Self-Publishing - The Five Phases (Part 1)

In self-publishing your book, do so like a professional author operating without a publisher and agent. Do not fall prey to nonsense echoed inside the self-publishing community at large. Quality (not quantity) marks a true professional in any industry.

Rushing a book to market is the first and greatest mistake. This separates a “self-publisher” (99.99%) from an “independent author” (0.01%) — and no, these are not synonyms. So, how do you avoid this mistake?

Address your book in phases roughly matching those inside the professional industry. Yes, you can.

Phase 1: The Manuscript

Learn proper format before you begin writing; it serves in all following phases, especially when you contract professional consultants and services.

Never submit a homemade “layout” to a consultant. Professional authors never do so. Professional consultants know the difference and may reject working with you; thereby those who accept this are not professionals.

There are many internet sources about manuscript format. Sometimes the details vary, even when accurate. Sorting fact from fiction will take time, but overall the standards are simple to accomplish.

Your manuscript format plus content are the first and second impressions of your professional aspirations seen by all consultants. Conduct yourself like a professional to become one.

For a low cost shortcut to address this, see the “I.A.” section of the Bookshop for Manuscript Format for Independent Authors.

GENERAL WARNING: For all following phases, you will not find true professionals on $5 per job sites. Educated and trained professionals do not work for minimum wage, let alone below this.

Phase 2: Editing

Once your manuscript is completed, it should be edited. The mode(s) applied vary at your discretion. You might need more modes (in proper order) than you assume, so consider them carefully. Do so by the individual manuscript completed, and not by yourself as the author.

The completed text is what matters first and last. That product for sale affects how readers (customers) view your future publications. An unrefined text can affect your reputation and thereby sales of your other publications. Readers talk, online, in web storefronts and elsewhere.

Editing is not about changing your message to the readers; a common misconception among inexperienced authors. It is about refining your message (story, etc.) for maximum clarity and impact across the largest percentage of the targeted readership. And no, this is not about “proofreading.”

Proofreading is not Editing. It is eliminating textual errors according to current standards in (e)print for a given language. Yes, these standards can change over time.

HINT: editing is refining the message in context; proofreading is refining only the text on the page. For simplicity, proofreading is still included herein as an editing phase.

2.1. Structural Analysis/Review

The most intensive form of true editing. Involves separate documents for notes and analysis as well as possibly (minimal) inline track changes. It is the most time-consuming mode and therefore the most expensive, as it may require multiple reads of the entire manuscript.

HINT: Master's degree in the work's language required (English or other); experience in the text's topical field recommended.

A new or inexperienced author may find this overwhelming in the first encounter. Concept completion is checked throughout. For fiction, this includes discrepancies and inconsistencies in description of characters, settings and or props; incomplete or broken plots, subplots and or “threads”; as well as character (in)actions that are inadequately motivated.

Schedule at least 1 month for a novel length work of 75k words. Time is required for a detailed examination, and you are not the editor's only client. Consultant editors claiming faster turnaround for this mode are thereby the ones you should avoid.

Need vs. Experience: this service is the least ordered by the most inexperienced of authors. New self-published authors assume their message is perfect, as is, and it shows in their final product for sale.

HINT: Structural Analysis cannot be done on an excerpt. It requires the complete manuscript. Consultant editors claiming otherwise are either (1) not professionals and/or (2) telling you what you want to hear for the sake of their profit.

To test a new (to you) editor, start off with a shorter but complete work of 25k words [or less] as a first order.

2.2. Line/Copy Edit

The most necessary form of editing for correct spelling, grammar, punctuation and syntax, which is read [heard] by the reader. It addresses the word-for-word, clause, and sentence by sentence level of the narrative through recorded track changes.

Even full-time, professional authors count on a skilled, second pair of eyes in this phase. As an independent author, you should do likewise.

You are not seeing the words as written. After drafting, re-writing and revising — perhaps more than once — all authors hear what they intended rather than see what is on the page. This includes experienced and successful authors.

Personally chosen first-readers — friends, family and or other independant authors — do not effectively address this. They might catch obvious problems, which is not enough to refine a professional product for sale. They do not have the skills of an editor. They may be partially or wholly reluctant in bluntness due to a personal connection with you.

It is okay to seek their help as first readers. Do not depend on them for actual editing; this is not fair to them.

HINT: Line/Copy editing will work with excerpts; sample text should be a complete chapter or section of 15+ manuscript pages.

True professionals do not do this for free. For the lesser cost, you can check their claimed skill — if you know what to look for versus personal resistance to change.

HINT: Master's degree (or Bachelor's plus 3 years experience) in the work's language (English or other).

2.3. “Content” Proofread

Once again, proofreading is not editing, but it should be completed twice for a professional quality product. The two approaches are sometimes referred to as “content” proofing and “product” proofing. The latter comes at the end of the Layout phase for ebook and/or print.

Yes, they differ. The latter has additional considerations related to publication presentation.

You are not seeing the words as written. As with Line/Copy editing, you should not be your own proofreader for the same reasons mentioned (see 2.2).

Proofreading is most often where self-publishers take shortcuts. Remember that this is your final chance to refine product content. That you can later upload a [further] corrected version is not a solution; it is an excuse for ignoring [or creating] a problem.

The damage is done if even one reader finds [too many] errors and reports such in an online review. That review is there forever, regardless of uploaded [too late] corrected content.

OPTION: Proofing Exchange

For those who cannot afford a professional proofreader, established a “proofing exchange” with other authors [only]. This should not be done for editing of any kind; only proofreading. Strict policies should be followed to avoid abuse and other inequities.

Complete Manuscripts Only

The exchange should be activated only for completed manuscripts; never for partials or excerpts. Manuscript format required. Both of these help deter abuse.

Minimum Participants: 3, Authors Only

Each participant thereby receives at least 2 proofreads of any 1 manuscript submitted. Multiple proofs received and compared help expose common problems to address in future works. This also helps catch more errors, as individual members are not trained proofreaders.

1 Received per 2 Given

For each manuscript proofread, the author owes 2 proofreads to the exchange. Make regular reports to all members of their current ratios. If a member's ratio drops below 1:2, s/he is barred from seeking a proof until their ratio is restored.

This may be arduous with a membership of 3. Adding additional qualified members allows opt in/out based on time/life constraints. Flexibility combined with accountability supports and stabilizes the exchange.

WORD COUNT OPTION: authors produce works of differing lengths. Use a ratio based on word count rounded to the nearest 5k. For each 5k proofread, a member owes 10k of proofreading to the exchange. Enough credit must exist to cover a submitted manuscript's length. Partials based on insufficient credit earned should not be allowed.


Notify your exchange that you have a completed manuscript (with word count) ready for proofing. Allow 72 hours for replies from all indicating their availability. Choose your readers, privately confirm their availability and then notify the whole exchange of your selections.

Start Date and Deadline

Divide your manuscript's length by 5k words to determine Minimum Days for proofread completion; this is not the deadline for your proofreaders.

Set a start date with your exchange and look at the calendar. Add to your Minimum Days the number of Saturdays, Sundays and Holidays within the target timeframe. Your proofreaders have professions, day jobs, families, their own writing, etc.

You now have a Start Date and true deadline for proofread completion.

Time for a Pause

This may have been a long read for some, though topic coverage remains incomplete. Expect the final 3 phases by December 20th (fingers-crossed).

Comments, questions and general discussions are most welcome, though we will not address such/any through social systems. We do not have time for that much running around on the web.

Please use the Disqus app connected (below) to this article. We look forward to hearing from you… or see Part 2.

J.C.Hendee, proprietor
N.D. Author Services [NDAS]