Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Why Even a Self-published Author Still Needs An Editor

Have you ever been in the middle of a book you’re really enjoying when you catch a typo? Or maybe it’s a word that just doesn’t quite fit, or a character who you’re pretty sure had brown eyes earlier, but whose lover is suddenly talking about their beautiful baby blues?

When a writer signs a deal with Random House, Penguin or another major publisher they sign away some of the profits. In exchange, one of the most significant things a publisher has to offer is its team of professional editors. Those editors are responsible for finding holes in the book’s plot line, ensuring consistency, proofreading and copyediting.

When an author chooses to self publish, instead of going through a publishing house, they can rarely afford a full team of editors to review their book. Instead, they are often forced to wear a variety of different hats–and for many of them, editing their own book seems like a good way to save money.

But editing your own work is actually harder than it appears. As the writer, it’s difficult to achieve the distance required to notice where the plot can be strengthened. Since you know exactly what you intended to say, it’s tough to catch sections that might be confusing to a less knowledgeable reader. And, since you’ve poured sweat, blood and tears into the words, your eye is more likely to skip over typos and see what you intended to type rather than what is actually there.

A book editor does a lot more than just look for misspelled words or ensure you’re using the correct version of there, their or they’re. A good copy editor understands pacing and how sentence structure plays into foreshadowing and mood. They can point out where a chapter might benefit from an additional scene and can help choose sections that slow the reader down.

Book editors also create a style guide for each book they work on. The guide includes notes on design (for example, notating how chapter headings look, so each is set up the same way), detailed information on characters (so Stephen doesn’t become Steven and his physical attributes remain consistent) and places (how was the name of that Dwarven city spelled in chapter two?).

Of course, using an editor doesn’t guarantee your book will be error-free; but it can help cut down on the number of slip ups in your final copy, which means reducing the number of times a reader slips out of your plot line to think instead about the words rather than their meaning. And isn’t every writer’s goal to help their reader lose herself in their novel?

This is a guest post written by Melissa Breau. She is a freelance writer, editor and a cheesy romantic who likes long walks on the beach and arguing about comma placement. Her resume includes time spent at Pet Business Magazine, Columbia University Press and in the Manhattanville College Marketing Department. She has her Masters of Science in Publishing and is always willing to talk shop on twitter– @melissabreau. She is also blogging about her freelance journey over at Jargon Writer ( –or learn more about the services she offers on her website,


Karen S. Elliott said...

Agree, agree, agree, agree ... I'm an editor/proofreader too. Good article!

Matthew said...

Agreed x 10. I am a writer working away on my own book and working for a self-publishing company. We see all kinds of manuscripts come through and it is always astonishing when people turn down our recommendation that they work with an editor. And then they wonder why people critique it upon publication. It is very important! Thank you for this article.

Melissa Breau said...

@Karen - Thanks! Glad to hear you agree.

@Matthew - As you say, not having someone go over your work before publication leaves you open to criticism from the folks who are staunch supporters of traditional publishing. Really, self publishing is a very viable option–and offers a chance for greater control and a better share of the income for the book. Even if you self publish, your goal should be to provide the best reading experience possible for your customers! Editing helps ensure you do that (also, if you ever need an editor to recommend, shoot me a note!)

Lani Wendt Young said...

I cannot agree more with this advice. And if you can get more than one editor? Get them.My first book was a commissioned Nonfiction record of a natural disaster. A team of 3 people pored over it with a fine tooth comb and yet still some key errors made its way into the final book. ( ouch) Now, Im preparing to launch my first YA urban fantasy romance Telesa: The Covenant Keeper. I hired a copy editor who did a fantastic job of getting rid of all sorts of crazy errors ( Im an English teacher, so you would think that I wouldnt do too badly with editing and proof rdg right?! Hmmm) Now an editor has been reading thru the manuscript and she has found so many things that can be improved on. You as the writer, get sick to bits of your own book. I recommend that every self-pub author take the time, money and effort to get their books edited by a pro before they launch them . It will be worth the investment.

K.Victoria Smith said...

I participated in a teleseminar yesterday on selling your book to readers. The key presenter talked about getting self-published books into the hundreds of thousand of libraries across the US. The key complaint from librarians was sloppy editing. If it is not a professional product, these very particular professionals will not buy your book. Think of the print sales and subsequent follow-up e-sales you will miss out on.

Shannon said...

I've heard authors say that they can't afford an editor/copy editor and yet in reality I don't think they can afford NOT to hire one. If the long term goal is to be a published AND respected author, you have to be ready to make the time and money sacrifices it takes to get there.

Great article Melissa, thanks for the guest post. :)

LM Preston said...

Having your stuff edited is a must. It's like adding the finishing touches on your art. It's a must do.

The Desert Rocks said...

I agree, but I also think beta readers are very important too.

Melissa Breau said...

@Lani - In response to your comment about multiple editors: the more editors you can get, the better; every set of eyes will catch different slip ups and the more people you have read through, the cleaner the final book will be.

@K. Victoria - Great point. I hadn't considered that perspective, but it makes sense. I think that the sloppy editing aspect is one of the things really holding ebooks back right now.

@Shannon - I'm thrilled everyone has been so pleased with the piece. Thanks for letting me guest post!

@LM - Precisely.

@Desert Rocks - beta readers ARE important, but in a very different way from editors. Editors refine the work and make it it's best self; beta readers help provide feedback, from a readers perspective, and while their info may shape the work, it's in a different way than an editor's advice will.

Sheree said...

I totally agree! As a person at whom typos jump out of whatever material (found a typo in a laminated menu once and broke the poor restaurateur's heart - because all the other people working there proofread it and didn't catch it), please, PLEASE get an editor.

As a reader, I hate having to stop reading in order to figure out what the author was trying to say or who is saying the dialog. Or having characters who leaves the scene on an important errand and then started speaking again later in the same scene without any further comment about the errand. Head scratching, or anything that makes me stop reading, definitely detracts from my enjoyment of a story. That leads to my not reading anything else by that author.

Melissa Breau said...

@Sheree - Thanks for your comments; and I couldn't agree more, nothing is more obnoxious than confusing dialogue! Glad you enjoyed the piece.

Lynn Hallbrooks said...

I agree with having an editor. Our book was edited by Pat McGrath-Avery of River Road Press. She made lots of red marks on our book. I'm glad that she wasn't at first.

Camuesque said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
damyantiwrites said...

Agree. An editor is essential to any book's success.

RachelintheOC said...

I'm self-published and wouldn't have dreamed of going forward without an editor. It wasn't at all tempting to me to not use one.

I think there's a bit of a dangerous bias in stereotyping all self-pub'd authors this way. Many of us take our writing seriously and want to make a living, receive good reviews, and educate ourselves and others about the amazing opportunities available in this new paradigm.

Just my two cents.

Nick Rolynd said...

I agree with every word. One of my biggest problems when it comes to writing is my inability to spot small errors. My brain just fills in the missing words because it knows what I intended to write. Therefore, I struggle to find all my errors. Editors are a blessing.

But even without a paid editor, you can receive just as much help from a beta reader or a critique forum. That's why I like having a support network of fellow writers to turn to before I even attempt to get my work published.

Shannon said...

My personal experience so far with reading indie authors is that while the story and writing are okay, they often could have been better, if there was an editor involved. I don't think it's a sterotype to say that a lot of self published authors don't get their work edited. I think that it's a fact.

I'm with you Rachel, I would never put my work into the public without at least 1 editor going through it first. As it it, I use 2 seperate editors and a proofreader on top of my beta's. And I can still see little mistakes.

My opinion is that there are still a number of indie authors who can't afford, or think they don't need editors. But that will change as more and more authors choose to hire freelancers and see how their work improves and their sales improve along with that.

Just my thoughts.

Ciara Ballintyne said...

What can I say that hasn't already been said? Every writer needs an editor. It should go without saying, but many writers don't seem to realise its importance. So instead, we simply can't say it enough. Get an editor! It's not a nice to have. It's critical. It can make or break a book. Even a brilliant author has an editor. You are too close to your own work to edit it to a finished standard.

Neal Hock said...

Nice post, and I couldn't agree more. It's very difficult for someone to self-edit. In my opinion, every book should be proofread, and most books need copyediting. Concept editing is a bit more subjective, but unless you're a seasoned writer, it's probably a good idea for the first few books you publish.

Honestly, I believe solid editing will begin to separate some authors from the rest of the pack. With over a million e-books available at Amazon, folks are probably going to start being a bit more choosy about their purchases.