Book Editing for Self-Publishers

New self-publishers are often confused about the editorial process. This schematic is intended to be a simple “map” to the journey from manuscript to printed books.

Manuscript: Developmental Editing

The first kind of editing an author will encounter is developmental editing.

Developmental editing helps develop the concept, the scope of the book, the intended audience, even the way elements of the book are arranged.

Developmental editing can be assigned to specific editors, or some of these functions may be done by either the author’s agent or an acquisitions editor at a publisher. Self-publishers who make use of this type of editing will hire freelance editors to help with the development of their project.

Manuscript: Copy editing

When the author and developmental editor have finished organizing the manuscript, and the editor considers it complete, it will go to a copy editor.

Copy editing is accomplished by editors who examine the manuscript line by line, word by word. It takes people who are meticulous and excellent at spotting errors.

Copy editors have vast knowledge of English vocabulary and usage, command over style resources such as the Chicago Manual of Style. In reviewing the manuscript, they will be paying attention to and correcting:

  • Punctuation, capitalization, spelling, and grammar
  • Errors in word usage
  • Subject-verb agreement
  • Consistency in treatment of material
  • Adherence to established standards of style and formatting
  • Accuracy and completeness of citations, references, notes, tables, figures and charts
  • Ambiguity, incorrect statements, lapses in logic, libelous comments, and so on.

In the course of editing the manuscript, most copy editors will also produce a style sheet for the book listing the correct spellings of any unusual names, the proper format for each element in the manuscript, and any other guidelines that will be useful to other people reviewing the book farther down the production line.

When the copy editor has finished her work, the manuscript goes back to the author for clarification of any remaining questions, and the changes are made to the manuscript.

Manuscript to Book Page Proofs: Production Editor

The manuscript is next routed to a production editor who will be responsible for the production process. The tasks of the production editor include:

  • Scheduling the project and tracking its progress
  • Hiring and coordinating the work of the book designers, illustrators, indexers, proofreaders and other professionals needed to complete the book
  • Getting estimates from printers or print brokers for the physical production of the book
  • Making sure the books are properly printed and delivered on time.

Book Page Proofs: Proofreading

The last stage in the editorial process is proofreading the book. The proofreader is the last guardian of the publisher’s reputation for accuracy and care, and the protector of the author’s reputation for diligence.

Proofreaders examine the book’s complete and final pages for more than typographical errors, although that’s a big part of the proofreading job. They will be on the lookout for:

  • Inconsistent line, word, or page spacing
  • Misnumbered list items and mislabeled captions
  • Improper word breaks
  • Page break problems like widows and orphans
  • Irregularities in the use of the books type fonts
  • Accurate and consistent page headers, footers and page numbers
  • Accuracy and completeness of tables, figures, charts, and graphs
  • Consistent use of abbreviations and acronyms.

The End of the Line

When the proofreader is finished with their work, the self-published book is corrected for the last time. Once the pages are set, the final page proofs can be sent to an indexer, if one is being used, and the book will be ready to go to press.

Joel Friedlander is the proprietor of Marin Bookworks, a publishing services company in San Rafael, California that has launched many self-publishers. Joel is a book designer, a self-published author, and blogs about publishing and book design. To learn more about self-publishing a book, book and cover design, and the intricacies of the publishing process, please visit Joel’s blog at today.


  1. says

    I am in the process of developing the article you will find in my website into a book. I am in need of an editor ,or more like a book shepherd, to guide me through the process of formatting and other technical advice for getting a good product for self-publishing. Norm