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Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Editing - Why Not to Do-It-Yourself

Editing Labyrinth
Editing – 
Don't 'Do-It-Yourself'

Every independent author wants to cut as many corners as possible when it comes to publishing a new work. But what many don’t realize is they may be costing themselves money in the long run by putting out a poorly edited book.

Reviews are the life’s blood of any product. Whether it’s a book, a car, or a box of cereal, a bad review or worse, a series of bad reviews, can be the death knell of whatever it is you’re trying to sell. So aside from the ‘exorbitant’ cost of hiring a professional editor, what other reasons to go it alone?

1. Nobody knows my story as well as me.
While true, this is a double-edged sword. Writers have a tendency to be too close to their manuscript, falling in love with their words and keeping words, sentences, and entire sections that take away from the overall story.

2. An editor will change my words or rewrite my story.

This is completely untrue of any editor worth his or her salt. I look at editing as sandpapering the rough edges off a marble statue (I have no idea if you actually sandpaper a statue, but you get the idea).
Do I sometimes suggest a better word in places? Absolutely. But that’s what an editor does: suggest. Every single change an editor makes to your story should be plain and evident so the author can agree or disagree upon review. If your editor operates differently, fire him or her immediately.

3. I can just get my friend to read it for me, he likes my stuff.
Another potential mistake. People too close to an author may tend to hedge edits. Sometimes, I’ll look at a page I just finished and see a whole lot of red and I wonder if I’m being overly critical. But then I remember, that’s what I’m being paid for. And if the client does feel like the edits on any particular page are heavy-handed, he can always not take the ones he doesn’t like. Back when I used to write a lot of poetry I was on a site where we would post poems and critique each other and there was nothing worse than someone who just couldn’t handle people saying anything other than how magnificent their piece was.

4. It’s just not affordable.
Now that is a potential drawback. A professional editor can cost as little as a half cent a word to several cents. But it’s really a ‘what’s it worth to you’ situation. Do you believe this is a book people have to read? Will it change lives? Do you have a plan in place and editing is just one cog in the wheel to creating a best-selling juggernaut? If it is, then the cost of an editor is only a drop in the bucket compared to what you’ll eventually rake in. If it’s not, then why exactly are you writing it? Don’t put a speed-bump in your way by having a story a lot of people may set their eyes on and quickly cast aside as unreadable.
There are different levels of editing. For proofreading, we (Razorline Press) charge only a half cent. That means we read the story to correct for grammar errors and punctuation. So if you had a 100,000 word manuscript, we would charge $500 to proofread it. We charge a little more when I am asked for things like syntax errors, sentence flow, and proper word usage. We also will solicit the author for more information to understand confusing sentences and do follow-ups with clients to make sure they understand all the edits.

Think about the last book you purchased. Whether you wound up liking it or not, I’d bet it had a nice cover. As an independent author, unless you are also a graphic artist, professional photographer, or painter, you’re not qualified to design your own cover. Editing is just as important as an eye-catching cover. In some ways, it is even more important than a cover. There have been a few books I’ve read that impressed me on the outside and I was completely letdown when I turned to the first page.

Before you put out your next novel or novella, set yourself up for success. I don’t know the statistics, but the heaviest cluster of sales of books occur somewhere in the first few weeks after release. Just like the three L’s of real estate—location, location, location—the more books that sell in a cluster, the closer an author gets to finding their book located on a best-seller list. An independent author/publisher can do it. Just look at the Fifty Shades trilogy, which have been ranked 1-3 on the NY Times Bestseller list for the last 20+ weeks. I can’t vouch for how well-written these books are, but the point is, word-of-mouth rocketed them into the American lexicon. And more people will be talking about an author’s book when it is not only well-written, but seen under a scrutinizing eye to make it the best possible story it can be.

- Gerald Rice -

Gerald Rice is an Editor at Razorline Press and author of several self-published books.


CS Perryess said...

Amen to that,
A poorly edited book immediately turns me off this reader, but with the cost of a good editor, I completely understand why authors might think they can do it themselves. Even after multiple critique groups have seen my work, I'll find errors. As much as the e-revolution has involved the badmouthing of the Big Six & editors therein, those folks have been doing incredibly important work. That work still needs to be done.
Thanks for the fine post.

nikkibroadwell said...

Thanks for the post--Everyone needs to have their book edited--now line editing is another story--I found it prohibitively expensive and so my husband and I went through the MS with a fine tooth comb before publishing. It is discouraging to realize that writers put their work out there without a backward glance--it gives indie authors a bad name...

Virginia Llorca said...

It doesn't have anything to do with the story. I used to edit for Contemporary books, so I feel I know something about what to look for. I left about a third out of my first book and now I can't even remember what it was. I used to save my cuts, but no longer bother. I notice typos in any book, bound or epub, unknown or famous. I have four epubs up and have never heard a criticism except about my characters' moral issues. Put your own MS on your ereader before publishing, and you will notice most everything wrong. Why would you pay for something when you know nothing about the quality of their work? I have a book on Amazon at 600,000 plus. Very bad. And one at 68,000. Pretty good. Epub success: promo, word of mouth, multi pubs. Not easy.

Julie Day said...

I totally agree with no 1. Writers are too close to their own work, so they should get someone professinal to edit it for them, which is why I do. And I agree about covers. Only try and do them if you are cognizant with layouts, fonts etc, otherwise get someone to do them for you. I do because I tried to have a go and had no idea what I was doing.

Unknown said...

I agree, there are times when I am too close to my work. I have trained myself to write a rough draft of something, come back a couple of days later and reread my work--out loud. This helps me realize that what I said could have been said in a more concise way. I also tend to catch grammatical errors. When I wrote Getting Roosevelt--a homeowner's nightmare, I went ahead and sent it to the printers. I got my proof copy and boy, the errors leaped off the page. I spent another three months re-writing. Only then was I happy with my 2nd proof, then I published it.

Nikki Jefford said...

Here! Here! I wouldn't waste a dime - let alone my precious reading time - on a book that hadn't been at least professionally proof read. There are so many options and price scales out there for indies to choose from. There's no excuse for not getting your work edited.

Anna Buttimore said...

Nikki, thanks for perfectly making the point for me. Out comes my red pencil and corrects the above to "Hear, hear!" Which I then echo.

I read a terrible book about a year ago which put me right off indies altogether. It included the words "summersault" and "undo attention". At the time I blogged that I would never read another self-published book based on this experience, and started a campaign that self-published books should state this fact on the cover so that readers know that they are getting something which may be substandard.

Luckily, since then, various friends have persuaded me otherwise and I have read some very good indies. And, in fact, my next book will be self-published because the publishers of my first five books felt the subject matter is too controversial for them. And yes, I am paying to have it edited.

Unknown said...

I will admit it! I learned the hard way that I could not edit my own work! My first book went out unedited and boy did I regret it! After a few weeks I pulled it back out of circulation and had some writing friends help me edit it. I put it back on the market, but I lost momentum with the book after than. Now my second book is almost ready to put out. I have a wonderful editor who is doing the editing for me. My advice, if you can't afford to hire someone, do editing in trade with other writers who need a second set of eyes for their work. Also it is possible to find someone who is willing to edit for a percentage of future book sales. Whatever you do, don't think that you can edit your own work. Trust me, it won't work.

Eva Blaskovic said...

Thank you for writing this article.

"[Editing is] not about what to change. It's about what to keep intact. The author's voice and meaning are paramount. The editor's job is to help the writer convey the message in the best way possible, in proper English convention, to the audience for which it was designed and with the purpose for which it was intended.
The author-editor connection is a relationship. This is why you pay for the editor's time. The editor has years of knowledge and experience, and tailors them to you and your needs, which means getting to know you and your work, and taking time to go through it. Choose your editor with care and build a relationship" - opening to "Did You Know An Editor's Job Is to Work With the Author, Not Against the Author?" (http://www.siriusword.com/ebblog/did-you-know-an-editors-job-is-to-work-with-the-author-not-against-the-author).

2. "An editor will change my words or rewrite my story."
Many people have this fear and it may have originated in school. A good editor applies only the changes needed--with the author's approval--to say what the author wanted, not something else.

I'm a lifelong writer and editor, so I've sat on both sides of the fence. I also teach writing. I have spent much of my life trying to figure out the causes for the fear and under-valuing of professional editing.

Spelling and grammar checkers are only a start, not a finish. Of the errors they catch, they require the knowledge of a human brain to interpret the recommendations. No program can replace human thinking with regard to the complexity of language.

Having friends read one's work and give feedback is helpful, but chances are they are not trained editors, so if it's going into print permanently, I'd think carefully about the quality the author wants to convey. I've seen people stop reading poorly written books, even those with potentially good plots and ideas. How a book is written and how it is punctuated are part of the experience.

As for editing one's own work, no matter how good an editor the writer is, he/she still needs a proofreader if it's going into print. Our brain is bound to miss something in our own writing.

Anonymous said...

I agree. My book was poorly edited by a perfessional editor. However I should had known better after she kept putting me off. I had cancer at the time and thought I was not going to pull through. Yes I agree getting someone to edit who is honest is the right way. I learned the hard way and paid the cold hard price. I support all writers, wish all the best. I'm glad to finally found someone who is helping me now. However my publisher will NOT pull it out of circulation. Guess I will keep paying the price. I don't promote the book. Good advice on here, I appreciate all the help and what ever I can learn from better writers.

Anonymous said...

I like your way of thinking, you made it clear and to the point.
No matter how bad the book is written, I agree the story could be really great, the plot the characters. I'm one who struggles due to a disabilty with brain and I have to get everything edited. It takes me longer to read and longer to write and I am bad editor. I agree with you. I believe in honesty between the writer and editor.

P.L. Dodds said...

Excellent article,

First impressions count. You need to stand out from the crowd in every aspect.

Thank you for an informative article. I'm sure it will give many Writers food for thought.

Kind Regards

P.L. Dodds

Yvonne Hertzberger said...

Sound advice, especially on editing. It's worth every cent.

Leighann Dobbs said...

Having some form of editing is essential. At the very least some proofreading and checking of sentence structure and flow. No matter how many times you go over your own book, you will miss things and those things can cause a negative reading experience for your readers. Better to pay an editor now than to pay later in loss of readership!

A.K.Andrew said...

Great advice - it's really hard to be objective, though for the sake of cost an author really needs to line edit themselves before it goes off. The book will definitely suffer without a professional looking at it.

Anonymous said...

I will not hire an editor. I am very good at picking up errors of spelling and grammar (and typos) and the incredibly bad job made by the editor/publisher of my first book have put me off them for life. 'just removing a few commas and making it flow a bit better in places.' Unfortunately, I trusted him, and when I found difficulty in opening the revised MS, I gave authorisation to him to publish, (especially as it was already several months after the original publication date.) Things like 'Karate' changed to 'harate,' presumably because he disagreed with the capital letter, and as he appeared to be a comma hater, he deleted hundreds, but far too often, deleting the last letter of the word before the comma. Criminally careless. And that was from a manuscript all-but-immaculate. (I think he did find and correct just one actual error.)

So maybe it's not self-published books you should be careful of - at least the author can be relied up to care about the book, but small Indie publishers who set up - I'm not quite sure why. Nobility? Or for profits? After all, any author will mostly sell a dozen copies to friends and family, even if no-one else.

I am proud of my books now, even though there was a lot to learn before I was able to publish them. They are far better presented than the first one that had been 'edited' and then published with enough errors to make me cry. That 'publisher' has over 100 authors still, I believe. I don't know whether he is still producing such unprofessional work.

Anonymous said...

Writers need editors. They need them to hone their work, true. They also need them to give it to 'em straight. Red ink and highlighter marks all over a page are great at getting through a writer's precious ego. A few moments of chagrin upon seeing such pages is better than a slew of bad reviews on Amazon which will never go away. @SimianEditor

Larissa said...

I agree with every single word in that post! as a blogger who reviews a lot of Indie, I can definitely tell who's paid the money for an editor and who hasn't. It makes a big difference in the ejoyability factor.

Leo Stableford said...

I have managed to find a process that makes an editor unnecessary but it is not an easy route:

1. Write Draft
2. Write Draft of entirely separate project
3. Use custom written (by me) editing software to do another pass
4. Turn mss into an ebook.
5. Read entire book aloud to my wife (reading it aloud helps me pick up poor cadence and clumsy sentence structure)

After that the work goes to as many beta-readers as I can find and, after that may have to be combed once more for the final few typos.

It's probably less intense to just pay for a professional editor but I really am that poor.

Unknown said...

74,000 x .05 a word - if writer is lucky enough to get one that cheap - do the math. Then cover artist fees - the writer is no longer writing for their benefit - their hard earned $$ is goin giinto other people's pockets.

Jakob Lenz said...

Cost is usually the main reason for a writer not hiring an editor, but it can be lowered by investing a relatively small amount of money in editing software, such as Grammarly. That can clean up obvious errors, making a human editor's job a lot quicker and so, less expensive. Of course, word processors (MS Word, Mac, etc.) have their own (imperfect) checking functions that will do a pretty good job for nothing; it seems many writers are simply unaware of them. A writer can also learn something about grammar, punctuation and spelling by seeing the changes.

Anonymous said...

As a freelance editor, I agree that money can be a huge factor in writers choosing not to hire an editor. A good developmental (substantive) editor will spend 30-50 hours on a full-length novel. It's very time consuming and so the charge has to be reasonable. I wrote a blog about this here: https://thewriteditor.wordpress.com/2013/02/12/how-much-should-you-pay-for-a-freelance-novel-editor/

I suggest looking for an editor that offers a combination of line editing and developmental editing who is also education focused so that you will know how to correct your own mistakes in subsequent drafts.

Rick Bylina said...

That's $3,700, but unfortunately, you used 5 cents per word, not .005 (1/2 cent) per word as the low ball the author indicated. That would be $370. A 74,000 word book would be around 250 pp. I review/ edit books, but am a slow reader. Editing (not reading) 250 pp would take me about 25 hours minimum ($370/25 = $14.80/hr.) I use to manage an editing group in corporate America. They were paid a lot more than that. I don't think that is exorbitant to ensure a solid product.

Anonymous said...

It would take me three to four months to save up money to have one of my books edited (I have 10 written and working on another five) and that's if I do not pay my cell phone bill. Some people are just way too poor to spend 500 plus dollars on grammar and punctuation. :-(

Rachel Hamm said...

I agree with 90% of the article, but then the example of 50 Shades of Grey is thrown in at the end, basically counteracting everything already said. The author of the article said they didn't read the book, and that is painfully obvious - if he had, he would have known how poorly it was edited. The book was full of terrible grammar. It shows that people will buy a book that is badly edited.

Anonymous said...

There should be a point number 5. Paying for an editor does not guarantee quality. I know many authors who've paid over a thousand dollars, in some cases close to 3,000 (one book was over 100k at .03 cents per word) and the books are still riddled with grammatical errors. Those authors are questioning the advice. Let's see, I can spend 1000 dollars and have errors, or try to polish the book myself, save my 1000 and some errors might slip through. Errors either way, but I've saved a chunk of money. As other posters have said, and studies have shown, grammatical errors aren't as traumatic as once believed. Personally, I think they should be. I think we should hold to higher standards, but it's difficult to justify to others why it is so important to pay for shoddy work. I suggest if you do shell out the money to pay for an editor, you check their work (ask for another book they've edited and go read it, not just a paragraph they send you), or create a caveat in your agreement so you can get your money back if they don't provide quality services.

Anonymous said...

Many of the authors commented here about 'errors'. Every indie author claims to have found a typo in a 'real' book. Yay for you.
Editing is much more than finding typos and a few hitches in grammar. The pro editors also help w character development, plot lines and other macro issues with manuscripts. Your BFF might be a grammar wiz, but that doesn't mean she knows anything about the industry, which books sell and why. Pro editors are people in the publishing industry, who work with other professionals and probably have more degrees than you have rejection letters. I know it hurts kids but the reason the majority of the books published traditionally are much better than the majority of indie books; they go through a vetting process conducted by professionals. Number don't lie - 99% of the indie books published are only that, published. They aren't very good. Here's the blunt news from Nick Morgan http://www.forbes.com/sites/nickmorgan/2013/01/08/thinking-of-self-publishing-your-book-in-2013-heres-what-you-need-to-know/
Writing a bad book doesn't make you a bad person. It doesn't mean that one day you won't write better books. It takes more than hard work; it takes talent, but if you're talented, then work very hard to produce a better book - quality over quantity.
But who cares? You want to write? Write. Enjoy yourself. Get lost in the process and have fun. Lighten your heart. Just don't complain the big six won't pick you up. You probably stink.

Holly Blackstone said...

I couldn't complete that series, and one of the reasons was the absolutely atrocious grammar; not only was the writing sophomoric, but it was littered with errors! I find it funny, (well, sort of), when someone who is a fan of that series then criticises other writers for their errors. Oh, the irony! Another example is the "This Man" series, although I understand that it has undergone a revision to fix some of the ridiculous spelling mistakes that it had.

I edit my own books (I have seven independently published). I started out that way and realised after two that no matter how many times I went through them I had fatigue and missed a period here or misspelled something elsewhere, (this can also be said of editors). I've read 'professionally' edited books that are both worse and better 'edited' than mine.

I've since gone back and reviewed and revised, (and fixed), errors in my novels, and now I give myself a few days before my 'final' revision and read the book aloud to a friend, which really helps. I can see how a good editor might be beneficial, but there are drawbacks. I write using a mix of English/British spellings, even an editor will make mistakes and after publishing over 600,000 words, the cost is prohibitive.

I do feel that if you choose to Indie publish, you should at least make an good attempt to learn the language, (including punctuation and sentence structure), before publishing. Just because the barrier for entry is low doesn't mean that everyone SHOULD publish because they CAN. If you want to consider yourself an author, then English is your tool, and you should respect it and understand it as a carpenter would take the time to learn how to use a saw.

Holly Blackstone said...

There's are problems with your view of all this, 'Anonymous' - first off, it is very black and white. We've already pointed out two books - one ostensibly 'professionally vetted' whilst the other was independently published, and both were train wrecks of grammar, punctuation, spelling and consistency. I just finished reading an insipid book from a 'USA Today/NYT Best Selling Author' that was so laden with holes and stupidity it should never have been released by the (large) company it was published by.

Second, in the genre I write in (erotica), there is so much that is similar, (from the big houses), and has a cookie-cutter feel that it has begun to resemble modern pop music (think 'American Idol'). There are exceptions of course, but if you want to find a fresh voice, the united front of publishing is not the place to go. I have read some creative books from Indies that I have enjoyed, despite the periodic error.

I'll grant you, (as I intimated above), the low barrier for entry means there is a fair amount of tripe to weed through but consumers have the choice of ignoring Indies and going straight to mainstream houses, and as authors if we choose to publish independently, (and keep out of the machine and retain more control and profits), the market will eventually decide, won't it? It's not impossible to break in from the independent side, merely difficult.

My overarching point is there are exceptions to both, (and benefits), and I would hope you could refrain from painting editors/Big Publishing as the redeemers, and Indie writers as one tooth above a slack-jawed yokel.

Christine Osborne said...

If you are self publishing, a professional editor is the only way to go and if you are too poor (as above) to afford one, then maybe you shouldn't be self publishing at all. I must have self edited around 50 times before I passed the MS over to a professional editor and am surely glad I did. She found scores of small errors in everything from tense, to spelling and punctuation. Her fee was $1500 which was on the cheaper side since my (non fiction) work had many foreign words, all of which she checked rigorously. Good advice is don't select an editor who charges by the word.It must be a flat fee for the job. Mine did try to change a couple of things over which we had fairly blistering discussions but this was only because she was an old editor, very experienced, but at times too politically correct. I regard her input as invaluable and would advise all writers not to rush, but to wait until you have saved enough to get a good professional finish to your work. It will not be wasted money.

Thank you.

Hajni Blasko said...

Thank you for writing this article.
Poor editing may even compromise your title's marketing and in several ways. For example, Online Book Publicity rejects all titles with reviews indicating poor grammar, lack of proper editing etc.

LichenCraig said...

Thanks for posting this article! As a professional editor and writer, I am dismayed at the bad experiences people have with "editors" that don't deserve the title. But it is up to the author to research - find out what type of editing specifically is offered, and find out what the editor's background is! As for a reference if you aren't sure. "Editors" should have a college background in writing/journalism to be the best at their craft. I am also dismayed that so many writers insist they are capable of editing their own work. Anyone who works in publishing would tell you that this is simply not true: with your own work, your eye tends to fill in what it wants to see. You do not, in fact, catch your own errors. Furthermore, a good editor will help you write BETTER. They will point out where writing is awkward, unclear to a reader, or even teach you tricks to make it work better. They will talk to you about structure, and whether the way you structured your work is going to be the most effective. Besides seeing simply errors your eye is missing, they may suggest words you might use instead of those you aren't using correctly. It isn't simply about "correcting spelling". Arrogance is a writer's worst enemy - if you believe you can do it all without a pro editor, you will shoot yourself in the foot eventually. I am truly saddened when 1) I hear from a publisher about a book that had potential but was badly prepped, the writer having not used an editor, so that it had to be rejected, or 2) I see a book on Amazon that is such a great concept, but is so awkward in terms of grammar and editing that readers leave frustrated reviews, discouraging others from buying. Although I understand there are a few bad editors out there (and believe me I want to wring their stupid necks because they give us all a bad name so that they can make a few bucks!), it is really up to the writer to do some homework. I believe that someone without a college education in writing/literature/journalism cannot edit professionally worth anything. Make sure your editor has an adequate educational background and training specifically in editing skills. Ask them up front what type of editing they will do. As another editor mentioned above, it's best if you are a newer writer to find someone who will "line edit" (another term for "proofreading") and "content edit" (that is, edit for structure, wording, phrasing, etc. I wrote a blog on why writers should use editors here: http://lichencraig.blogspot.com/2014/09/why-use-professional-editor-cant-i-do.html

LichenCraig said...

Hi Anna, I appreciate your comments. I agree with you and with your friends: some indie books are wonderful, but there is a lot of garbage to wade through, because most don't hire an editor. I hope that the future will see a trend where badly-written/badly-edited books are weeded out as readers post frustrated reviews! I have books that are indie and some that are not. My first novel had to be because it was too controversial and would not fit neatly into any publishing house's established genre preferences. I knew it, and chose to put it out myself. I knew it was well-written, and it was successful. I wish you all the best with your book. :)

LichenCraig said...

Hi Leo - as an editor, your process sounds like a pretty good one, barring hiring a pro. Make sure that you can't afford an editor though - many writers assume it's more expensive than they assume it is. The only thing I would point out about what you are doing is that your writing will not improve without someone with the editing background/education to guide you. You may be cheating yourself out of reaching your potential, since you can't teach yourself to do right the things you are unaware that you are doing wrong. ;)

LichenCraig said...

After reading all this, I wonder if there should be sort of an editing clearinghouse online, where every editor is rated by customers - sort of an Angie's List for editors - so that those doing a poor job would lose business and stop cheating people.

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