14 May 2014

How to Hire the Best Book Editor for Free: Crowdsource Editing

My friend Sherry asked me for a recommendation on a professional editor.

I told her I didn’t have one.

Now, if you haven’t read my books yet, you might be tempted to think they’re full of errors. They aren’t. In fact, I dare you to find one.

And no, it’s not just because I’m a great editor. I’m a decent editor. I’m not bad. However, my skills decrease when I’m editing my own stuff. It’s just hard to notice errors in a manuscript you’ve already read so many times.

Here’s the secret: I have smart and generous friends.

I’m serious.

And these aren’t English-major friends either, at least most of them aren’t.

The truth is that I’d like to pay a professional editor, but it doesn’t fit into my fledgling-author budget. I expect it will sometime in the future. However, this process, which I’m about to explain, has worked so well that I might never switch to traditional editing.

And, again, it’s all because I have awesome friends and fans.

These are the same friends who’ve found errors in the Harry Potter books—stuff the professional editors missed. And they’re my heroes.


You could call this crowdsource editing. And there’s strength in numbers. Here’s how it works. First of all, I write in Google Docs. This is a huge help when you’re crowdsourcing something like this. I’ve had up to 15 readers on one book, and I’d like to continually increase that number.

Google Docs updates each change in realtime—you can see the change right as it takes place. If you haven’t tried this out, you should. It’s super fun. And amazing what technology can do. (Some of you are asking, “What if you’re offline?” I don’t know. I never really write offline. But I’ve heard it works offline too.)

If I make a change, all the readers see the change immediately. If an editor finds a mistake, all the others see that it was already marked and move on, so no one wastes time marking things twice (and often I fix the mistake before the next reader even sees it). If an editor has a comment about a global issue, subsequent readers can piggy-back on their comments—i.e., they can agree or disagree, which gives me the general sentiment rather than the reaction of just a single person.


Generally I use the term “beta reader” to mean anyone who reads my book before it gets launched. But really I have three types of readers: Alpha, Beta, and Gamma.

When I finish working on a manuscript, when I’ve fixed all I can see wrong with it (usually the second or third draft), I send it to my first set of readers. I call these my Alpha Readers. Usually this is 4-8 people who volunteer their time during the week or two that I need it. (What I mean is, sometimes I have a reader who’s willing, but they’re not able to provide feedback during the crucial time. And usually I’d rather not delay the launch.)

I review the feedback of the Alpha Readers and make some large, sweeping changes. After those changes are finished, I review the entire text again (fourth draft). I then send that draft to 4-8 Beta Readers. They make their comments and corrections. Then I create a fifth draft, and if I’m lucky I send it out to a group of 3-4 Gamma Readers. After their feedback the sixth draft is go for launch.

I like to think of editing in a three-level structure:

  • Alpha Readers make comments on global issues like concepts, plots, themes, characters, and settings. They comment about the story.
  • Beta Readers comment on the mid-level stuff. But they’re basically the best of both worlds, commenting on both the big issues and small.
  • Gamma Readers are the ones who notice punctuation and spelling errors, the small stuff. A misplaced comma never slips by them.

And here’s a 5 minute video of me explaining my editing philosophy with cool visuals:


When I did this the first time, I didn’t categorize my readers. I just sent the manuscript out to anyone who was willing. But as they provided feedback, I realized that some readers noticed problems on the large scale—problems with characters, settings, and plot points. Other readers noticed misspelled words and missing commas.

Both are valuable. But… I don’t really need commas fixed if I’m going to make major changes (which will introduce more errors). And I don’t want people suggesting large-scale changes the week before I publish. So it’s helpful to get feedback from the right people at the right time.

I noticed my readers’ strengths, and I categorized them into Alpha, Beta, and Gamma. (Since I’m recruiting new readers for my future projects, in the form below, I’m inviting volunteers to categorize themselves.)

Also, I love Google Docs. It’s ideal in many ways. But it’s hard to read a whole book on a laptop. To make it easy for readers, I’ll be sharing the Google Doc along with an EPUB (ebook), for reading on a phone. I’m hoping this will get me more beta readers. I’m sad it will lose the conveniences of Google Docs, but if I can make things easier for readers, it’s worth the sacrifice.


In the past, I’ve “rewarded” my readers by putting their names at the front of the book. This gives them bragging rights. And since I’m just starting out and still struggling to stay afloat, I don’t have a better way to compensate them. In the future I’m hoping to send them signed hard copies and things like that.

Having said that, this isn’t a paid program. If you’re hoping to volunteer for the physical rewards, I’ll tell you right now it’s not worth it. An editor is worth much more than what I’m able to pay.

This is about friendship. It’s also about creating art. And it’s about love for good stories.

If you’re willing to help a friend out, and, more importantly, if you’re a fan and will enjoy the story, I would love to have you take part in its creation.

But please don’t think that I expect my friends to volunteer for the sake of our friendship. Truth is, some of my closest friends aren’t readers and so haven’t read my books. But it doesn’t matter, because our friendship isn’t based on that.


So now you know how my editing process works.

If you’re curious, the next project I’m recruiting for is THE SONG OF LOCKE. Think of it as The Legend of Zelda meets Peter Pan.

If you want to volunteer, SIGN UP AS A BETA READER.

You should know this:

  • You’re under no obligation to read. So don’t feel bad if you sign up but end up too busy to help.
  • There’s no guarantee you’ll get selected to be a beta reader either.
  • I’m super excited to have your help and insights on my next story. Seriously. 

That’s it. Email me or leave a comment if you want to add your two cents.

And thanks again to my smart and generous friends and fans.

I’ll send you a FREE COPY of my HIGH ADVENTURE
ebook if you sign up for my personal newsletter:

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— J