Posted On March 28, 2016 by Print This Post

Good Presentation—Can it Really Influence How your Novel is Received and Perceived? By Tessa Shapcott

For everyone who has self-published out there, you’ve asked yourself whether you need a professional to copy edit your work. Tessa Shapcott is here to tell you her side of why you should!

Tessa ShapcottIn my work as a freelance editor with writers who want to be either traditionally or self-published, there’s one thorny subject that’s been cropping up a lot recently: the power of a poorly-presented manuscript or digital book to turn off publishers, agents and readers. At the start of this year, Amazon implemented a policy to flag digital books where errors and typos have been identified, and I’ve been hearing also from unpublished writers who have received encouraging feedback from publishers about the content of their novels, but who have ultimately been rejected because there were too many mistakes in their manuscripts for the publisher to commit.

It seems that the answer is, yes, a badly-presented manuscript or unedited digital book can scupper your chances of acceptance and sales success.

I’ve been around in the business long enough to remember when publishers were more relaxed about manuscript presentation.  But those were times in which they could afford to retain larger in-house teams of editors, copy-editors and proofers.  These days, competition is the fiercest ever and margins are much tighter; the reality is that editorial and production teams are often small, or that their work is contracted out to freelancers, and publishers are less prepared to spend time on a hard-to read manuscript or money on corrections.  Also, if there are lots of typos, misspellings and repetition, it can cause the commissioning editor or acquiring agent to focus on low-level details instead of the quality of the writing.

Unfortunately, in the sphere of self-publishing, though there are many beautifully-presented books, there has also been a deluge of material in which the writers/publishers have relied on the unreliable function of their PC spellchecker, rather than obtaining a professional copy-edit.  (Believe me when I say, you can only use a spellchecker successfully if you know how to spell and punctuate in the first place!) Have you purchased a self-published book only to abandon it because of the pain of discovering error after error (my particular bugbear is the rogue apostrophe—when plural’s are turned into possessive’s =) )?

It is tempting to dream of writing your novel and then just putting it out there.  That you’ll sell loads of books and make pots of money without investing anything more in it than storytelling.  But the truth is that writers can improve their chances of consideration and acceptance, of impressing editors, agents and readers, if their manuscripts or self-published works are reasonably polished. Think of putting time or resources in bringing your novel to a good, readable standard as time and money well spent.  You wouldn’t go for a job interview in your oldest clothes that you keep for gardening or cleaning the house; you would possibly buy a new outfit, or at least make sure that your clothes are clean and pressed!

Most publishers and agents have presentation guidelines on their websites. If you know you are not the world’s best speller or grammarian, or can get a little repetitious every now and then, at least think about roping in a friend or beta-reader who has those skills, or consider hiring a copy-editor.  Even if you are pretty competent mistakes can still happen, so another eye is always beneficial.

A copy-editor is a must for self-publishers. She or he is different from a developmental editor—like myself—who work on story content and help you get the most out of your characters and plot.  The copy editor prepares for formatting and publication by ensuring that whatever appears in public is accurate, easy to follow, fit for purpose and free of error, omission, inconsistency and repetition. If you’re self-publishing, it’s wise to hire a good proofer too, who will look over the digital file once it has been formatted when sometimes errors can creep in.  Don’t forget to have all your cover, promo and marketing material professionally checked as well. First impressions and all that.  (Don’t rely on designers or marketers who may be as grammatically challenged as you are!)   Go for clean, simple formatting whenever possible to smooth the process.

At the end of the day, writing and reaching your readership is all about good communication, so don’t compromise yours for the sake of getting help or even factoring in a small cost to make sure that the ‘I’s are dotted and the ‘t’s crossed!


RU Authors, have you ever used a copy editor or proofer? Or do you use beta readers and friends?

Join us on Wednesday for author Rissa Brahm!


Bio: Tessa Shapcott is a freelance publishing consultant editor and can be contacted at

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2 Responses to “Good Presentation—Can it Really Influence How your Novel is Received and Perceived? By Tessa Shapcott”

  1. I agree with you one hundred percent. One of my editors (non-fiction) swears it’s unlucky for any publication to go out without at least one minor glitch, but when I’m reading a book – whether it’s self-published or not – some mistakes can pull me out of the story or drive me away completely. Back when self-publishing was new and rare, I found a hardcover book in a bargain bin at Kroger. It sounded interesting so I gave it a shot. I have it wrapped up in plastic and saved as a reminder of just how awful errors can be. Throughout this book, the author never used quotation marks, rarely used periods and only used capital letters randomly.

    In another story by a NYT best selling author, a character whose death was the motivation and explanation for the heroine’s behavior throughout the book, suddenly walks into a room very much alive in the final quarter of the book and NO ONE, not even the heroine, comments on his appearance. I had to reread that scene multiple times, and then I went back and reread the whole book to make sure I hadn’t missed anything. I hadn’t. First he was dead, then he wasn’t. No explanation, no reaction from anyone in the story.

    My writing is far from perfect and I’d definitely hire a copy editor – or an editor/editor – if the budget allows. Maybe multi-published authors don’t have critique partners check their work. If my CPs caught me bringing back a formerly dead character without explanation, I’d never hear the end of it. And because I COULD make a mistake like that, I’ll always rely on others to vet my work.

    Thanks for a very thought-provoking post!

    Posted by Becke Martin Davis | March 28, 2016, 10:06 am
  2. Evening Tessa!

    I have a friend of mine, and he KNOWS his book needs editing, but refuses to spend the money to do so…I’m going to show him this article. =)

    I’ve had books I’ve thrown away, refusing to let another poor soul read it, simply because of too many grammar/mis-spelling mistakes. And that’s just sad. I really really hate throwing books away!

    Thanks for the great post Tessa!


    Posted by Carrie Peters | March 28, 2016, 9:43 pm

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