Indie Authors, Good Editing Will Sell More Ebooks

editing Indie writersSelf-published authors who want to sell ebooks, listen up; the consensus in the Amazon Kindle forums is primarily that there’s “more editing needed for Indie authors.” Visit the Kindle forums (or fora for fancy-pants literature types) for a great place to learn many things: how all the nuances of Kindles work, publishing-world happenings, great new releases and often complaints of what Indie authors are promoting as salable ebooks on par with traditionally published ones.

The main complaint about Indie writers is lack of editing, which results in typos, grammar errors, bad dialogue, overuse of things like adverbs, plot issues and a long list of “pet peeves” from the average reader. Of course, there are no exact rules to writing as it is an art-form and many wonderful new stories are produced by nontraditional authors. However, when enough readers complain about the same things… it’s a safe bet they’re onto something. Poor craft or execution leads readers to mentally trip over your sentences and lose focus on the message within.

Solutions abound. Unfortunately, not all Indie authors have the same means (money) to hire the best help (editors), but there’s a list below to suit any budget. Here’s what can be done to help any manuscript get in shape for Amazon Kindle, Barnes & Noble Nook, Apple iPad, Smashwords and a host of other ebook retailers:

1. Hire a professional editor if you can afford it. Rates vary dramatically so research will be needed. Pro editors abound in writing forums or can be recommended, so ask around at places like Authonomy, Goodreads, RedRoom, and such. Maybe you can find a high-school English teacher wanting part time work as an alternative to an expensive full time editor.

2. Hire another editor if you can afford it. Why? Two heads are better than one.

3. Repeat until the money gets low.

(For many Indie writers, myself included, skip down to step 4.)

4. Get familiar with online resources designed to help with grammar and more. You can Google terms like “English rules,” “grammar,” and even things like “that vs. which.” Here’s a place I found using this method – Many more exist for free advice.

5. Use spell-check to make sure words are spelled correctly. It’s easy to miss your own obvious typos no matter how many times you read it!

6. Look up big words, homonyms, sayings, words with multiple meanings and also uncommon words to make sure they’re being used correctly. (E.g. is it “say your peace” or “say your piece?”)

7. Be very careful with things like clever dialect. Not everyone writes character dialect like Twain or Dickens, and many readers are seriously turned off as their minds labor on how to pronounce every third word.

8. Same with adverbs. Let the reader’s mind determine how things happen by using adverbs less frequently than over-explaining every little action. Often a better verb will convey the action rather than an adverb.

9. With dialogue, try to keep it flowing. If it’s obvious which character is speaking, there’s no need to point that out with a tag like, Clara said. If the dialogue explains the manner of tone, there’s no need to add, she shouted. These are general suggestions, of course.

10. Double-check little punctuation rules. Indie books commonly have errors like this; “I’m not sure which case to use for tags lines following quotation marks,” He said. (The tag line should be lower case, he said.)

11. Beware of passive voice vs. active voice in verbs (she was writing vs. she wrote). In general, readers agree that active voice makes the story come to life. It doesn’t mean there isn’t a time and place for passive voice, but it’s something to watch out for.

12. Get as many friends, family and others to read it as possible, asking for honest critique including editing advice instead of just pats on the back. Look for consistency in comments, and listen to what they say without getting defensive. It takes thick skin to make it as a writer, and some of that thickness is needed when readers point out how it can be made better.

13. Read more. Check for answers to some of your questions (like the lower case example above) in popular books.

14. Does the story have plot issues? Does it work for the average reader? This is often the hardest thing to fix and an element that can make or break your chances at Indie success. Listen to readers if they have major complaints with what happens in your story.

15. Once you’ve self-published ebooks, remember that it’s simple to update a revised version if new readers identify mistakes and issues. Just takes a few mouse clicks.

Sadly, some readers claim they’ve stopped reading Indie authors altogether. They say roughly 10% of them are worthwhile, and they just don’t have time to read through the rest to find the true gems. That’s why it makes sense to go the extra mile trying to get your book in the best shape it can be.

Your thoughts or comments?

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22 Responses to “Indie Authors, Good Editing Will Sell More Ebooks”

  1. Ann Smith Says:

    Overall, very good advice. However, check your definition of passive voice–“she was writing” is not passive voice. “The book was written” or “The book was being written” is passive voice.

  2. Jonathan Hopkins Says:

    Nice to find another rider on the same hobby-horse. But will enough self-pubbers take note?

  3. Erik G Says:

    Great article! Thanks for posting this.

  4. Ann Smith Says:

    Very much so! Independent authors especially should pay attention to such matters as grammar, spelling, consistency, etc. Otherwise, their credibility is shot.

  5. K. A. Jordan Says:

    There are a lot of people calling themselves editors who can’t write.

    Buyer Beware!

  6. Janette Wales Says:

    YESSSS…… I have abandoned reading some ebooks because of the spelling, grammar and punctuation being so terribly wrong. I have offered my services for free (to begin with anyway) as I am midway through a Proofreading course. So far, no author has taken up my offer as I only posted it a couple of days ago.

  7. motherearthseries Says:

    Couldn’t agree more. It’s this lack of “professionalism,” for lack of a better word, that has given rise to the stigma that all self published works are bad. Now, I find typos and bad editing in most of the traditionally published books I read as well, but the instances are much fewer. Don’t be in such a rush to push your pixels onto the Internet that you fail to deliver a polished product.

  8. Intricate Knot Says:

    Excellent, very helpful piece, Jason! I’ve not taken the leap into self-publishing, yet, but I will be soon and I take your words to heart. I’m in the middle of reading April L. Hamilton’s “The Indie Author Guide” and she also highly recommends proofing, proofing, proofing! That being said, I believe that independent authors are already working under a “stigma” of sorts and that we must work that much harder to be taken seriously and win our audience.

    • Jason Matthews Says:

      You’re so right, Intricate Knot, that there is a left-over stigma toward self-publishers. Fortunately that stigma is getting smaller, in my opinion, as new readers are discovering the best of Indies. “Indie authors” even seems to be a trendy term, so hopefully that will continue.
      Thanks so much for your comment, and please check in if you ever have questions about doing-it-yourself.

  9. Indie Authors, Good Editing Will Sell More Ebooks (via How to Make, Market and Sell Ebooks – All for Free) « Adam Santo Says:

    […] Self-published authors who want to sell ebooks, listen up; the consensus in the Amazon Kindle forums is primarily that there's "more editing needed for Indie authors." Visit the Kindle forums (or fora for fancy-pants literature types) for a great place to learn many things: how all the nuances of Kindles work, publishing-world happenings, great new releases and often complaints of what Indie authors are promoting as salable ebooks on par with tra … Read More […]

  10. Jo Hawk Says:

    The difficulty is knowing the authority behind so-called “rules of grammar”. you mention the differing uses of “that” and “which”, but unfortunately many differences of opinion about what the rule is can be found. For example, here everyone posting has a different take on the examples given and the result is an amusing confusion of interpretations of a so-called rule:

  11. Theresa Milstein Says:

    I think there’s no way around a professional editor. My critique partners help me make my manuscript tighter, but they can only go so far. I just worked with an editor on a short story that’s going to be published in an anthology. She pushed me. In doing so, she made it so much better. My story was good enough to be accepted, but what it looks like ‘publishable’ is a whole different thing.

    I agree about the active and passive with ‘was’. It’s not passive voice, but a lot of ‘was’ peppered throughout can slow down the book.

  12. karenjonesgowen Says:

    Brilliant post! Look like we’re coming full circle– writers need editors period. Whether you get that free from a publishing company that you’ve contracted with or whether you pay for it yourself up front, it is part of the writing business. I’m an editor myself but would not DREAM of publishing my own work without an outside editor’s review, plus a copy editor going through it at the end with his particular eye for detail, plus a typesetter formatting it and looking for the details he is trained to see. And if that is a vote for publishing through a company that’s behind me as opposed to doing it all myself, so be it, there’s my vote.

  13. Francine Howarth Says:


    It’s like anything re self-pubbed (Indie), there are readers/writers (the latter mostly) who will always have a downer on this kind of publishing even when the majority of Indies pass muster on all counts as saleable/publishable books. After all, most forums consist of author-cum-readers, not readers per se, As an Amazon marketing guru said, we try to encourage reader participation in regards to making it easy for book buyers to post reviews, but few do. Most book buyers return to purchase more books and do not post reviews. He further sad too many reviews can put off a potential buyer in the belief it’s a book that has been hyped by family and friends and writer buddies, with exception of big-named authors and recognised fan base.

    In respect to a lot of self-pubbed authors who write a damn good story, plus correct grammar, spelling etc., there remains an element of snobbery within the ranks of middle-grade section authors and “Indie Publishers”, When I say Indie Publishers I mean web based publishers, many of whom employ (or not) self-professed editors, people who’ve written a few books and set themselves up as experts in the field of editorial skills. Many of the Indie publishers are just ordinary people who decided to start a publishing business in order to help others, usually unpublished authors as they themselves once were. Sense of credence comes with a publisher name, or does it? To that I shall add, there are numerous books that have been published by on-line “Indie publishers” as well as mainstream publishers, which could, in many cases, do with a decent edit. Bad grammar, typos, lousy plots, and worse, diabolical e-book/Kindle formatting are regularly encountered across the board of publishing.

    Remember, how once upon a time mainstream publishers kicked up a storm in saying e-books would never become a reality in regards to big sales potential? Now those same mainstream publishers are fast-tracking every possible angle to outwit and outsell the first (original) Indie publishers who stuck to on-line published e-books and proved the big boys were wrong. Now, small and new Indie publishers are popping up all over the place, and lo and behold they are now kicking up a storm about poor quality of self-pubbed books in exactly the same way the big boys of publishing picked on the first e-book publishers. Again, Imply credibility via a publisher best gives self-professed editors a voice.

    Do I have an axe to grind because I’m an unpublished.self-pubbed author? The answer is no. I’ve worked with top editors in the past, I am contracted to a publisher, yet I still self-publish novellas. Why? Simply because I can: because Amazon Kindle has made it easy for me to earn full royalty on novellas that would otherwise – via a publisher – be a pittance return on hard work. 😉


  14. Francine Howarth Says:

    Ha ha, and yeah, I committed the big sin of typos and misspellings in my previous post but I’m in a hurry. I’m not editing, nor looking to be perfect to impress.

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