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Why it's Tough to Be Your Own Editor

Independent publishing has turned Yog's Law on its head. For decades, authors have been content to let publishers take all the financial risks involved in bringing a book to print. It's a nice system, very convenient for authors, if somewhat frustrating when publishers fail to deliver royalty statements promptly.

With the advent of PubIt, Kindle, Smashwords and other independent publishing outlets, authors are stepping out of the traditional publishing umbrella. It's increasingly common to hear about authors contracting cover art, editing, and proofreading services before releasing their books to the public. I confess, I was initially skeptical about this sudden outflow of money. But after dipping my feet into the self-publishing waters, I have to say I'm pleasantly surprised.

During my first month on kindle, I've earned $12.53 in royalties -- not a whopping number by any means, but it's more than half what I invested in buying cover art rights for Dead Men Don't Cry. At this point, going independent shows clear potential as a profitable venture.

"Venture" is, I believe, the right word here. Independent authors are business people. We're going to have to start weighing the pros and cons of hiring professional contractors. For some of us, those investments will pay off. For others, they won't.

Which leads me to the very interesting realm of indie editing. Traditionally, authors have prepared their manuscripts with the aide of critique groups and help from friends. I never realized until I started editing how very different this process is from a concentrated, dedicated edit in exchange for money. Friends -- even good friends -- are unlikely to spend 40 hours going over your manuscript with a fine-toothed comb looking for ways to make each sentence stronger. Firstly, nobody has that much free time. Secondly, it would be presumptuous. Unless you've hired me to perform an edit, I'm not going to go through the manuscript hilighting every sentence that might potentially be written differently. That would feel just... rude.

Do I think an editor is an indispensable aspect of indie publishing? No. Good books will sell, even without extensive editing. But I do think a good editor is a valuable asset, even if you're an accomplished writer with a strong publishing history. Why? Because no matter how strong your writing is, you're going to have mental blind spots. You're going to make assumptions about the characters and the storyline that your readers won't necessarily share. You're going to write ambiguous sentences without realizing it. Everyone does, and most casual readers won't point them out to you.

When "A New Kind of Sunrise" is finished -- which, if current trends continue, might not be until the end of the next century -- I am going to hire an independent editor if I can at all afford it. I want someone to help me polish the manuscript before I send it out to agents and publishers. I want someone to help me put my best foot forward.

Comments

( 12 comments — Leave a comment )
dark_opus
Jun. 12th, 2011 09:47 pm (UTC)
There is a treasure trove (mixed with garbage) of info on the web for screening, selecting, and contracting independent editors. It is, after all, another outflow $$ item for authors to consider in the quest to achieve their desired degree of commercial success.

It certainly would be interesting to hear about your journey through this element of the process, Nancy, if you're incline to blog about it. I hope you do.
nancyfulda
Jun. 13th, 2011 08:31 am (UTC)
>>It certainly would be interesting to hear about
>>your journey through this element of the process,
>>Nancy, if you're incline to blog about it. I hope
>>you do.

Heh. I'm inclined to blog about almost everything ;)

What part of the process are you most interested in? Editing; cover art; indie publishing in general?
dark_opus
Jun. 14th, 2011 12:33 am (UTC)
Errr, how about... "Yes"

Seriously, I was reacting to your mention about hiring an editor. It also seems to have struck a chord with the other people commenting.

The spectrum available is: DIY ---> Megabucks A-List Editor-At-Large. Plus everything in between. There is anecdotal evidence that price does not equate to performance here. What's a writer to do?

(Somewhat to your point, Nancy, this same dynamic can very likely appear regarding any element of the indie publishing process, but let's just pick on editing for now.)

BTW: I'm of the opinion that the "best" indie editor choice for a given writer is a combo of: referrals + word-of-mouth + reputation + work examples + alignment to writer's style/genre/market/etc + price. In other words, somewhat akin to hiring a contractor in general.
nancyfulda
Jun. 14th, 2011 04:12 pm (UTC)
, how about... "Yes"

Heh. Ok, I can work with that. :)

Seriously, indie publishing has caught my attention in a big way, so I'm likely to be blogging quite a bit about the experience for the next little while.

I'm of the opinion that the "best" indie editor choice for a given writer is a combo of: referrals + word-of-mouth + reputation + work examples + alignment to writer's style/genre/market/etc + price.

I think you're right about this. The question writers shouldn't ask themselves isn't so much "Editor or no editor?" as "Which editor will do the best job on this project? And is his/her fee a financially sound investment?"
bearmountain
Jun. 14th, 2011 06:10 pm (UTC)
Gotta agree wit the:

referrals + word-of-mouth + reputation + work examples + alignment to writer's style/genre/market/etc + price.
mikandra
Jun. 12th, 2011 10:52 pm (UTC)
The 'if I can afford it' part is important. To date, I've had to shell out money for covers that I haven't yet recouped. I'm on my way to doing that, but it's a slow process. I had a quote from a fabulous editor, but it was way more than I could spend (she also works for HC). I would love to hire her, but I'm going to earn out first. I've looked at the work of many indie $200-a-MS editors, and I'm not convinced they can do a better job than we do at ASIM, for each other and for free.
bearmountain
Jun. 13th, 2011 01:43 am (UTC)
A good point--good editors (or artists or whatever) can be found in strange places. Some of them might well be a friend or a relative. I found a treasure in my sister-in-law, a retired English teacher. That doesn't mean I expect her to work for free, but look around your group of friends. You might get lucky and find someone willing to help you at a discount-- or if they are a writer, they might exchange Beta reads. If you don't have writer friends to exchange with, go make some friends!!!
nancyfulda
Jun. 13th, 2011 08:28 am (UTC)
I agree: it's very important to watch one's expenses and to keep the expenditures carefully targeted.

Example: I have two free ebooks that I'm using to drive sales of other books this week. I didn't pay for professional cover art -- or even for professional stock photos -- for those, because the fact that they're free is a sufficient selling point for most readers. No point investing money where there's no payoff benefit.
bearmountain
Jun. 13th, 2011 02:39 pm (UTC)
Very, very key. Throwing money at the problem does not mean sales.
bearmountain
Jun. 13th, 2011 01:39 am (UTC)
Do hire an editor--but don't leave out the beta readers either! For those who can't afford an editor, definitely get 3 or 4 beta readers and not all at once. Let one or two people take a look, make improvements (or not) and then have another one or two people give it a read.

The editor comes after that.

:>)

alphastk
Jun. 13th, 2011 08:19 pm (UTC)
I have to agree with your base assumption. If I were going to do independent release for profit, I'd definitely pay for a separate set of eyes for both content and copy editing. I'm already fully committed to buying suitable cover art whether for myself or for others.

My prediction is that, as time goes by, we'll see a rise of a new breed of smaller, more agile publishing houses. Independent author publishing can be and will continue to be possible and, in a variety of cases with variable measures of success, even profitable, but I think that reader's will learn to "cluster" their attention as time goes by and the market evolves. That "clustering" will either be by House or by name and the interconnectedness of the web will drive trends thereafter.
(Anonymous)
Jun. 16th, 2011 04:34 pm (UTC)
Freelance Editor Agrees
As the ancient knight said to Indiana Jones, "You have chosen wisely." I would offer this advice to writers: No matter how you come to a particular editor, get a FREE SAMPLE EDIT, of your first 1,000-2,500 words, so that you can get a feel for the work they do. Then, if you want to proceed, do so in relatively small increments, at least until such a time that you feel completely comfortable with his work. If an editor is unwilling to work with you on that basis, your risk will be greater. -- Lane Diamond, Author and Freelance Editor
( 12 comments — Leave a comment )

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Nancy Fulda is a 2012 Hugo and Nebula Nominee, a Phobos Award winner and a Vera Hinckley Mayhew Award recipient. She is the first (and so far only) female recipient of the Jim Baen Memorial Award. Her fiction has appeared in a number of professional venues.

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