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.