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


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.



Readers: New Agents of the ePublishing Revolution

There are probably as many reasons to self-publish as there are not to.  Today, however, the stigma surrounding self-publishing is far less than it was a few years ago—that’s when Amazon made it very easy for authors to publish their own work in the Kindle store.

There is a joke in publishing circles that says that Kindle is Amazon’s slush-pile, and it’s not that far from the truth.  To understand what this means, you need to know what a slush-pile is.  Imagine all of the submitted manuscripts that have been sent to agents by authors seeking representation.  Any submission, partial or full, that has yet to be read (and not rejected) by an agent is in the slush-pile.  Simply put:  if a manuscript has escaped the slush-pile without rejection, it means that an agent has vetted your work.

Agents have traditionally served the role as the gateway to publishing.  One of their jobs is to assess an author’s work to see if it’s worthy of their effort to try and market it.  Very few authors pass through this gateway.  And though some “greats” may go unpublished while a lot of crap does get published, the system has generally worked for many years.  This has changed because the ease of self-publishing has made it possible to eliminate the agent from the process.  And one side effect of this is that agents no longer perform the vetting process.

Take this one step further, and we’ll also realize that the publisher is no longer a part of the equation.  One of the significant contributions a publisher provides is editing, and although some writers will argue the point, all books could use a good editor.

The upshot of all of this is that today with the advent of the ePublishing “revolution” there is a lot of unvetted material for purchase that would have never made it out of the slush-pile prior.  Bypassing the agent has effectively shifted the slush-pile from the agent’s desk to the Kindle store and other places like it.  But, really, it’s not such a bad thing after all.

The elimination of the agent and traditional publisher has two very potent effects on the industry.  First, it allows more books to be published; and second, it puts the power into the hands of the most important person out there—the reader.  Readers are in fact the new agents, and free samples are the manuscript submissions.  The Internet and eBooks have made this all incredibly easy.

If a book’s free sample has a “hook” or whatever it takes to make the reader want more, they’ll buy it.  If not, it stays in the slush-pile.  When a reader leaves a review—good or bad—this feeds the most potent form of marketing any book can have—word of mouth.  And that, in my opinion, is a pretty good thing.

There are quite a few out there who’ve written on this subject.  And yes, ironically, they’re all indie writers. Some have been traditionally published and have gone indie, while others have gone from being ePublished to to “tPublished.”  Regardless, here are a few items that I’d recommend for anyone interested in learning more about self-publishing:

I’ve written a semi-related article on the importance of book reviews, please find it here.