Publishing Process Survey Says: Part 4

Book Production Process SurveyIn Part 3 of this series, I talked about cover design and content editing, what our recent survey showed about the process used by the IU readership, along with the financial implications of the various choices. This article will continue in the same vein, looking at other pieces of the process until I get up to 125-150% of my word limit. Let’s see how much we cover.

Reading the disclaimer in this post before proceeding is highly recommended.

We’ll start with a refresher of the definitions I provided as a guide in the original survey post for copy editor and proofreader.

Copy Editor (also called a line editor)

A copy editor focuses on the minutia, making sure that proper spelling and grammar rules are used. Rather than focusing on the forest, the copy editor is looking at the individual trees and even the leaves on each tree to make sure they’re correct (from the individual word up to the paragraph). Some copy editors might provide feedback on bigger picture items they spot, but those big picture items aren’t normally considered part of their job. Like the content editor, the copy editor is a paid professional. Someone you provide hard cash or a quid pro quo in trade for their services.


A proofreader performs the final polishing steps, focusing on strictly technical items, shaking out any remaining spelling, punctuation, and grammar issues missed by the copy editor. Historically the proofreader would compare the final version of the edited manuscript to the proof or test copy of a printed book to uncover any issues introduced during typesetting, but this role has evolved in non-traditional publishing to something slightly different.

Where the line is between these two functions isn’t as clear in today’s world as it was in the past because of technological changes. There could be overlap, both in what is expected and what is provided.

Copy Editing

The survey gave four choices for how this function was accomplished. The first, that your book “wasn’t copy edited,” was picked by five of the 89 respondents. Of these, two used beta readers to accomplish proof reading, who would presumably point out grammar issues they spotted if there is the expectation that they’ll also be shaking out any remaining typos. Two others hired a proofreader, who might also point out these issues if he or she spots them, although it wouldn’t typically be a focus. The last of these five proofreads himself or herself and presumably would also fix issues they found that would normally be expected to get shaken out by the copy editor, assuming they recognized it as an issue.

Another 22 respondents indicated that they personally copy edited their most recent book rather than enlisting help.

Of those who explicitly engaged a copy editor, 17 traded services and 45 hired someone. The average cost for those who hired a copy editor was $475 with the majority falling close to the average. This works out to roughly 70% enlisting outside help in this process.


One respondent said their word processor or some other tool did the proofreading job while another says they didn’t proofread at all. Those who did it themselves accounted for 14 of those who answered, which means that 18% of the respondents didn’t use outside help to proofread their manuscript.

A significant 36 of you (40% of survey participants) said they accomplished proofreading by enlisting the help of their ARC or beta readers. Another 16 traded or bartered while only 21 hired someone. (It’s interesting to note that the number who used a professional, either through a trade or paying them, is only one more than those who used unpaid volunteers.)

Among those who hired a proofreader or proofreaders, the average cost was $235, although there were those who reported spending in every range given as a choice, from less than $50 to more than $500. (I should point out that costs for all editing and proofing functions will vary based on the length of the work. It might also cost more or less depending on how problematic the person being hired expects the job to be based on whatever sample is provided prior to quoting a price.)

For those who hired a proofreader, the average number of proofreading passes was slightly more than two rounds. The average costs varied slightly with those who only requested a single round of proofreading averaging $216 while those who requested three or more passes spent an average of $371.


The survey asked about how this was accomplished for both the eBook and the paper version of your most recent book. The majority did both kinds of formatting themselves.

For eBooks, 9 took the default approach of submitting a word document to Amazon or other retailer and letting their automated conversion process handle it, while 59 others created an eBook file on their own. Only a quarter enlisted outside help, 3 trading or bartering and 18 hiring it out for an average cost of $115.

Ten of those responding don’t have a paper version of their book available. 58 tackled this themselves, while 4 traded something to accomplish this task and 17 hired outside help at an average cost of $110.

Additional Production Expenses

Included in the survey was a category for any additional production costs. These were to include anything not yet covered required to get your book released, but specifically not costs associated with marketing or promotion. My expectation was this would include things like the cost of proof copies of the paper version of your book. The only other specific example I gave was the cost of an assistant. If the respondent had a hired hand only that portion of his or her salary that could be attributed to book production was to be reported.

The average additional production costs were slightly more than $60. Almost a third of the survey participants, 32 to be exact, had additional costs. One thing that surprised me was the number who had higher costs. 12 reported spending $100 or more with half of those investing at least $250. A couple said they spent in excess of $500. I thought some of this might be attributable to farming out some of the production activities to an assistant, but only 2 of those responding have a hired helper and both only use this person for marketing or promotional activities. (In fact, additional production costs for both were lower than the average.)

This makes me curious. What book production type costs might an author have that haven’t been covered? I’d be interested in any theories any of you have.

Well, I’m over 125% of my word limit, so let’s wrap it up

With this and prior posts I’ve covered what survey participants had to say about their production process and the related costs. However, I asked a few more questions to get a feel for the average respondent, possibly reflective of the average IU reader, as well as a few things about promotional and marketing costs. Surely I can stretch that into another one or two articles, possibly more. Stay tuned.

Author: Big Al

Big Al (who insists he only has one name, like Cher, Sting, and Madonna) spends his days writing computer programs that are full of typos, homonym errors, and incorrect verb usage. During his evenings, he writes reviews of indie books for BigAl’s Books and Pals and has recently taken over The IndieView, a website founded by indie author Simon Royle as a resource for indie authors, indie reviewers, and those who read either.

6 thoughts on “Publishing Process Survey Says: Part 4”

  1. Really interesting, Al. Obviously there is NO one way to do this; we’ve proven that. There are probably as many different ways as there are authors. Good job!

    1. Thanks, Melissa. That’s the thing that has really stood out for me (which takes the thunder from my summary in the final post). That biggest patterns I’ve seen are the lack of patterns.

  2. Thanks, Big Al. Self-education has proved the most beneficial to my writing; using beta readers and proofreaders the most helpful to my content and the finished product. Seems like a lot of other indies are leaning that way, too.

    1. I think that’s true, Linda. And learning (or at least getting ideas) from others. I think that’s raised the level of the average indie immensely in the time since I’ve been paying attention.

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