Friday, October 16, 2009

The Editing Process for Book About Leica D-Lux 4

I've pretty well covered the basics of the equipment and software I'm using to write, produce, and print my book on how to use the Leica D-Lux 4 digital camera. Now I'll talk a little about the editing process.

I've always considered myself a fairly good writer, but as I've gotten older I've gotten more realistic about my limitations. I can write what I believe to be clear and accurate prose about a subject I'm familiar with, but my first drafts definitely need improvement.

For this project, I read or at least consulted quite a few books about self-publishing. Several of them made a point of advising the writer to have his manuscript professionally edited. That is, don't try to edit it yourself, and don't ask a friend or relative to do it; hire a free-lance book editor.

This advice seemed sound to me, so I set out to find a professional editor. A Google search turned up a site called Book Editing Associates, at It seemed quite reputable based on my reading of its pages. It is a site for a service that is a network of professional free-lance book editors. The writer submits a request for editing, providing information about the book and some sample pages, and may ask for editors by name, based on their bios on the site. I submitted 50 sample pages of my book and asked for 3 editors by name, because their bios indicated they could deal with a technical how-to book like mine. Their resumes were all quite impressive.

Two of the three responded fairly promptly; the third never responded; I assume she was too busy, or didn't want to be involved with this type of book.

One of the three, who sounded excellent judging by her e-mail messages to me, eventually dropped out because she was fully booked for the next couple of months, and I didn't want to wait that long.

The third was quite responsive, and she sent me a proposal to edit my manuscript, which was about 47,000 words long at that time, for about $2,700.00, doing two "passes," one of them after I made the recommended changes, to see if any further changes were needed.

That price was much more than I had anticipated; I was hoping to pay no more than about $1,200.00 as an upper limit. So I negotiated, and she agreed to do just a single "pass" for $1,400.00. I felt that was okay, but in the end we didn't make a deal because she couldn't get started for more than a month -- too long a wait for me. Next time I do this, I will know to leave more time to find an editor, because the good ones obviously get booked several months in advance.

I kept searching, and followed some leads from an excellent book by Aaron Shepard called Aiming at Amazon, about the print-on-demand process. I went to his site at and eventually found a site that recommended a particular editor. I contacted her by e-mail, and she agreed to do the editing for $700.00. She was available to start within about a week. She turned out to be very reliable, and finished the job on time. Of course, it's difficult to tell how good a job she did, but I found some of her edits to be quite astute and helpful.

The other part of the story was getting people to review the book for substance. The book has to go into minute detail about the operation of the Leica D-Lux 4 camera, and how to operate its controls, switches, and menus to take good pictures. I of course have the camera and have learned how to use it fairly well, but I am not a super-gearhead user like some of the people who contribute to discussion forums, nor am I a particularly accomplished photographer, though I used to develop my own pictures and have owned many cameras over the years.

I have learned a great deal about the camera and its uses on the Digital Photography Review web site,, particularly in its Leica Talk discussion forum. So I decided to contact one of the forum members who contributes a lot and has an excellent site for photography with the D-Lux 4 camera. His e-mail address was available through the forum, and he replied within a day to my request for him to read my draft. He said he wasn't an expert on all aspects of the camera, but he would be happy to read my draft.

I sent him the draft and waited two weeks. Finally, he sent me a message saying he had turned out to be too busy to read it. I thanked him and moved on.

Next, I took a step I had been reluctant to do. I posted a message on the forum for everyone to see, saying I was writing this book about the D-Lux 4 and needed some forum members to read it and provide comments, to make sure I hadn't made some mistake about the camera's operation or about photographic principles. I was reluctant to do this partly because I didn't want to appear to be promoting my book on the forum, which is a very valuable resource with some strict rules about non-commercial postings. I also wasn't sure about putting the book draft out to too wide an audience.

Anyway, I made my posting, and got quite a few responses. Eleven forum members replied asking me to send them the draft, which I did. As of now, almost three weeks later, I have received some excellent comments from four of those readers. A couple of others read all or parts of the draft and provided a few comments. What was somewhat troubling was that several other people asked for copies, which I sent (electronically, as pdf files), and then I never heard from them again. I can assume they ended up being too busy to focus on the draft, or to take the time to write comments.

So, today I finished up revising the draft one more time based on an incredibly useful set of comments from a reader. This man was amazing; he asked for the draft one day, and started sending detailed comments, chapter by chapter, within hours after I sent it to him.

Of course, there is a slight risk, pointed out to me by one of the readers, that someone could post the pdf file on a file-sharing web site somewhere. I'm not too worried about that, though, because I think most people would want a printed copy of the book, and the pdf file that was sent out to several people is now obsolete by several versions.

One of the most important aspects of the editing process was to force me to wait for the edits; I have a tendency to rush toward publication, and now I have had to slow down and take my time, and pay attention to what the readers have told me. The other great advantage of this system was to have readers from the target audience for the book read the manuscript. These are the people who are most likely to catch errors and make valuable suggestions, which they have done to an amazing degree.

Now I have to iron some of the technical glitches I talked about earlier, and I hope to have another draft of the book printed within a few days.

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