My Go-To Freelance Tools and Apps

I’ve noticed, after six months of stay-at-home orders during the COVID-19 pandemic, that a lot of people are striking out on their own to build freelance businesses. I’ve been out here living a freelance life since 2006, and I would like to welcome you all! It can be tough going for the first few years, but if you can stick it out, it is so rewarding to set your own hours, your own rates, and your own boundaries. You can do it, and a few freelance tools and apps can make it a lot easier.

I’ve tried a lot of everything over my years as a freelance writer and book editor. Freelance tools and apps have come and gone. I outgrew some of them as my business expanded, and some outgrew me when they offered more features than I could ever use as a solo worker. I’ve listed here the tools I’ve been using the longest and with the most happiness. A few of the links in this post are affiliate links, so I may make a little money if you click and buy.


When you’re first starting out, tracking your invoices and income in a spreadsheet like Microsoft’s Excel or Google’s Sheets is perfectly adequate. You need to know how much and when you expect to get paid, and you need to know when that payment comes in – or when it’s late.

When it’s time to level up your freelance tools, I highly recommend Freshbooks. I’ve been using it since 2014. It creates and tracks invoices, automatically sends out reminders when invoices are late, lets you accept credit card payments, syncs with bank accounts to track expenses, and generates just about every report you’d like to see, including the crucial profit and loss statement.


Notion replaced Evernote, OneNote, Trello, and all the to-do apps I’ve ever tried for researching articles and publishing books. You can see your notes as a gallery, a calendar, a kanban board, a list … if there’s a way you work best, Notion likely supports it.

I recently figured out how to create notes within a client folder so that I can aggregate my research links and notes, then track deadlines and publication dates for each article. I’ve created templates in Notion for book publishing so I don’t forget steps; I just have to enter the dates and milestones for the new project and I have a ready-made personalized production schedule. Life-changing stuff.

Bullet Journal

I get it. Everyone has a Bullet Journal, and it’s filled with calligraphy and watercolor art. Who has the time, even in quarantine? I started my BuJo in November 2016, when I was about to start the busiest year of my life after the worst presidential election in my life, and it kept me sane. When BuJo creator Ryder Carroll released a whole book about the method, I read it, and I loved it.

My Bullet Journal is not pretty. Mine contains only bullet lists and notes. Since writing itself is my creative outlet, the journal is really just a freelance tool. I use a Rhodia notebook and a fountain pen, but it’s still just my regular handwriting on a page. I use block capitals for to-do lists and cursive for writing my thoughts on books I’m reading or jotting down ideas for books or essays. Not a drawing in sight.


Like everyone, I used Dropbox for ages, but then they got all weird about privacy. And I’ve got Microsoft’s OneDrive because I have Office. These are fine cloud storage solutions, and they’re used widely. Being the privacy nerd I am, I chose to pay for Sync cloud storage because it’s encrypted end to end. You can still share with anyone you like, just like you do with Dropbox. I mostly use it for working files and backups. It’s also HIPAA compliant, if you’re in the healthcare industry.

This post reminded me to check on how much space I have available in my Sync account. It’s 2.9 TB. That’s terabytes. Massive amounts of secure storage for a reasonable annual fee.

Honorable Mentions

Some tools and apps are kind of required by others. I use them every day, so I’ll mention them here, but I use them because my clients or the publishing industry requires them. They’re fine.

  • Microsoft Office, especially Word
  • Google Drive, especially Docs
  • Asana project management

A Short List of Small Ways to Help #BLM

I posted this on Patreon, where I’ve been uploading a chapter a day of my translation of A Voyage Around My Room.

Hi all. There would normally be a new chapter of A Voyage Around My Room coming to your inbox at 9:00 Pacific time this morning, but not today. I took the past few days to mourn the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, to think about the kinds of change I’m hoping rise out of this nightmare of a spring, and to make a plan for creating that change. 

I do not much like talking about my activism; I prefer to just do what I can. But I realize that some people, especially those who are new to the fight or can’t join a large protest, might be feeling at loose ends about what to do. Maybe this little list will help you get started.

  • I took 8 minutes and 46 seconds to sit alone quietly, the length of time Chauvin had his knee on Floyd’s neck. 
  • I took stock of my budget and decided I can commit 10% to monthly ongoing donations. I split that money into neat quarters so I can support four different organizations.
  • I researched and picked three of the four organizations because I know and admire their work at the local, national, and global levels (The Urban League of Portland, The Malala Fund, and Four Directions, which encourages Native American voter turnout). I’d like the fourth to be related to climate change, and there are so many choices I haven’t been able to pick. 
  • I tried to go to my small neighborhood protest because I saw a post on Instagram and everybody was six feet apart and wearing masks. But by the time I saw the post, it was almost over. I chanted with my mask on for 10 minutes and went home. 
  • I put notes in my Bullet Journal to check in quarterly with my donations and my actions to see if anything needs to be adjusted. I brought the nerd even to my activism. 
  • I almost forgot! I finished reading Mitchell S. Jackson’s memoir of growing up in North Portland before it was gentrified, Survival Math. Great story, but moreover the man’s way with language is powerful. Highly recommend it.

I forgot two more little things:

  • I used Postable to create a birthday card for Breonna Taylor and send it to the Attorney General’s office in Kentucky to pressure him to charge the police who murdered her.
  • I asked some fellow editors to request But Not Jim Crow, an oral history compiled by Pearl Alice Marsh about a community of Black loggers in Eastern Oregon.

I’m not saying you need to do any of these things, and I’m not super comfortable even sharing this at all. But if you’re struggling to find a way to help, maybe one of these things will spark an idea for you. 

Back to the musings of a housebound nineteenth-century Frenchman in the morning. – khg

Making a Mistake, Then Making It Better

On May 19, publication day for Life Among the Paiutes, I sent out about a half-dozen copies to friends and family, including the artist who did the cover. I printed out the labels and left them for the mail carrier to pick up in a responsible, socially distant way. I was so proud.

A couple days later, I got a call from my mom. It turned out that the flat-rate USPS envelopes I had used were Priority Mail Express, not plain old Priority Mail. Everyone who got those first copies, people I wanted to thank for their help and support, owed the post office another $20 or so to get their books.

Oh my God are you kidding me.

I went to the Practical Fox shipping center in my basement and yup. The wrong envelopes.

Luckily no one was bothered in the slightest. My mom was very nice about the whole thing; she only wanted to make sure I hadn’t sent of hundreds of books this way by mistake. (I hadn’t.) I offered to refund the $20 or have each recipient of these first copies refuse the delivery and I’d send another book immediately. They all took care of it themselves and ransomed their books out of Express jail.

So, to make good on this mistake, I’ve donated $20 for each of these mis-shipped books to the National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center. And from this point forward, 5% of the purchase price of every copy of Life Among the Paiutes sold will be donated to this same organization.

Kickstarter in the Time of COVID-19

It’s official: the Kickstarter campaign for Life Among the Paiutes did not fund. Despite my best efforts, and the efforts of friends, family, and complete strangers who believed in the book, we weren’t able to reach our funding goal. Boo.

April 2020 was admittedly a weird time to launch a campaign for a book. Lots of big publishers postponed publication dates this spring, and many authors who had started their book tours and publicity campaigns in early March found those efforts quickly curtailed. I saw all this happening, but I love Paiutes. I’m proud of the work I did, and I adore the cover created by Steph Littlebird Fogel.

So I decided what the hell and pressed on with the campaign. Kickstarter was struggling, unemployment was rising, people were turning to cozy reads. I don’t know. Maybe it was the timing; maybe it wasn’t. But the end of the campaign is certainly not the end of this book.

Publication date: May 19, 2020

So publication moves forward. The official publication date is set as May 19, 2020; that’s when you’ll be able to order hardcover and paperback copies online pretty much anywhere you like, like Indiebound. The ebook is only available through the publisher’s website,, because many retailers have restrictions on public domain works being turned into ebooks. A few bad apples in the early years of ebooks made shitty copies of old books, so those that have been recently designed with care get to suffer the consequences. If I may offer totally biased advice, you’ll want a physical copy anyway. The cover is so pretty in person.

I also have on hand the early bird copies that I ordered for the Kickstarter campaign right here at Practical Fox HQ. So you can order directly through the publisher’s website for those as well. I’ve got shipping materials and everything, so I know those 75 or so copies will go out in a timely fashion. I’ll have a preorder page set up on that site this week, so look for an update soon.

Moving On

This is not my first book, nor is it my last. I’ve already got another in the works: a translation of Une Voyage autour Ma Chambre, or A Voyage Around My Room. It was written in the 1790s by a French author who was confined to his room for 42 as punishment for dueling. Seemed right for these quarantimes. There are 42 chapters, one for each day, so I’m posting them on my Patreon page every day. If you become a patron for $5 a month or more, you can read those as they go up at 9:00 a.m. Pacific Daylight Time each morning.

I’m also looking for my next book to pull out of history and publish with a pretty, modern design. If you have a favorite book from 1924 or earlier that you think deserves more attention, contact me.

A Translation for the Quarantimes

I’m working on a translation of Une Voyage autour ma Chambre (A Voyage Around My Room), by Xavier de Maistre, from French to English. He was confined to his room for 42 days in the 1790s as a punishment for dueling, so this is a perfect project for these quarantimes. It includes his thoughts on the soul, his love for his dog, his best friend’s death, and his realization that his servant might not entirely enjoy cleaning mud from Maistre’s boots.

Like everyone, I’m looking for new ways to connect with others when we can’t get together in person, so I’m posting this one on Patreon. There are 42 chapters in the book, so I’m publishing a chapter a day beginning today, May 1, and it will go through June 11. Feedback, reactions, and comments are all encouraged on Patreon! I’d love to nerd out about this book and the translation process with other interested folks.

The first three posts are free; after that, the posts will be for patrons only. But! If you become a patron for $3 or more by midnight on Sunday and are still a patron on June 11, you’ll get a free copy of the book when it’s published in September.

Why wait until September? Because this translation is pretty rough. I’m writing it out longhand with a fountain pen like the enormous nerd that I am, then cleaning it up a little as I type it in to post it online. The final book will be properly, professionally revised and edited, which takes time. 

Come be a nerd with me on Patreon!

How to Make a Book Step 7: Book Marketing

In this eight-part series, I’ll walk you through the creation of a book using the next release from Practical Fox as an example. As I do the steps to make Life Among the Paiutes, I’ll write about it! You can start with Step 1.

Ah, book marketing. There are so many ways to do it, and so many ways to hate it. Or love it! Maybe you love it. That would make your life as an indie publisher or small press so much easier. Try to love it.

There are many tutorials, books, webinars, and podcasts out there about book marketing, and some are better than others. (Joanna Penn at The Creative Penn has a solid roster of guests who have spoken about book marketing over the years.)

I’m going to talk about how I’m marketing Life Among the Paiutes, since that’s the project I’m working on now. I’ve used different tactics with other books, and some have worked better than others, but I’ve made back my investment on every book I’ve published and then some. My goal is usually to make enough to fund the publication of the next book, which is a modest goal, but it’s achievable.

You’ll want to start your marketing at least six months before your publication date. Get started on any of these tactics, plus maybe sending out press releases to book bloggers or local media, as early as you can.  

The Blog

This right here counts as book marketing. Not every piece of content you create has to be about the book directly. You can also write blog posts about the writing life, share images related to the book, give readers a behind-the-scenes look at your research process—it’s all fair game. Regular content can generate regular readers, so make a schedule and stick to it. Even a lax schedule, like this blog’s every two weeks pace, is fine as long as readers know when to expect new material.

A blog is also a great place to point people, especially in the early days of marketing. When someone asks what you’re working on, or the dreaded “How’s the writing going?”, you can point them to your blog. It’s a bit of deflection when you don’t want to answer, but it’s also marketing! Write your blog’s URL on a napkin for them, or better, hand them the business card you certainly have handy in your wallet with your website printed below your name.

The Website

This is where your blog lives. Say someone really does visit your blog and likes it. Hooray! Give them a couple more pages to click on, maybe with an easy-to-find menu. An About page is great, especially if it has links to places to buy or preorder your book.

If you’re feeling ambitious and have a couple hours to do some setup, you can create a store to sell your books on your website. That way people who like your blog can buy more of your work without even leaving your site. I use Woo Commerce because it plays nicely with WordPress, which is what I used to create this website in, like 2005. Don’t worry, it’s been updated a thousand times since then.

The Newsletter

People don’t usually go clicking around the internet looking for stuff to read anymore. They want the things they like to come to them. That’s where your newsletter comes in.

I include two kinds of things in my newsletter: links to blog posts and newsy bits. Readers can click through to read the latest on my blog and maybe check out my other books while they’re on the website. Or they can just read the news from Practical Fox, which is often a publication date or a cover reveal. I’ve even asked subscribers to vote for the best text to put on the back of the book. They chose well.

Social Media

It is my opinion, and I have no idea if anyone shares it, that you should only do the social media you already know and like. I gave up on Facebook a couple years ago, and I don’t miss it, sales-wise. I do use Twitter (@kristenhg) all the time, so I also tweet about my books there a lot. And I use Instagram (@kristen_hg), which has a lively #bookstagram hashtag for readers, writers, and publishers to use.

I should probably have a social media strategy and posting calendar, but I don’t. I use it organically, and I use hashtags, and I try to be as human as possible. It feels less like icky book marketing and more like “I made this book and I’d love for you to read it!” Because that’s true.


In 2019, Practical Fox published Beat the Boss, a role playing game about workplace and community organizing. We chose to use Kickstarter to raise the funds to cover our costs of production, and it worked! It was also kind of fun, in the way that tattoos are fun. It kind of hurts at the time, but as soon as you’re done you want to do it again.

So we’re doing it again. The Kickstarter campaign for Life Among the Paiutes begins April 13 and goes for 21 days. After that, regardless of whether or not the campaign is successful, the books will be available for order through all of the regular channels, including bookstores and directly from the Practical Fox website.

You’re so close to the finish line. Next up: don’t forget to celebrate your achievement.

How to Make a Book Step 6: Do the Details

In this eight-part series, I’ll walk you through the creation of a book using the next release from Practical Fox as an example. As I do the steps to make Life Among the Paiutes, I’ll write about it! You can start with Step 1.

Your book is now a little like Pinocchio, who waited to become a real boy. You’ve got edited text, a nicely designed interior, and an eye-catching cover. Now it’s time for your project to become a real book. And that means doing all the little details that make it happen.

Get an ISBN

The ISBN is the number that identifies each format of every book. Open the copyright page of any book printed in the last several years, and you might see the ISBNs listed for every available format, usually hardcover, paperback, and ebook. This is how booksellers order the correct format and keep track of your book in their inventory.

That means you’ll need a few ISBNs for each title. For Life Among the Paiutes, I had three formats, so I used three ISBNs. I get my ISBNs through Bowker, which is pretty common. You can buy a single number or a block of 10 numbers. I buy them 10 at a time because I know I’ll use two or three for every title I publish. At the rate that I put out books, that means I buy another set of 10 every couple of years.

Many books have the ISBN and a bar code on the back cover, which makes it easier for stores to scan into their system and again at the register. The ISBN and price are usually printed in text humans can read on the back cover too. Make it as easy as possible for bookstores to work with your book and for buyers to buy it.

Get a Printer

You are the publisher, but unless you have a printing press in your basement, you are probably not going to be the printer. You’ve got two basic options: print on demand and offset printing.

Print on demand, or POD, means that your book files aren’t loaded into the printer until someone orders it. If you order 50 copies to sell at events, they will be printed when you order them. If someone orders one copy through an online bookstore, one copy will be printed and shipped to them. You don’t have to keep inventory on hand unless you want to.

Offset printing means many copies of your book are printed at once and shipped en masse to you or your distributor’s warehouse. There’s usually a minimum order for this, say 500 or 1,000 books. But per book, offset is less expensive than POD books, and the quality can be higher.

As a tiny publisher, I have only done print on demand for my own books via Ingram, which also functions as my distributor. There’s a new-ish service called Ingram Spark that was developed for tiny publishers, and people seem to like it. I started publishing before Spark was a thing, and I never migrated over.

Set Your Prices

Your printer will be able to estimate your production costs depending on format, book size, number of pages, and other details. Once you know what it will cost to create a book, you’ll be able to set prices. One thing to remember is that if you want to get your book into bookstores, they get a steep discount. Like, 50% steep. So you’ll need to set a price that covers the cost of production and the 50% discount bookstores expect to see. If you plan to only sell via your website, in person, or on Amazon, then the wholesale discount doesn’t come into play.

Set Your Pub Date

You probably did this in step 2, but now it becomes officially official. Set that date as your North Star and sail toward it. And tell everyone! It should be far enough in the distance at this point that you can get copies out to book review blogs and maybe place your book in industry catalogs or other publications.

If you’re not looking for bookstore sales, you still need a publication date. You might want to make the book available for preorder, and buyers will want to know what day to expect the book to ship. You can use that date in all of your marketing, including any press releases and social media posts, and build up to the big day.

Speaking of the big day, in the last installment we’ll talk about celebrating!

How to Make a Book Step 5: Make a Cover

In this eight-part series, I’ll walk you through the creation of a book using the next release from Practical Fox as an example. As I do the steps to make Life Among the Paiutes, I’ll write about it! You can start with Step 1.

Okay, you’ve got the text, edited it, and designed the interior. Now comes the fun – and stressful – part: creating the book cover.

We’ve all heard that we shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. We all probably strive not to judge people by their looks, or clothes, or what they order at the coffee shop. But we all almost certainly judge actual books by their actual covers. Being judged is the only job a book cover has, so you want to set that cover up for success.

What Should a Cover Look Like?

You certainly know as well as I do that book covers can look like almost anything. They can be illustrated, or they can be plain with bold text. They can be black and white, they can be brightly colored. They can use photographs. They can have shiny foil or cutouts. It’s all fair game.

If you don’t have design chops, you’ve got a couple of options. The first is to hire a book cover designer. This is a particular skill set; any artist or graphic designer friend probably won’t know what book covers need to succeed on the shelf at a bookstore.

The second is to buy a predesigned cover. There are people out there who create gorgeous covers, particularly for genre books like fantasy, horror, and romance. They drop in placeholder text for the title and author name. These are usually less expensive than hiring someone to create a cover from scratch or commissioning an artist to create original work for your cover.

The third is to learn the ropes yourself. If you can’t find a class in book cover design specifically, you can create a curriculum for yourself. You’ll need to know how to use the tools, like Photoshop and InDesign. You’ll want to learn the principals of good design. And you’ll want to have some solid book marketing information on hand so you can design the kind of covers shoppers will judge kindly.

Kinds of Covers

Every version of your book will have its own cover:

  • Paperback
  • Hardcover
  • Ebook
  • Audiobook

They’ll all share elements, like the graphic and typeface. But they’re each a different size, maybe a different resolution. The audiobook format is square. The ebook and audiobook versions won’t have back covers for an excerpt or blurb. If the hardcover has a jacket, it might need more photos or information than the paperback to fill the available space.

Also, keep in mind that books sold now probably shouldn’t have white backgrounds. (A mistake I have made and continue to live with.) That’s because when they show up on a screen in an online bookstore, which usually has a white background, the title of your book looks like it’s floating in space.

Elements of a Book Cover

There are a few things that are required on a book cover:

  • Title on the front and spine
  • Author on the front and spine
  • ISBN on the back
  • Publisher, usually on the spine

It’s also nice to have some text on the back, like an excerpt of the text or a blurb from a well-known author. Those could help a reader decide to buy your book.

The Cover of Life Among the Paiutes

I mentioned that I wanted to commission a modern Native American artist to do the cover of this book to a friend. She said, quite simply, “Oh, you should ask my coworker Steph. She’s super cool.”

That was an understatement. Steph Littlebird Fogel was on board with this project immediately, and her work (see it on Instagram at @artnerdforever) was a perfect fit for my vision for the book.

In case you want to work with an artist, here’s how we did it, and it was very smooth.

  • We met to talk about the book and the project, and I sent her a PDF of the cleaned-up text. We agreed on a price and a timeline that worked for both of us.
  • I paid her half the fee up front.
  • She sent about a dozen sketches via email, and I picked the three or four I liked best for this book.
  • She refined those and offered a variety of color palettes.
  • I showed these to fellow readers and publishing professionals and selected the one I was going to use.
  • I told Steph which one I liked and asked for a few final tweaks.
  • She sent me the final version, complete with font suggestions.
  • I paid her the final half of her fee.

I knew enough of design and publishing to create the covers myself, so I dropped Steph’s final cover into InDesign. I also created a low-res PDF that I could more easily share on social media and in my newsletter.

And here, to satisfy your curiosity, is what the cover looks like.

How to Make a Book Step 4: Book Design

In this eight-part series, I’ll walk you through the creation of a book using the next release from Practical Fox as an example. As I do the steps to make Life Among the Paiutes, I’ll write about it! You can start with Step 1.

If you are traditionally published, all of the book design will be done by your publisher. You need not worry overmuch about serif sizes and drop caps.

If you’re publishing the book yourself, you are responsible for the design. You can either learn how to do it yourself, hire a freelance professional to do it for you, or use a basic uploader to create an ebook.

Easy-Peasy Ebook Design

If your goal is to simply say “I have published a book,” then creating an ebook on a major platform like Amazon will cause the fewest headaches. You can use your edited Word file or a PDF to upload it into the system, along with a cover you create (more on that in a future post). The system will create the ebook file suitable for Kindle if it’s on Amazon or in the EPUB format for every other reader.

There’s usually a check of some kind to make sure the book is actually book length, and that the cover will work, and that there aren’t any hidden characters in your text that will show up strangely or break the ebook. For simple publishing goals, you can keep the design process simple too. The interior of the book will be rather plain, but it will be easily read by devices.

We’ll cover this more in later steps, but it’s worth noting here, at the point where design becomes part of your production schedule.

DIY Print Book Design

If you’d like to have physical copies of your book out there in the world, and especially if you’d like to sell them to more than your immediate family and close friends, you need to design the books interior.

This is where you choose a font (modern? old-fashioned? serifs?) and the layout. Will chapters start only on the right-hand page of a two-page spread? Will you use drop caps for the first letter of the chapter? How will you number or title the chapters? Page numbers at the top or bottom of the page? There are so many little things to decide when it comes to book design.

It’s definitely something you can learn, but it will take time. It will likely also take InDesign, which is a professional-grade piece of software that can make books look amazing. Learning enough to make your first print book look pretty good will take many hours probably over many weeks. Learning enough to make your next few books look great is a steep learning curve, but it is climbable, and it is rewarding.

For Life Among the Paiutes, I decided to design the book myself since the redesign was the entire point in my publishing it. I didn’t change any of Winnemucca Hopkins’s words, but I did use modern punctuation and create breaks between stories. I wanted more space around the words than the original printing process had allowed, and I wanted a clean, easy to read layout. I took yet another online course in book design, and this time the lessons sank in deeper than they have before.

In my experience, book design is something you learn by listening and then doing. And then listening some more and then doing it again. And then googling the thing you just broke to find out how to fix it. With each book, you get better, but it takes time.

Hiring a Pro Book Designer

If time is not on your side, then hire a professional book designer. The difference between a Word file uploaded to the printer and a properly designed book is something readers do notice, even if they don’t know how they know the difference.

Take, for instance, something as small as page numbers. You might choose to put them in the upper, outer corners of the pages. But on the first page of any chapter, they belong at the bottom in the center. When you think about it, or check pretty much any book on your shelf, that number being moved at the beginning of the chapter makes sense. Having it hanging out alone in the corner would be weird. That’s the kind of detail that a book designer does in her sleep. It takes your book from being a Pinocchio of a book to being a real book. In this analogy, book designers are fairy godparents making wishes come true, and I think that is mostly correct.

I hired a book designers for both Take the Wheel and Skull and Sidecar, and they did more than I could have even imagined with the design. I have heard from readers of both books that they enjoyed little touches like the tire tracks across the page or the silent-movie-style chapter headers. It was well worth the investment to create books that can sit alongside traditionally published books and look like they belong on the shelf.

Next Time…

Designing the inside of the book is a whole different process than designing the outside of the book, so in the next post, I’ll talk about cover design.

How to Make a Book Step 3: Book Editing

In this eight-part series, I’ll walk you through the creation of a book using the next release from Practical Fox as an example. As I do the steps to make Life Among the Paiutes, I’ll write about it!

First, let’s deal with one of the most pressing questions on book Twitter:

Do you need a book editor? Yes!

Do you have to hire a book editor? No!

If you are aiming for traditional publication with a press of any size – a Big Five publisher or a small press like Graywolf – they will edit the book for you. You do not pay one cent to have your book published traditionally. The publisher pays you an advance, and they pay you royalties. You pay them nothing. Really, truly nothing.

If you are publishing the book yourself, you will pay for everything, including editing. All books need editing. Even editors who write books have other editors edit them. I, as an indie publisher, hire editors. Not my mom, though she’s very smart and reads a lot, and not my friend who teaches high school English, though she knows a lot about correcting mistakes. Editors have experience in making a book better, not just more correct.

There are hybrid publishing models that are legit and can be perfect for your situation, but the services you’ll pay for in those situations can vary, so ask if book editing is included before you sign any contracts.

Let’s look at some different kinds of editing.

Developmental Editing

For a developmental edit, you hand your entire manuscript over to an editor, whether it’s epic fantasy, a collection of short stories, a memoir, or a self-help book. The editor will read the whole thing, probably at least twice, and take notes. So many notes.

The editor will be looking for structural issues, characterization, plot, pacing, style—the big guns of book writing. Some typical book editing questions at this stage are:

  • Whose point of view is used for this book or story? Is it the most effective?
  • Does the pace vary? Do the characters (and the reader) have time to think as well as moving the story forward?
  • What are the themes? How are they tying the narrative together?
  • Are the opening and ending scenes and chapters in the right places? Will they feel satisfying to the reader?
  • Do the characters’ choices lead to events in the story, or is there a deus ex machina at work? And is that okay?

There’s a lot more, but these are typical. You’ll see a lot of comments in the margins of your manuscript, and you’ll get an editorial letter several pages long. The editor won’t tell you what to do, but they will ask questions and offer suggestions to inspire your revisions so you’re writing the book you want to write, not making do with the first or second draft.

Your publisher will do some developmental editing with your book. If you’re publishing solo, a developmental editor can elevate your work to professional grade.

Copy Editing

Once you’ve made all your major revisions, and probably gone back and forth with your developmental editor, the manuscript goes to a copy editor. This is where everything gets cleaned up and made consistent. You’ll have fewer big-picture revisions to make here, but you’ll have a lot of commas to clean up.

Copy editors look for things like:

  • Using the correct character names all the way through
  • That/which issues
  • Consistent comma usage
  • Parallel construction
  • Formatting for block quotes
  • Clichés

And a whole lot more. Most editor use a standard style guide, like The Chicago Manual of Style or AP, plus an in-house style guide for the publisher. And every individual book gets a style sheet where your own quirks are logged, from character names and descriptions to your preference for t-shirt over T-shirt.


This is the finest grit of editorial sandpaper. At this stage, the proofreader should be looking for tiny errors and typos; all the big fixes should have been made. Some manuscripts are very clean and have one error every couple of pages; some have errors still on every page. No proofreader ever turns a manuscript in and says, “I didn’t have to change a thing.”

It’s Your Work

It’s important to note that changes should not be made to your book without you knowing. Editors use Track Changes in Microsoft Word or they mark up paper copies, and you should see those edited pages. You should have the opportunity to say no to some suggestions—the famous “stet.”

If you have a publisher, they may be more insistent that you follow their style guides. If you’re doing it yourself, you have more control. Ask your editor why they want you to change a thing, and they’ll tell you. Editors have reasons for everything. If you like your version as it is regardless of the official style, that’s always your call.

Next time…

Obviously, I’m an editor, so I have thoughts. But this is a basic overview of the editing process all books go through no matter how they get published. Next, we’ll talk a bit about designing the interior of the book using the edited, proofread text.