Making the growth in self-publishing work for your editing business

LaptopBy Denyse O’Leary

If you Google “editing for self-published authors,” you will see immediately that it is a growing business area. Forbes noted in 2012 that, in the United States, the number of self-published books with ISBNs had increased 287 per cent since 2006 (and had increased from 148,424 books to 235,000 in 2011). The Toronto Star Books page informally deemed 2013 the year of self-publishing. Some self-published books in Canada and the United States make bestseller lists, especially Kindle’s.

At one time, in order to get a contract with a royalty publisher, the author needed to demonstrate that a certain number of copies would be sold at a profit. But most authors do not write a book simply to make a profit, or at any rate not in the immediate term.

Other reasons for writing a book include boosting one’s career (think Fifty Ways to Raise Your Condo’s Resale Value, written by a top real estate agent) and writing one’s memoirs (think Nay!: My Years in Opposition at Queen’s Park). Such authors usually have a clear idea why they are writing and who might want to read their books. They can probably reach their target markets without a royalty publisher’s help. The agent’s book might be a freebie for his or her potential clients, or the retired politician might sell only 500 copies but still meet identified goals.

Do these authors need editors? They certainly do, because the success of such projects depends on the book reflecting well on the author. Increasingly, self-published authors recognize this fact. (Put another way, those who don’t are getting crowded out by those who do.)

Self-published authors may need the kind of help that authors who publish with a press do not. For example, my clients generally do not know about Public Lending Right, the program by which authors are compensated for lost income if their books are on loan from public libraries. A much bigger headache is that they usually do not realize they should start the plan for promoting their book as soon as they decide to write it.

A royalty publisher has a PR department in place and large self-publishing presses also provide general guidance. But for many self-publishing authors such resources are not available. In such instances, the editor can be invaluable in pointing out resources tailored to individual needs. For example, I pointed the author of a book aimed at a health-conscious market to lists of special days, weeks, and months related to health awareness around which a promotional campaign could be built.

Finding clients for self-published projects is often as simple as letting a variety of people know you provide services tailored to their budget. Many authors dream of just such a project, but, knowing little about how publishing works, they believe that they must first interest a press like McClelland & Stewart in their idea. Decades pass.

When authors realize that self-publishing is less expensive and more viable than they had thought, even factoring in your paid help, they are often open to going ahead. After that, flexibility on your part is important because the author will often expect you to address assorted issues (such as promotion and design advice) that might, in other times and places, have been someone else’s in-house job.

In closing, one advantage of having self-published authors as clients is that they don’t necessarily work on a spring/fall schedule, so they may be slotted in more easily during the predictable slow times.

Denyse O’Leary is an Ottawa-based editor, author, and blogger.

3 thoughts on “Making the growth in self-publishing work for your editing business

  1. Self-publishing authors provide a huge potential field for freelance editors these days. And the more services the editors can offer – such as substantive, stylistic and copy editing, marketing advice, and help with layout and formatting – the better they can serve these clients.


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