Editing for Frugal Self-Publishers

by | Apr 23, 2018

By Val Breit (@ValBreitEditor)

Who doesn’t want to save a bit of money when they self-publish a book? Today’s guest post by Val Breit offers many cost-saving tips and resources for authors editing their books before sending them to a professional editor. If you’re not ready to have your book edited, you may want to bookmark this post and come back to it later. Enjoy!

You want to write (and sell) an amazing book, but you don’t want to spend a ton of money doing it. If you aren’t careful, the costs of self-publishing a book could run your bank account dry.

In fact, the average cost of self-publishing a book can be between a couple hundred dollars to a couple thousand dollars.

And one of the most expensive parts of publishing is editing.

Editing is not something you want to skip. With a weak storyline, the reader won’t read past the second chapter. And a book littered with grammatical errors and typos screams amateur.

So what can you do to have a professionally edited book without spending thousands of dollars?

Here are the best frugal tips for getting a talented editor to polish your book for less money.

1. Use Three FREE Editing Tools

Believe it or not, there are a handful of useful editing tools available for completely free. While they cannot replace a professional editor, they can help you find common issues. Use these tools to find habit words you overuse, run-on sentences, passive voice, sentences that are hard to read, misspellings, typos, and more.

Here are three of the best free editing tools any author can use:

  1. Grammarly
  2. Hemingway
  3. ProWritingAid


Grammarly is an online grammar checker that will find and show your grammar errors, spelling mistakes, and clichés in your writing. When you go to Grammarly.com and create an account, you can upload part your manuscript and let it get to work.

Grammarly will highlight potential mistakes, explain what the error is, and make a suggestion for correcting it. Add a comma where one is not needed? Use the wrong preposition? Forget to capitalize a proper noun? Grammarly will catch most of those errors.

You can even add the Grammarly Extension to your internet browser, and it will edit as you type WordPress blog posts, emails, and more. This can help make all of your writing sound more professional, like the emails you send your email list.

The best part?

It’s free! Like most tools, there is a paid premium option. But since we’re trying to save money here, the free version will work. While Grammarly is not perfect, and it definitely does not replace a human, it is one tool you can use to check and improve your writing before handing it off to an editor for a quote.

To learn more, here’s a complete Grammarly review to learn more its features.

Hemingway Editor

Another free editing tool online is the Hemingway Editor. When you copy and paste your work into the Hemingway Editor, it will highlight complex and lengthy sentences for you to rectify.

This tool is also great for identifying passive voice and the overuse of adverbs, something many of us authors and bloggers are guilty of. Hemingway highlights each type of error in a different color. This allows you to easily check all the adverbs at once, then see your uses of passive voice next, and so on.

Hemingway can conveniently be used online or downloaded onto your desktop.


The third online editing tool is my favorite. ProWritingAid has a free editing tool as well as a premium version. You can use ProWritingAid as another check for grammar mistakes, spelling errors, overused words, readability, and use of clichés.

ProWritingAid is unique because it gives you detailed reports about your writing style and habits. This makes it easier to improve your writing fast.

You’ll see ProWritingAid also identifies “sticky” sentences that include unnecessary filler words. This is another way you can make your writing more clear and easier to read before handing it off to an editor.

If you get the premium version, you can use ProWritingAid within Microsoft Word, Scrivener, or Google Docs.

2. Read Out Loud, Different Version, Different Location

If you typically write on your laptop in your office, then edit in a different format, in a different location, and by reading out loud. You need a different frame of mind for editing than writing, so these physical changes will help you do a better job of revising your work.

To get into the editing mindset, you could edit a printed version or use an e-reader instead of your laptop. It also may help to edit in a different room, outside, at the library, or in a coffee shop.

And yes, you’ve heard it before and that’s because it’s true: you need to read your entire book out loud for the most comprehensive self-edit. Even a whisper will work.

You will be surprised how many errors you catch by hearing your words with your ears instead of reading them with your eyes. For a good example of this editing hack, read this.

3. Make a List of Any Unusually Spelled Words

If there are any words, acronyms, character names, or places with unique spellings, create a list of them and give the list to your (potential) editor. If you spell a town’s name as Dewsbury half the time and Dewsburry the other half, that’s more work for an editor to figure out which one is correct.

Likewise, if you’re adamant that a certain word or phrase be in all caps, like in Simon Sinek’s Start With Why, tell your editor this ahead of time. That way your editor does not waste time “correcting” those words, and you aren’t unhappy with those suggestions.

4. Use Find and Replace in Word

Even editors use Microsoft Word’s Find feature when copyediting books. To correct some of the most common errors, use the Find tool (shortcut is Ctrl + F on PC or Command + F on Mac) to find mistakes you can fix yourself.

Look for things like:

  • any uniquely spelled names, places, or things in your book
  • double spaces after periods
  • technology terms, such as smartphone and smart phone
  • words like ebook, eBook, or e-book
  • words like accept and except

With words like e-book or e-mail, multiple spellings are accepted. Choose one and stick with it. You want to be consistent with how you spell, capitalize, and hyphenate words throughout your book, and Find will help you do this.

If you’re in the habit of striking the space bar twice after every period, you or your editor will need to change these to a single space. Luckily, this is something you can easily do yourself by using Find and Replace in Word. Just Find [two spaces] and Replace with [one space].

If you’re skilled enough to inspect how you use words like except and accept, then search for these words with the Find shortcut and check the context. Here are commonly confused words to search for. It will help you determine which word is the right one.

If you don’t know how to fix these type of errors yourself, no worries. Of course, your editor will do this for you. But if you can figure out how to do some of these corrections yourself that’s less money you’ll have to pay an editor.

5. Ask Family, Friends, and Beta Readers For Feedback

There are some people who cannot help but proofread. Even if you ask people to read your book for their overall thoughts, they will find typos and errors. These people can be incredibly useful when you’re trying to save money on editing (if they know what they’re talking about).

Your beta readers will give you lots of feedback on your book. The best case scenario is someone with excellent proofreading skills will find most of the typos and grammar mistakes you missed.

While family and friends should not replace a pro editor, they can help make the workload easier for you and your editor.

6. Research Several Editors

When you compare several editors, you have a better chance of finding the right editor for your book.

Here are things to look for when searching editors:

  • cost may be per project, per word, or per hour
  • timelines
  • expertise
  • communication style
  • recommendations and testimonies

There are several ways you can find editors who other authors loved working with. Facebook groups for authors are an excellent resource. Many authors in these groups are happy to recommend editors who helped them improve their books.

You can check out editors’ credentials in marketplaces like Reedsy or Upwork.

There is also a massive list of book editors who were recommended by fellow self-published authors. That list includes all the editors’ rates, favorite genres, and the type of editing they provide.

When you’re researching editors, note their posted rates and which levels of editing they perform. While some editors don’t have it listed on their website, others do. If you see an editor’s projects begin at $2,000, don’t waste time contacting her if your budget is $150. Likewise, don’t contact a developmental editor if you are looking for a final proofread.

Use the above resources to find an editor with the type of editing you need and whose rates fit in your budget.

7. Write a Thoughtful Email Inquiry

After you’ve done the previous steps, it’s time to send inquiries. You will stand out from other authors if you send a thoughtful email that shows you’ve researched the editor.

Include the following information about your book:

  • genre
  • word count
  • which type of editing you want
  • when you want or need your book edited

These are helpful things for an editor to know up front. If you’re set on publishing your book in three weeks, but an editor is booked for 6 months, you know right off the bat that it’s not going to work (or you’ll have to pay a hefty fee for speedy editing).

Optionally, include this information too:

  • the working title
  • where you are in the writing process
  • your author history
  • anything else you’d like the editor to know

Write your email but don’t send it yet.

8. Proofread Your Email Before You Send

Take an extra minute to proof your email before you send it. Why?

If it takes an editor two seconds to spot five errors in a brief email, she’s going to charge more because she sees a LOT of work in her future.

It’s true that editors love books and authors. It’s also true that editors want to work with authors who are easy to work with, who care enough about their book to read your website information first, and who can type a few sentences without several errors.

If you struggle with grammar or English that much, then ask someone else to proofread your email. A well-written email can show you are an awesome writer to work with (and your book won’t require an outrageous amount of time).

Get Editing For Less

These are things you can do to correct the smaller errors in your book first. Your editor can then focus on higher-order editing tasks and edit your book a lot faster, for less money.

This is how you can share a book with the world that makes you proud, without spending a fortune on editing.


Do you have questions about saving money on editing? Let me know in the comments!

Val Breit is a frugal word nerd at heart. She combines these passions by running TheCommonCentsClub.com. She loves figuring out how to turn writing into multiple streams of income and helping authors live their dreams without going broke.

Photo: BigStockPhoto

tbd advanced publishing starter kit


  1. Gonzalo

    Hi! This is my second or third time reading this article and I’m taking notes again as I’m researching the editing process now that my manuscript is done, but I do have a question. Out of all the different types of editing and editors for hire, what would you say is one I can definitely skip? I’m certain I’m going to pay for an editor but I’m not interested in hiring four different people or paying $1500 for a full package. Thanks!

  2. Chuck Jackson

    I have all three of the editing software mentioned and use ProWritingAid as my final. I read my manuscript out loud, but I often read what I thought I wrote and not what I wrote. There is a great software called Natural Reader that will read your manuscript. It is free, but if you upgrade, then the voices become more natural and you have more control of the speed and multiple readers to chose from. I have heard that Microsoft Word has a PC add-on that will read also. I have a Mac and it’s not available for Word for Mac.

    I agree that you are asking for trouble if you don’t have a professional editor review your work. I made the mistake in my first book and ended with egg on my face. I shopped for one and he has helped on all three of my books. Believe it or not, I put a request out on Thumbtack. I got a great response and I quickly shortlisted the group. With the three I kept, I took a couple pages and sent it to all three who had agreed to do sample edit. Then I did a comparison of their review versus their fees and made my selection.

    BTW, great advice for us novice writers. Thank you for sharing.

    • Valerie Breit

      Hi Chuck, we can all learn from your experience and tips as well. Thank you for commenting! Natural Reader is one I’ll have to add to my editing and writing toolbox. I’m glad you found a great teammate and editor…and got the egg off your face. :) We all learn a lot from publishing books, especially our first!

  3. Lisa Lepkiq

    Hey Val,

    Thank you so much for including ProWritingAid in your list of free editing tools! We are so delighted that you find our software helpful.

    Happy editing to you!


    Lisa Lepki
    Editor of the ProWritingAid Blog

    • Val Breit

      Hey Lisa, Of course! I love ProWritingAid. It is such a comprehensive editing software and so helpful!

  4. vickie Smith

    Thanks for all the good tips. We self published a nonfiction book and now are working on the editing, cover, etc on our first fiction book.

    • Val Breit

      Congrats! Although lots of work, it’s so exciting to see all those steps come together to create an amazing masterpiece. Keep at it! :)

  5. Allen Alright

    Hi Val,

    Thank you for the helpful tips, I am currently using Grammarly and look forward to checking out the other two you mention. Here is a helpful tip for Microsoft System 10 users, try the following:

    Using MS-Word use Save AS to turn your manuscript into a .pdf file.
    Instead of opening the .pdf file with Adobe Reader, right click on it and select Open With, and choose the Microsoft Edge browser.
    Once it is open in Edge, click on the 3 DOTS (…) and Select READ ALOUD

    It will start reading fast. When you click on the page, the READ ALOUD Speed Control Bar is displayed at the top of the page, you can adjust the talking speed.
    I use it for Readability and word flow among other things.

    I hope this helps someone!

    • Val Breit

      That’s an excellent tip, Allen! Read aloud is a valuable method for editing. Thank you for sharing the steps to using that feature within Adobe!

  6. Jen

    Of these suggestions, the one I’ve found most helpful for me is converting my novel into an e-version and reading it on my iPad (Kindle would work fine, too) just like a “real reader” would do versus in the sterile / artificial format of an on-screen Word doc. I highlight problem spots and also write myself notes. Then I go back to my manuscript and, using the marked up version on my iPad, fix the problems in my Word document. I’ve found this works well for only finding line level problems like missing words, awkward phrases, etc., but it also helped me catch problems on the developmental level — things like how the story flows together as a whole, the transistons between sections/chapters, and spots that might be repetitive.

    • Val Breit

      I love that, Jen. Thanks for sharing your experience editing with your iPad and how it allows you to put yourself in your reader’s shoes. Something about it helps you catch issues as a reader instead of as the writer.

  7. David Colin Carr

    Be frugal, but be wise about publishing a book worth reading. There are endemic problems with comparing editors by sending out sample chapters.
    Usually the first chapter is offered – which is often where they began writing. But typically they have not found their (yes, this is the gender-neutral preference) voice until they are several chapters. Excited to move to the next stage when they complete their draft, they don’t self-edit the early chapters to bring them into alignment with the matured voice.
    When an editor faces the task of marking up that opening chapter, they can look at the mechanics of grammar, punctuation, etc. But if they try to strengthen the voice, they are driving a back road at night without headlights – they don’t know where they’re headed in terms of the writer’s intention.
    And what about stylistic subtlety? A crack editor may see potential style in your writing that you haven’t developed, a style that can make it spark with readers. But if you haven’t envisioned that yourself, you may feel that a sample that strengthens your piece indicates an editor who is going to wrest your work away from you. The lesson: you need to interact before commiting to an editor. You need to experience easy conversations that invoke your brilliance in a way that you haven’t yet tapped. Collaboration is not only a delightful experience, a good editor will be turning you into a better writer in the process.
    Another challenge with first chapters is that writers often don’t understand the importance and power of it. To hook a reader, the opening paragraph(s) need to point to the major theme in a subtle way that enchants – that captures the reader’s longing, curiosity, life quandaries, etc. Without seeing a whole book, an editor can’t find a lead-in that will intrigue. For self-editing, “Look Inside” a bunch of books on Amazon and see which ones capture you. Then explore what you need to do to ensnare your readers.
    A third challenge is that naive writers try to cram too much into the opening chapter: character portrait, motivation, setting, backstory, etc. An editor needs to sort all that out, not make sure you use serial commas.
    The real problem with most writing is not the mechanics of the written language – it is that the piece needs structural or developmental editing. To work well, every book needs to seen in its totality: what belongs where, how characters develop, what the best voice for presenting it is. There are few editors who have the skill, concentration, and perception for developmental editing. I hate to invoke clichés, but most writing needs more than rearranging the chairs on the Titanic.
    In order to avoid major entanglements in structural development, before you start writing build an outline – an outline with enormous detail. Yes, it can be altered as the writing evolves and characters are shaped by unexpected circumstances they encounter – it is a flexible tool. But having thought through the arcs and subtleties of your story in advance makes the writing process much swifter.
    As to expecting free sample edits, be aware that a busy editor cannot afford to give you a free sample – especially if you are submitting to several editors at once. What’s the chance their effort will net them a client when they know neither the client nor the competitors? It is something a smart business person only fails at once or twice. I’ve learned my lesson.
    And chances are that if they are not busy it’s a sign that their work is not being recommended by past clients . . .

    • Val Breit

      Hey David, thanks for the in-depth tips. You’re right that most of these suggestions and tools are for lighter editing, not developmental. Sounds like you could write a post about tips for big-picture self-editing.

    • Joseph Skinkis

      Thank you for the tips, David.

  8. Ian Anderson

    Good points all Val. Changing location worked for me. I first realised this whilst sitting on a plane! I had planned to sleep, but I picked up my work in progress on the kindle and started to read, adding notes where necessary and bang! I realised I was super focused and everything was just flowing. Since then I always work in a change of venue for my last edit at least.

    • Val Breit

      Ha, you know I’ve thought of going to a different room, the library, outside, a coffee shop, but I never thought of an airplane! Way to go using that time to keep moving forward on your book. That’s awesome you found that one is key to your focus.

  9. Michael N. Marcus

    One good source of inexpensive editors is the student newspaper or journalism department at a nearby college, or maybe your alma mater. Consider both students and instructors. Most need money and would rather edit than flip burgers.

    I wrote a book that will help self-editors:
    Self-Editing for Self-Publishers (What to do before the real editor starts editing—or if you’re the only editor) https://www.amazon.com/Self-Editing-Self-Publishers-before-editing-Publishing-ebook/dp/B00AZR6ITK/

    • Val Breit

      Hi Michael. College students with excellent grammar skills could probably do lower-level editing for authors who just want to make sure there are not many obvious typos, misspellings, incorrect words used, etc. Or if an author wants a cheap round of these self-editing tips done first before sending it to a pro to get a cheaper rate. However, for authors looking for higher-level editing or assurance that The Chicago Manual of Style is used versus APA or another style, I wouldn’t recommend looking in the college newspaper for that. An instructor may have the necessary knowledge and skills depending on their background. Thanks for sharing the idea and book.



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