Making Your Book the Best It Can Be


“If there’s only one thing you’re able to spend money on, it should be hiring an editor. It’s a necessity, especially if you are not a professional writer. Take a moment to consider how much an objective, professional eye can help your book. If you think your manuscript is perfect, just the way it is, let us be blunt: it almost certainly isn’t.”

—Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry

This may be a startling fact to some of you, but Aunt Sally who received As in her high school English class is not an editor. She may be able to string together sentences, she may even know grammar rules, but, as lovely as she is (and inexpensive), she’s not going to help you achieve writing a remarkable book.

Professional editors have a rare gift. They can take the raw materials of our final draft and turn them into a masterpiece. Why? Because they have an uncommon talent of taking written words and making them better for you and your reader. They have an ability to take our work and perform shifting, molding, cutting, and pasting that the average person (who may have loved English) doesn’t have.

The same can be said for design professionals. Top-quality book-specific graphic designers know what they are doing. They understand book cover treatments and trends better than anyone—yes, even better than the three hundred crowdsourcing friends on Facebook who comment on how your idea for the book cover will or won’t work. Book cover design, like editing, requires a professional who can give you several thumbnail ideas that have already passed the litmus test of their experience and the market.

Book designers also know about interior page design. Some cover designers can also help you with the interior design of your book. However, you will most likely need to hire a cover designer and an interior formatter to help you create the best-looking book product.

The plain fact is that the reader has certain expectations when they buy a book and it doesn’t matter if they buy a physical copy or a digital one. They have an expectation that I call reader experience. They don’t want to read a book that is merely 144 pages of typed, single-spaced manuscript. They expect solid sentence structure and a pleasing read to their eye. They presume pages to be designed and laid out so they are visually comfortable and satisfying to read. Typically, your readers have thumbed through a lot of books and your book needs to compete with all the books on their shelves or on their Kindle. Professional editors and designers will help you achieve the look and feel of what the customer expects.

What if I have a contract with a traditional publisher?

That’s a good question. If you’re working with a traditional publisher, my advice is to stay involved with them so you know who’s editing your book and who’s designing the cover and interior. It’s a fair question to ask and a way for you to remain involved throughout the process. This is not a control issue on your part; it’s a quality issue. You want to work with the traditional publisher so you both feel satisfied that the reader will have the best possible experience with your book.

What if I’m self-publishing?

We’ll discuss self-publishing as a strategy in our next chapter. If you are self-publishing, don’t skimp on these two vital pieces of your self-publishing process. It’s critical, especially when you’re self-publishing to engage a qualified editor and graphic designer. You want readers to feel comfortable with your book. You want it to stand out among the others they have read. You don’t wish to have a poor-quality cover that keeps people from buying it.

How can a professional editor help me?

There are a couple of ways an editor can make your work better:

Substantive edit: Some editors work on the manuscript to shape it and develop it. They can literally transform a book, albeit painfully at times, as they fine-tune the content and the voice. They can render sentences or paragraphs down to the essence of what they need to be so the reader is engaged and the material is better to read and more easily absorbed. Often, an excellent substantive editor is a guide who enhances any given author’s talent. In my most recent book, I was fortunate to have a brilliant editor whose changes (sometimes subtle, sometimes massive) gave my book clarity, sharpness, and what I call readability.

Copyediting or Proofreading: The professional copyeditor or proofreader is different from the substantive editor. The copyeditor is hired to scrutinize every inch of your work for grammar, spelling, punctuation, capitalization, and proper expression. The copyeditor is often also a fact-checker. They should check permissions and credits for quotations and illustrations, double-check sources and be certain any excerpts and references are exact, and look for any errors in research or footnote/endnote citations. They move the project toward accuracy, clarity, and consistency. No author wants his or her book to have typos, grammar errors, or erroneous facts or citations. Sloppy publications cast doubt in the reader’s mind and destroy your opportunity to make an impression. You want them to buy your next book or attend your next speaking event, right?

How can a professional designer help me?

Professional book designers will do three things for you—interior page design, typesetting, and the book cover. Depending on your individual circumstance and needs, these three services may require two or three professionals. In most cases, the formatting or interior designers will take your final draft, after copyediting, and begin the process of designing the pages. This is a critical step in the publishing procedure because you want to create a pleasing reading experience and you’ll want to approve the final page design whether you are self-publishing or working with a traditional publisher. Far too many books are published with a poor page design that detracts from reader experience and leaves a negative author brand impression. Remember, they won’t blame the publisher for poor design. Your name and your brand are linked to your book.

After you’ve approved the interior design, the book is typeset. You’ll get one more look at it, after the typesetting phase, for final corrections. You need to take this step seriously, as changes after this final proofing are expensive.

Your designer will also design your book cover. We talk more about book covers in our 7 Tips for Marketing & Selling Your Book as well as some discussion below in writer mistake number four. Professional designers know the current trends in book covers, so you’ll see this repeated. Successful ones know what kinds of colors and designs attract readers. Why is this important? Because the old saying is true: a book is discovered by its cover many times.

There’s really no good choice. An unprofessional, out-of-date, or awkward-looking book cover or one that doesn’t stand out as a small image on Amazon or other online bookselling sites will tank the sale of your book. Likewise, any errors in spelling, grammar, formatting, or in supporting materials and citations will take your book out of the running, off the shelf, and out of the consumer’s mind—and you won’t even know why.

Listen to my podcast, Off the Shelf, for more insights into publishing and marketing your book.

My book, 7 Mistakes Writers Make and How to Overcome Them, offers more helpful insights to help you write remarkable books.


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Trust is the winsome wedding of faith and hope.

Brennan Manning

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