Publishing Your First Book: Hire a Copyeditor!

When my upcoming book “canvas” is ready to be sold my goal is for every word to be letter perfect. Unlike web content (such as this article), which can be updated and corrected on the fly, a book once printed is permanent. Given the complexity of publishing a book, taking the extra step to ensure letter perfection is worth the investment.

Your book should have an independent editor and copy editor. This might be the same person; for my book my wife and father served the role of editor, and I hired a professional copyeditor when I had a final manuscript.

A good editor will provide you with direct, actionable feedback. Their job isn’t to be a cheerleader but to be a critical resource. The poem “tethered” in my upcoming book “canvas” was one of my favorites… in my mind… but the draft I sent to my wife was muddled and she called me out. She provided me with actionable feedback that helped target re-writes for every poem.

Actionable feedback sounds like this: “I find this section confusing and hard to parse,” or “The meter in this stanza is inconsistent with the rest of the poem.” Feedback that is difficult to action sounds like this: “This poem is fine,” or “This could be better.” I got lucky with my wife and dad – they aren’t trying to tell me what I want to hear they are telling me what I need to hear.

To achieve letter perfection hire a copy editor. It’s one of the most valuable investments you’ll make since the foundation of your book is the manuscript. I was very fortunate to be referred to Brittany Smail by a friend. Brittany and I had a quick call where I shared my vision for the book as well as key details I wanted to get just right.

What I received in return was incredible – despite reading the manuscript multiple times my wife, dad and me all missed several key errors, including in the title poem (screenshot below). We had become blind to the details whereas the copyeditor was seeing everything for the first time. Copyediting is more than just attention to detail – it’s a skill acquired through education and experience.

One of several key errors caught by my copyeditor

In addition to delivering a marked up manuscript (Google Docs is a terrific tool for collaborating with editors and copyeditors), Brittany also provided a style guide summarizing the standard being applied to the manuscript (in my case The Chicago Manual of Style, 17th edition).

You’ll inevitably have a budget for your book and will need to make trade-offs; copyediting is one area where I recommend you hire a professional. The foundation of your book is built on a letter-perfect manuscript.

“canvas: poems” by James Morehead is on-sale now. Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notification of new posts by email.

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