Edit or Dye, or is it Die? The Importance of an Editor

Each month at Rolling Boxcars, I purchase or receive several roleplaying games and supplements to review, for personal use, and in some cases, for collecting. As a reviewer and consumer of almost any roleplaying game-related product, I have begun noticing an uptick in self-publishing authors and small press publishers not using the services of an editor, opting to do their own editing. Not only am I a freelance editor, but more importantly, as a reviewer, I can see how this decision affects their work.

Publishing costs money, especially when self-publishing. Unlike traditional publishing methods through a publishing house, you assume more risk and outflow of capital. All of this must happen before you can sell the first copy of your new book through places like DriveThruRPG, Lulu, Gum Road, or any of the other services available. Chances are you’re operating on a shoestring budget; everyone and everything wants a portion of your budget. Like most self-publishers, you may need or want to hire an illustrator, a layout artist, and a distributor or fulfillment house in some cases. If your budget holds out, maybe you can afford to hire an editor. Unfortunately, over the last year or so, I have seen self-publishers all too often opting to do their own editing, proofreading, and even their layout to save money.

Reducing costs is part of doing business, but let me explain why self-editing your material is not advisable:

  • Does your work have any misspelled words? Perhaps words are used incorrectly, like your and you’re or to, too, and two.
  • Authors are too closely connected to their material and are biased; you’re unlikely to be critical of your work when and where it needs it.
  • You need that critical, external set of eyes on your work.
  • Will you be able to identify where the flow of your rules, scenario, flavor text, etc., is disconnected or broken?
  • Are you versed in grammatical rules like active and passive voice? How about hyphenation rules?
  • If you adhere to a style guide, are you sure you have followed it properly?
  • You know what you’re trying to say, but your brain will read whatever you think it should say, even if it’s wrong.
  • Is your writing overly verbose or tightly written and concise? Has the message been lost?
  • Do your game mechanics read well? Editors will not test your mechanics but can advise how best to convey them to your audience.
  • If you struggled to write papers in school, now’s not the time to go it alone.
  • If you’re publishing in English and it’s not your native language, you will make mistakes.

Hiring an independent editor can help with some or all of the abovementioned points. Depending on the type of service your editor provides will dictate the depths to which they will dig into your manuscript during each of their editing passes. Each editorial pass, typically two, but can be more, should have far fewer issues and concerns than the previous pass.

Editors or proofreaders who are not directly connected to a project can see things more clearly and provide better advice. As an industry professional, I strive to catch every error I can possibly find and provide recommendations on how to address each one. The publisher then has to decide which to correct and which to allow to stand. Every publisher is different in what they believe is an error or concern that warrants their time and attention.

Here are some professional and personal tips for creatives and publishers that will increase the quality of your products.

  1. “Personal editing” – Once the material is written, you need to personally edit it. This should not be the only form of editing you do. This type of editing helps you identify issues with your own writing, writing style, plot, etc., that you can fix before moving on. This is an excellent opportunity to identify potential problems and self-correct them.
  2. Read aloud – I cannot stress this one enough! Once you are done writing your material and are satisfied with your “personal” editing, read it aloud and see how it actually sounds to your ears. I bet some things need to be corrected that will quickly become apparent during this process.
  3. Hire a dedicated editor – This can be internal or external to your company. This really needs to be someone not directly connected to the project. Why? It allows them to see your project and vision with fresh eyes. They are unbiased and should be free to identify issues and concerns that may need to be resolved, which you may overlook because you’re too closely connected. As a result, your product will be that much better.
  4. Types of editing available – There are typically four types of editing available within the roleplaying game industry. They are Copy, Line, Substantive (Developmental), and Proofreading. Each adds more to the scope of work as you move from copy to substantive.
    • Copyediting – The lightest form of editing, fixing any mechanical errors in spelling, grammar, and punctuation. Copyediting is the least-expensive version of editing.
    • Line editing – Builds on copyediting with a line-by-line analysis. The editor now considers word choices and the power and meaning of a sentence, making recommendations on how to trim and tighten text. Line editing helps to make your work sing.
    • Substantive editing – Sometimes called Developmental editing, this type of editing will look at the overall structure of your work. The editor will consider the organizational structure, how your material is presented, and in what order to ensure a logical flow to better aid the end user.
    • Proofreading – Copyediting and proofreading are both looking for mechanical errors in spelling, grammar, and punctuation. The difference lies in where they happen within the editing process. Proofreading typically happens after the layout is complete but before ordering print proofs. Although, it’s not uncommon for proofreading to occur before and after layout.
  5. Budget for editing – Editing and/or proofreading both cost money. Nobody works for free. If they do, you get what you pay for.
  6. What should editing cost? – There are many opinions on this topic. Therefore, please do your own research. When launching my freelance business, my research found that most RPG industry editors charge between 3 to 10 cents per word. The price per word will depend on the type of editing you want the editor to do.
  7. Use a proofreader – In addition to hiring an independent editor, it is wise to hire someone to proofread your material once all editing and layout are complete. This final step is meant to catch any previously missed issues or those that have crept in during editorial changes and/or layout implementation. This will help ensure your final product shines!
  8. Be proud of your work – You need to ensure that you hand the editor quality copy you are proud of and not just your loose scenario notes with the expectation that they will clean it up. The editor is your friend and is there to help you realize your dream. If you don’t do this, your manuscript will likely be returned to you.
  9. Build a relationship with your editor – Once you find an editor that provides you the feedback you expect and delivers timely results, build that relationship. Hire them again for a future project. Each of you should go out of your way to build this relationship. One that will hopefully last a long time and bring high-quality gaming material to gamers around the globe!

I am very passionate about my work and about spending my hard-earned money on gaming books. It’s a total letdown to find out that a book with a great pitch is horribly written and riddled with grammatical errors, making reading it a painful experience. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter how pretty your book is or if it is delivered on time. If poorly written and edited, it is virtually worthless—your customers will let you know.

~ Modoc

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2 Comments Add yours

  1. I’ve worked as a paid editor twice, but you clearly know more about this than I do. Learned some terms today! Great write-up. I didn’t see any errors. ;^)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. modoc31 says:


      Thank you for the feedback and kind words. I had someone else edit my work; I practice what I preach.

      Liked by 1 person

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