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Self-published books need a professional edit

| by Ken Walker

A self-published author who is also a friend asked me to look over her book recently. Her name and book title will remain anonymous as I have no desire to embarrass her. Still, the many shortcomings in her book are instructive to anyone contemplating self-publishing. 

Judging by the weaknesses I have seen in self-published books over the years, there is a raft of authors releasing their work without the benefit of a professional edit. By that, I mean someone who edits for a living—not a friend who teaches English or a bright young college student in your congregation who will review your manuscript for no charge.

Correcting mistakes in time 

Sadly, my author-friend didn’t understand that the “basic” package she had purchased from a company for publishing her book didn’t include editing work. For that price, they simply took her words, typeset them, and printed them without so much as a cursory proofread. 

For $2,000, she could have received a professional edit; I told her that’s about what it would cost for me to go through her book, correct the miscues, and clarify her message.  

I tried to be gentle and as complimentary as I could about her project, which I think has the promise of a good book. But I could tell she was shell-shocked when I went through some of the shortcomings. 

Had she encountered professional advice first, she could have either corrected the mistakes or saved herself the printing costs. Since some of the problems with her book are similar to others I’ve seen, it’s worth reviewing a few. 

A weak title and cover

The title won’t attract much attention. Nor will the plain cover with no artwork; even keeping the same title would have been workable for my friend, had an artist come up with a decent illustration. 

That could mean spending anywhere from $300 to $1,000 on artwork, but forget the old adage, “You can’t judge a book by its cover.” A poorly-designed cover can be an indication of the quality of writing, or it can simply mean the author picked a stock illustration they thought looked good. In either case, a poor cover can well mean few people pick up the book or order it online.

A couple years ago I edited a book for an author who had self-published his work with a rather mystical-looking cover and a weak title. When he explained his concept for the art, I told him it didn’t illustrate the title. I recommended he hire a designer, although in the end he found a photo that did the job. He also came up with a much stronger title.

No copyright notice for Scripture translations

Unless your work is using public domain verses—chiefly the King James Version—you need to include a copyright notice for each version on the inside page that follows the title page. Such notices are easily found online. Generally, unless your book contains at least 500 verses from that translation, no fees are involved.

This list starts with, “Unless otherwise noted, Scripture taken from . . .” and the information for your lead translation, followed by any others you’ve used. Then, in the text the only verses that need the abbreviation for that version in parentheses are those that aren’t from the dominant translation.

Lack of clarity

This is often a serious problem with self-published books. I remember one I stopped reading about 35 pages into the material because I simply couldn’t understand the author’s point. She had an idea that fueled her thesis, but she never broke it down in a concise manner. 

With my friend’s book, she had some good insights God had shown her, but she never related them in a way that most readers can follow. A good editor could have helped her explain her concepts in a much smoother manner.

If you’re contemplating self-publishing a book, remember you only get one chance to put your best foot forward. Don’t let the cost of professional help prevent you from getting it right.  

 Photo source: istock

Ken Walker

An experienced freelancer, Ken Walker devotes much of his time to ghosting, co-authoring and editing books and blogs. He edits material for several contributors to Biblical Leadership. A member of the Christian PEN (Proofreaders and Editors Network), he has co-authored, edited or contributed to more than 60 books. You can see samples of his work or ask about his services by going to or by e-mailing

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This is what the Lord says—your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel: “I am the Lord your God, who teaches you what is good for you and leads you along the paths you should follow.
Isaiah 48:17 (NLT)
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