Professional Editing for the Indie Author: Is it worth not doing it?

Professional Editing for the Indie Author: Is it worth not doing it?

319491_10150285368370793_594555792_7997260_3640310_n1

Have you ever found a typo in a traditionally published novel?  I have, but it’s a rare occasion.  The key reason for this is because publishers have editors on their payroll that work with authors to polish their work, getting it ready for the masses.  If you are a self-published author, perhaps it’s time to consider putting an editor on your payroll.

Yes, there are self-published authors out there who poo-poo the idea of having someone professionally edit their work.   They poo-poo this almost as profoundly as they poo-poo working with “the dinosaurs,” which is the label given to traditional publishers by the more vocal crusaders of the ePublishing revolution.  The arguments of the self-edited are many:  “The author should master their craft,” they say.  Or “Editors change your voice,” is another.  Others simply find it too expensive.  Regardless, the lack of editing can be a scarlet letter that labels your book as the work of an amateur.  If you’ve ever started reading a self-published novel and couldn’t finish it, you probably know what I’m getting at here.

The editorial process is not a one shot deal.  It occurs at varying stages along the development of a book.  If a book is not finished yet, there’s developmental editing, which is a collaborative process between the writer and the editor to build out the concept and scope.  Characters are developed while plotlines and timing are hashed out so that non-sequiturs and other bugaboos are quashed.  This type of editing may not be for you, especially if you consider your book “done,” but there are many published authors who have engaged in this process.  For indie writers, I think money is better spent elsewhere, and that’s on copyediting.

Once the manuscript is complete and you have edited the bejesus out of it to the best of your abilities, there is the copy edit process.  Unfortunately, for whatever reason, many eschew this process.  The absence of copyediting is a major cause for self-published books to be easily singled out as amateurish at best and slipshod (i.e. unreadable) at worst.  Donna Marie Williams suggests that indie authors should “honor their readers” by having their work professionally edited rather than showing readers their “dirty underwear,” and I tend to agree with her.

Professional copyeditors catch all kinds of stuff.  They find and correct pesky things above and beyond the basics of capitalization, grammar, punctuation, and spelling.  A copy edit fixes problems with accuracy, ambiguity, consistency, formatting and style standards, subject-verb agreement, and usage.  And this is money well spent—for when a reader comes across any of these while reading, they pause.  As a writer, you should try to make sure that never happens.  Your job is to make your book a delight to read—not to burden the reader with clumsy mistakes; otherwise, you’ll risk coming off like a hack.  Now, some readers might say, “Aw, heck!  It’s just an indie book,” and carry on merrily.  Others, however, might be more inclined to think, “So that’s why this book is self-published,” and these readers might just fuel the negative reputation of self-published works via word of mouth.  If you’re OK with either of these responses, that’s fine; you can stop reading now.  But if you want a plain and simple example of why not to forgo copyediting, here it is.

Go back and take a look at the picture at the top of this article.  Keep in mind that the picture is not your manuscript (you didn’t write it).  If you immediately found the mistake, you might make a great editor!  If you didn’t see it right off the bat, then you might now better understand why hiring an editor is probably not a bad idea.  This type of subconscious omission is similar to what happens when you edit your own book—part of your brain shuts off.  Because you are too close to your work:  you know the scenes in your head, you know what your characters are going to say before you read it, and your brain—all by itself—glosses over things that just about any second set of eyes would catch.  A professional editor will not only catch minor things like in this example but a whole lot more.

In summary, professional copyediting can separate the wheat from the chaff on the bookshelf.  While no copyeditor can make a bad book a best seller, not hiring one could definitely impair your book’s potential.  When it comes down to money, plunking down four-figures is not to any writer’s delight; however, there is a more positive take on this.  As indie writers come to realize that they really are ePublishers, they might also come to realize that all of the things that publishers would have done for them are now their onus.  Since one of the chief gripes regarding getting traditionally published is a “less advantageous” royalty structure (not 70/30 like on the Kindle Bookstore), some might even go so far as to consider any investment that goes toward the production of their self-published book to be an investment toward future, more advantageous royalties.  Said differently, rather than using the publisher’s money to edit your book, use your own money.  The money you “save” by not accepting the traditional publisher’s royalty structure can be invested toward a better quality book that will sell under better royalty schemes when you self-publsih.  That is, of course, assuming your book sells, which brings me to my final point:  are you willing to invest in your book at least as much as a traditional publisher would?  If not, perhaps you should consider it.

 

 


admin

29 COMMENTS
  • Tony Roberts
    Reply

    Nice argument for professional editing. I would like to add, though, that a professional editor is unlikely to find every single error in a book-length manuscript in a single pass, especially if that manuscript was in pretty rough shape at the start. Anytime a manuscript is heavily worked over, it ought to be looked at carefully once again by another set of eyes. Many of the Indies we’ve worked will not authorize an additional pass, and some won’t even read over what’s been done before they send the manuscript off to the printer.

  • Kim Aleksander
    Reply

    Hi Tony,

    You make a good point here that I think underscores the importance of editing for all writers. If we know that even professional editors will miss some things, we’d best not go it alone. A second pass with a fresh set of eyes after editing is still essential in my opinion, but again, it’s all about the investment writers are willing to make toward ensuring their work is the best it can be.

    All the Best,

    Kim

  • Lynette Benton
    Reply

    Manuscripts need to be edited *at least* twice, and don’t forget about proofreading by that “fresh pair of eyes” mentioned above, as well. It’s amazing how many errors will be found during that last pass.

    Great post. Tx. (The error is the double use of the word “the,” but I’m not sure what “reblog” means.)

    1. Kim Aleksander
      Reply

      Hi Lynette,

      When I received my manuscript back from my agent, was shocked at how much stuff I missed. And it wasn’t just typos. A good copy editor will also point out (but not necessarily fix) inconsistencies and other things that might make the reader pause.

      Nice work on the ‘the’. I couldn’t see that for the life of me.

      All the Best,

      Kim

  • Bailey Bristol
    Reply

    Kim, this is such an intelligently crafted case for professional editing. I hope it’s widely read by my sister and brother indie authors. And then, oh joy, perhaps it might even be acted upon! Let the great (well-edited) stories roll!

    1. Kim Aleksander
      Reply

      Hi Bailey,

      Thanks for the nice comment. I think a good argument is to not shunt the editorial work onto the reader. It’s just not a good way to “respect the reader.”

      Regards,

      Kim

  • Louise Sorensen
    Reply

    The mistake is the double ‘the’.
    Typos are amazingly difficult to obliterate.

    1. Kim Aleksander
      Reply

      Nice catch, Louise.

      All the Best,

      Kim

  • Mary Ann Peden-Coviello
    Reply

    Oh yes. I read a lot of indie books and this is a constant refrain in my reviews. I’ve edited two books and an anthology as well and I know that errors creep in and slip past any one person. Sometimes, the writer looks at the page (or screen) and sees what he./she thinks is there, not what’s actually there. It’s happened to me. It can happen to anyone.

    I have a barter arrangement with another editor-writer. She spills red ink all over my work and I do the same for her. If you can’t afford an editor, you can always try this kind of arrangement. No one can successfully edit his/her own work. Or at least I can’t. I can edit the living daylights out of another person’s, but my own is another matter. Partly because I’m close to it and partly because I know what I intended to write and that’s what I see, not necessarily what I actually wrote.

    1. Kim Aleksander
      Reply

      Hi Mary,

      You’re fortunate to have a barter arrangement, as editing can be costly. I think that while having good “beta-readers” is helpful, having one that’s also an editor is going to make a huge difference.

      All the Best,

      Kim

  • Teresa Kennedy
    Reply

    As both an author and professional editor I look at it this way: as an author I ALWAYS hire another pro to edit. As an editor I encourage my clients to realize that real editing doesn’t even take place in the traditional houses any more. Work that has not been edited just doesn’t get signed. The bottom line? If you needed surgery, you wouldn’t take out your own appendix, would you?

    1. Kim Aleksander
      Reply

      Teresa,

      It’s interesting that you say that real editing doesn’t occur in traditional houses anymore. Is this true? I’d thought that this was one of the benefits of going the traditional route.

      Do tell!

      Regards,

      Kim

  • Veronika Walker
    Reply

    THANK YOU. Someone finally sums it up nicely for indie authors. I hate having to talk like this to them, but it’s the truth: just because it’s YOUR book doesn’t mean it’s a GREAT book…yet. No one nowadays seems to understand the process of book-in-author’s-head transferring to book-reader-reads. There’s always a devastating difference there if there’s never a professional editor to help bridge those two points.
    So, from an editor to professional self-publisher: Thank you. You just made my day. I’d be happy to work with you any time.

    1. Kim Aleksander
      Reply

      Hi Veronika,

      Glad to have made your day! I think one has to actually go through the process of being edited to appreciate what a good editor does. And even then, there is the tendency for writers to remain delusional and discount any criticisms as rubbish.

      I’m working through a raft-load of edits right now, having received my manuscript back from my editor a few weeks back.

      Regards,

      Kim

  • Dan H. Kind
    Reply

    Kim, I agree one hundred percent with what you are saying. I thought my manuscript was tip-top before I sent it off to the editor. Boy, was I wrong! I was shocked when I got it back. So many errors, so many inconsistencies, so many tiny little plot holes, so many . . . you get the point. At first I got defensive, and tried to resist many of her suggestions. But after I took a mental step back, I realized she was spot-on with most of them, and altered the manuscript accordingly. And my novel was much stronger afterwards! You’ve sort of gotta kick yourself out of the way and do what’s best for the novel, not what YOU think is best for the novel. If that makes any kind of sense.

    1. Kim Aleksander
      Reply

      Hi Dan,

      Thanks for the note!

      I think writers have a hard time separating from their work and looking at it from alternate perspectives–the key one being that of the reader. An editor is one of the best ways to get that objective opinion–much better than friends and/or relatives who more than likely aren’t really qualified to give a professional assessment.

      All the Best,

      Kim

  • Erika Moran
    Reply

    Excellent post. I do think that a lot of the developmental editing may be done with a critique partner, but a full editing pass is necessary. I inadvertently sent a non-final version to a reviewer and one thing I did get dinged for was several typos. By the way, I found 4 typos in the latest Tom Clancy, so perhaps standards are slipping in the big six as well.
    My editor charges a reasonable rate, and in a short piece she did for me found maybe a dozen typos in a 15,000 word short story, mostly commas (my nemesis). I thought her fee well worth the cost.

  • Everett Peacock
    Reply

    I had a professional editor go over my book, “Death by Facebook” right before I put it into the Amazon KDP program and their five day freebie. Thank God I did! She found over 500 typos in 50,000+ words (mostly missing commas, etc). It’s a good thing I decided to get the proofreading, as 42,000 copies went out the door during the promo. Imagine that many people seeing those mistakes!

  • Lynne Marshall
    Reply

    No one wants to see someone else’s dirty underware. Every book I’ve had published has been made better by my editor. I plan to self-publish in the near future and have already secured a free-lance editor. I want to feel proud of my books whether published through dinosaurs or indie/self-pubbed. I wouldn’t consider sending one of my final drafts out to the masses.
    MHO, of course.

  • Kim Aleksander
    Reply

    Erika, Everett, and Lynne, thanks for stopping by. I think we’re all in agreement here that an edit is not a bad thing. I’ve seen some typos myself in some traditionally published books recently too. It’s ironic, because though I’ve paid for professional editing, I still get readers pointing out things in my book. Right now, I’m thinking that after the copy edit, one also needs a proofread by yet another set of eyes. Even a copy-editor’s work isn’t perfect. I guess these things are just really hard to eliminate completely. At least they aren’t like weeds and grow back.

    That’s one of the cool things about ebooks: you can go back and fix things. I’m still waiting for Amazon to tell me how corrections are distributed to those who already have the book, and I’ll share that when I find out.

    Everett, 42K is a tremendous number. That is FANTASTIC! Good on you, sir.

  • Chellesie B Dancer
    Reply

    I certainly agree with my colleagues here. I’m a terrific proofer/editor, but i still miss things, especially on my own work. When I self-pub, I will certainly hire an editor. Like Lynne said, they don’t just fix typos, they find inconsistencies and such, and make the final product better.
    BTW, I saw another problem with the phrase at the top. The font seems to be different on the bolded word ‘mistake’ from the rest of the copy. If you look at the i, it has a round dot in ‘mistake,’ and a square dot in ‘find.’ Kind of odd.

  • tarra thomas
    Reply

    Good post Kim! Although I’ve got a novella and a few short stories out there, I have two full-length novels coming out this year, and I wouldn’t dream of putting them out there without the talents of a professional editor. But I think you really bring it all home when you finish the blogpost with this:

    KIM: “The money you “save” by not accepting the traditional publisher’s royalty structure can be invested toward a better quality book that will sell under better royalty schemes when you self-publsih. That is, of course, assuming your book sells, which brings me to my final point: are you willing to invest in your book at least as much as a traditional publisher would? If not, perhaps you should consider it.”

    Exactly! The thing is, Indie self-publishing is not for everyone who isn’t willing to put some money in up front. I can tell you right now that in order to “break even” on the first novel (The Blondness of Honey, out in April, thanks for letting me mention it!), I will have to sell 743 eBook versions (assuming a retail price of $4.95, and it might be lower!) of a 530-page historical novel JUST TO BREAK EVEN! The editing is half my cost. OK, so I could learn formatting, but I haven’t got the time, between writing and the day job, and I like my formatters 52 Novels (thanks for the referral Joe Konrath!). And, OK, I could go find a stock photo, and make myself a cover. But I tired that once, and it looked like it! Plus I almost got the grey screen of death on my iMac from not knowing how to use Photoshop in any way that even approximated a professional look. Plus I love the cover of my upcoming novel! (Thanks cover artist Patty G. Henderson!). SO maybe I could have saved, let’s be generous, HALF of my expenditure by not hiring the formatters and book cover artist. I mean some people, like my friend M.A. Demers who just put out The Global Indie Author did THE WHOLE thing herself, AND she also write fiction! So, let’s just say I had that right brain, left brain aptitude or capacity. Let’s say I did that. (That would never happen in MY real life, but let’s just pretend). Even so, I’d still have to sell 372 ebooks (same formula as above) to pay for a professional editor. Let me put this in perspective.

    How many people do YOU think are going to buy a book about two women who fall in love in 1893? Well, thank you optimists ::curtsey:: I hope you’re right! But I’m a person who used think there weren’t 372 lesbians in the whole world! Wasn’t I “the only one”? LOL. OK, so it’s not that dire, but my point is simply this: I would NOT change my approach to hiring professionals for my book(s) if there were but a dozen gay women on a remote island with only wifi access. Why?

    Because whether or not you buy my book, it’s got my name on it, and I have pride of authorship. That includes wanting my dozen islanders to have the best book I can write. Does it make sense, economically? Why yes, yes it does. As Konrath sez: these books really are forever. Also, I’ve now got three people almost as invested in my success as I am. How many covers will I commission? Maybe 10, if I’m lucky. But how many people will I suggest my artist, my formatters and my editor to? Thousands.

    Oh and my editor? It’s Theresa Stevens who writes that blog edittorrent where she dispenses tons of free advice. She’s a (non-fiction) publisher, former literary agent, former editor for a trad publisher and a million other things. I’d tell you more but actually, I’m not speaking to her right now because she has taken a distinct dislike to my, I think, judicious and fully wonderful abundant use of commas. Seriously, she’s still working on Blondness, but whatever it ends up to be, thank her now because omg it was one backstory after another. By the time you got to the love affair, you were too exhausted to give a you-know-what! All hail editors! And the day jobs that pay for them!

    Anyway, thanks for letting me go on and on, Kim. This is a subject I believe in passionately: Be professional and the world will let you keep writing….tarra

    Tarra Thomas
    Writing as T. T. Thomas

  • Michelle Demers
    Reply

    Thanks to Tarra for pointing out this blog post to me.

    I would first like to say that typos in traditionally published books are not a “rarity”; I read an otherwise wonderful book that was so full of grammatical errors I emailed the publisher (Prentice Hall) and offered my services. And if I read “If Harry was a wizard” one more time in the Harry Potter books, I’ll go cross-eyed. However, these books are still a thousand times better than an unedited book, which is what most indie books are.

    I’ve been a professional writer and editor for over 15 years now, and I still would NEVER put out my own book without having others read it first. They all, in turn, miss stuff, and to this day I still find annoying errors, but that’s life; nothing is perfect. Yet what these readers/editors bring to the table is invaluable.

    One thing I have also learned from publishing my own books is that sometimes the culprit is workflow, not editing. There were errors in The Global Indie Author that I recall fixing, yet two instances of the error reappeared in the final book. How was this possible???? I contributed the error to workflow: my Word manuscript was imported into InDesign, after which I found that specific error in the Word manuscript and fixed all instances of it, and was (I thought) careful to fix them all in the InDesign files, but obviously something went awry. This was another valuable lesson and now I have improved my workflow.

    Also, someone mentioned the lack of editing in professional houses. This is to some extent true. Staff cuts have meant a significant loss of editorial time, so books are not getting the attention they once did, though they are still edited at least once. One result of this is that responsibility for preliminary manuscript development has been passed on to the literary agencies, which is why publishers who once accepted unsolicited manuscripts no longer do so.

  • Michelle Demers
    Reply

    And now having read my post again, it should be “attributed” not “contributed.” See what we mean?

  • Ken Preston
    Reply

    Totally agree that indie authors should pay to have their books copy edited. I spent about £300 having my first book copy edited, and that was after phoning around to find someone I could afford and who wantedd to work with me. I never earned that money back in sales, but I still consider it money well spent.

    Totally disagree with you about books from major publishers not having mistakes. Yes they do, I find them lots. One book I read had a character whos name changed halfway through for about twenty or thirty pages, and then reverted back again to original name. I could find no plot reason for this. It was a stupid, major mistake from a big selling author.

    Thanks for interesting post.

  • Rebecca J. Clark
    Reply

    Thanks so much for a great, informative article! I will soon be shopping for an editor for a book I plan to self-pub this coming fall. Could you tell me what an average cost might be to edit a 100k novel? I’m looking for a content/development editor and a copy editor. I think.

    :)Becky

    1. Kim Aleksander
      Reply

      Hi Becky,

      It’s hard to say, as editors charge different rates and in different ways. Some, for example, may charge 3 cents per word for copy-editing, while others might give you an hourly rate of $50 dollars.

      In my experience, the hourly rate works out to be less, and I do believe that some per-word editors will be flexible and give you an hourly rate if you ask. The trick is that you don’t know how long it will take someone to actually do the edit, but you can hold them to an estimated range that you request up-front.

      Good luck,

      Kim

  • Vlad Vaslyn
    Reply

    Kim,

    Great post, and I agree completely. I’m self-pubbing my first novel, “Brachman’s Underworld”, this summer and my editor is currently doing a copy edit…after 3 developmental edits and 10 personal revisions. I’ve selected six close friends/professional contacts to read it thereafter in order to get it in front of new sets of eyes before it goes to print as well.

    This process is long, tedious, and certainly not the most enjoyable, but it is invaluable and should never be ignored. My editor helped me craft the novel into a streamlined work and I believe that it is a solid debut novel – it would have been a terrible mistake to release it before it fell beneath her savage red pen! The sheer number of typos/improvements/plot changes that came about because of this process has taken the better part of 2 years and was certainly humbling, but I’m SO GLAD that I didn’t get impatient, only to pull the trigger and misfire

    This process has helped me develop and editing system: 4 personal revisions, 1 revision from my wife, 3 professional revisions, 1 revision from my wife, 1 professional revision, 1 personal revision, 1 professional copy edit and then the final touches.

    After going through this experience, I don’t think I’ll ever consider a work worthy of publication until it’s been edited at least 10 times by several people over a considerable period of time.

    Indie authors need to take the time to polish their work. The playing field is leveling in favor of the author for the first time, but I do think that the percentage of quality work in the indie field versus the percentage of quality work in the traditional field is still markedly lower – traditionally published authors go through a pretty stringent vetting process and therefore generally deliver a better product. This makes it even more important for indies to take the time to make their work shine, and indie books must be at least as professionally presented, if not more so, than traditionally published books. (This hasn’t stopped me from buying indie books, but it does make me look a bit deeper into a work before I make a purchase.)

    I’m about to take the plunge, I’m still learning, I’ve made mistakes and I’m bound to make more (maybe my cover is too risky/too obscure, maybe my book description is doesn’t “pop”, maybe the marketing skills I lack will end up being a serious anchor, etc.), but at the end of the day I’m confident that the story at least will be as good as I can make it.

    Now let’s see if “Brachman’s Underworld” was worth all that effort! 😉

    Thanks for your great posts! I look forward to reading more!
    -Vlad Vaslyn

    1. Kim Aleksander
      Reply

      Hi Vlad,

      Great to hear about the seriousness that you are putting into editing your work! You’re lucky to have so many “beta readers” giving you those extra sets of eyes on your manuscript. I don’t think there can ever be enough.

      It’s interesting that you also worked with your editor from the developmental perspective. I see that as a real luxury. I consider one of my good friends who helped edit FP to almost be a co-creator. The book would have been much different without his input.

      I wish you great success with your debut novel. Remember, your first book is just that–the first. Keep writing!

      All the Best,

      Kim

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *