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Industry Insider: Self-Publishing? You still need an editor

/by Clare Skelton/

You’ve written your novel. You’ve spent months, years, perhaps a lifetime, forming these words and this sequence of letters. You’ve loved it, you’ve hated it and now it’s going to be published and shared with the world.

Before it goes to print, piped through ink and paper, and bound with its twins, you need to edit the piece. You need to make sure that there are no mistakes or anything that could let you down.

Many writers, particularly those who are self-publishing, ask if they can copyedit their own work. Quite simply, the answer is ‘no’. It is extremely hard to remove yourself from the intimacy of your own writing and view it with an impartial eye. You may be able to make objective judgements, especially if you have learnt this discipline as part of a writing group where you have become accustomed to reviewing your words, but to be the final editor is practically impossible and inadvisable. You need someone else.

Yes, you could ask a friend or a relative – but then you fall the risk of them being too kind and less likely to pick-up on something that isn’t working. Of course, individuals who know you as a writer are valuable. They help boost your confidence, support you, offer their thoughts, but they can’t be your editor.

You need a professional copyeditor who can work on a large-scale project like your novel, as well as the more detailed aspects.

These copyeditors are so important because they’ll be looking through your work and making sure that your novel is the best it can be. There are three main elements a copyeditor will focus on: errors, phraseology, consistency, and copyright.


Copyeditors check writing for any spelling or grammatical errors that may have slipped through the computer spell-checker. A ‘from’ will not be highlighted when it should be a ‘form’, and it is the role of the copyeditor to pick up and correct these easy and frequent mistakes.


Writers become very comfortable with certain set phrases and words. We all have our favourites that creep into our writing without us even realising. Copyeditors ensure that we aren’t reading the same stock phrase in every chapter, and filter these out so that when we do read these words, they really sing.

Sometimes the words in a writer’s mind makes perfect sense but mean very little to the outside reader. Worse still, certain clumsy phrases can be misinterpreted and end up meaning something quite different from the initial statement. A copyeditor will pick up any of these instances and check with the writer that this was their intended expression.


Consistency is key. Copyeditors make sure that unique aspects and facets which underpin and structure your story remain solid.

Copyeditors will also make sure that timelines in your story are correct and consistent. If a writer has made large structural changes to their work, they may have forgotten that hidden in those words are details which have become chronologically incorrect after the structural change. Your story now may be out an hour, or even a decade.

While you are engrossed in the central strand of your plot, copyeditors make sure that you haven’t forgotten to tie up loose ends, answer a question that need answering, or solved something that needs to be resolved.


Copyeditors also watch out for anything that could be a violation of copyright – such as quotations from song lyrics or from other literary works. Copyeditors will highlight these for further checking and, if needs be, ensure that the writer references the original source. 

Copyeditor vs Editor

Copyeditors often work with a manuscript as it exists. He or she usually will not ask you to make bigger changes to your novel, as this is the role of the editor. On the broader scale, editors can advise a writer that a certain character, event or situation is superfluous and actually hindering rather than helping the narrative. An editor may feel that a writer has to return to and review a certain character, narrative device or the theme of the novel as a whole. It is an important part of the editing process but one which often disappears with self-publishing.

If you submit to and win the ‘Self-Publish or Perish’ competition, I will work with you as a copyeditor; however, I will not suggest large-scale editing changes as would an editor. Therefore, make sure you’ve had your manuscript read before you submit. My role will be to let it sing, and I’ll tidy up any notes you may have dropped along the way. I cannot wait to read top submissions this summer.

Clare Skelton is founder of Birdwing Words a service which creates messaging and brand expression through word and narrative. Birdwing Words also provides an editorial service, and they are donating this service to our Self-Publish or Perish Competition.


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One thought on “Industry Insider: Self-Publishing? You still need an editor

  1. A very interesting post thank you – I have never been sure about the difference between an editor and a copy editor it was great to have that explained. I recently published a thing on Kindle, I had read it repeatedly, had a family member read it (well a couple but one who was willing to proof it for me) and then had it on a web site for peer feedback. The day I published the darn thing, I sat down to read and BAM an error that was just so obvious that I couldn’t believe I missed it as did everyone else. What a clanger – heigh ho all I can say is that you are absolutely right, God bless copy editors I say 🙂

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