filter through. My first title printed via LS showed up for sale on Amazon in 2 weeks; my second took nearly 2 months! This, by the way, is one of the reasons I’m moving to CreateSpace next time. But LS do have lots of benefits. There are other posts on the blog about this, so I won’t go into it now.

So, give yourself plenty of time to get your book available before your big launch. The same goes for the ebook, of course, but that’s a lot easier. Let’s look at that next.

Lead Times – Ebooks

If you are publishing both a paperback and an ebook, and want them to hit the market at the same time, you can incorporate this timetable into the one above. With my first title I did the ebook first, then worked on the paperback; with my second I got them both out at exactly the same time. The second way was much more stressful! In future I’ll probably do the ebook-followed-by-paperback model, but each route has its benefits and downsides.

A note on ISBNs: Remember that ebooks also need ISBNs, but Amazon assign their own ASIN, and Kobo will also let you use a free one. If uploading via a distributer like Smashwords you can also use a free ISBN.

Let’s assume you’ve decided to use Beta Readers, and already had your book back from them, and made any changes based on their feedback. Okay, so …

Launch minus 4 weeks – Proofreading. As above. Get. It. Proofed.

Launch minus 4 weeks – Cover Design. Also as above. The ebook cover should come to you as a jpeg and be the right size/ratio for Amazon and other eretailers (1:6 is a good ratio to aim for). Get the cover right. It needs to work as a thumbnail – i.e. really small! Study your genre, and try to get it fitting the genre, but not copying. Fresh, but recognisable. Tricky, but that’s what you’re paying for, right? Expect to pay from £50 up for a cover.

Tiny, but still striking!

Launch minus 3 weeks – Write blurb. As above. Also start thinking about categories. This applies to paperback listings on Amazon too – choose the best categories, and remember that if you are publishing via Amazon’s KDP interface, you can only choose 2 categories.

Launch minus 2 weeks – Formatting for Kindle, epub and others. This is called formatting because it is distinct from typesetting. Formatting is harder, and should be done by a professional if possible. Ebook text is reflowable – readers can change the font size and orientation, and will be reading your book on so many different types of ereader it’s impossible to be too precious about how it will appear. Simple and user-friendly is the way to go. There are conventions which should not be broken – for fiction you should have the first line of a paragraph not indented, subsequent paragraphs indented and no line breaks between paragraphs, for example. A new chapter should start on a new page.

Nepotism Time! My brother-in-law, Bryan Hamilton, offers a brilliant ebook formatting service, starting from only £50! Save yourself the nightmare and contact him.

Launch minus 1 week – Upload to KDP. And other eretailers if you are planning on opting out of Amazon’s Select programme. You’ll need your interior file – a mobi for Amazon, epub for others – and the cover. This only takes half an hour or so to do, it’s very easy, but it’s still best to do it a good week ahead of the launch for a number of reasons. 1: You can check it’s all working properly by downloading it yourself. 2: It gives you time to refine categories and your product description. (Use Amazon’s Author Central US for this, wherever you’re based – it has more options.) 3: It allows you to do a ‘soft launch’.

Soft Launch

Phew, bet you’re exhausted after reading all that, but there’s just one more thing I want to talk about. Launching softly, or quietly, a couple of days ahead of your official launch is a great idea. Not only can you check the stuff mentioned above, you can also get some good early reviews, which will show up on Amazon and encourage new readers. Who do you get these reviews from? Well, not friends and family, obviously. No, they come from your Beta Readers. Ask nicely, and your early readers will no doubt be happy to post a review. You can also stagger sales a bit for extra exposure in Amazon’s rankings – but that’s a topic for another post!

Next time: Self-Publishing Guide Step 5: Typesetting in Word/Formatting for Kindle Explained.

Blog at

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: