Tuesday, September 27, 2016

My Rant: Is Editing Ever Elective?

Earlier this month, Diana Hurwitz posted a great article entitled "Do You Need an Editor?" Supporting her contention that all writers do, she wrote, “Errors are speed bumps that affect the reader’s enjoyment of the ride you are taking them on.” She's absolutely right.


Aren't editors expensive? They can be. See the industry standard prices posted at The Editorial Freelancers Association? Sadly, though, big bucks don’t guarantee excellent editing. How do you find a good editor—the right one for your project? Ask fellow writers who they used. Were they satisfied with the result? Get recommendations at bookstores. Request references from any editor you are considering; the good ones shouldn’t object. Read a book or two they’ve edited. Are the characters lifelike, three-dimensional people? Does the story move smoothly forward? Whose POV is it told in? Do you always know who’s talking? Is the action realistic? Does the ending satisfy you, or does it leave you hanging? Does the punctuation (or lack of it) confuse you about the meaning of some sentences or paragraphs? Is the editor you’re considering mentioned in the acknowledgements? Request contact information for the writers they’ve work with and ask those writers about their experience with that editor. Then look at price. Remember that not all good editors are expensive; in fact, some are very reasonable.

Suppose you have no budget for an editor. Find alternatives! Purchase a grammar/punctuation book if you are lacking in those areas—and use it. (See Elle Neal Carter's article "Sharpen Your Editing Skills with Noah Lukeman" posted September 16.) Read the reviews of grammar books on Amazon to find one that has been helpful to others and that fits your needs. As an editor, I rely on The Chicago Manual of Style, but this big book can intimidate beginning users—opt for an easier one unless you already have significant grammar skills. Do you know good writers you could barter with? ("You read and critique my manuscript, and I’ll do the same for you.") Did you have a good relationship with your former English teacher/professor? He or she might be willing to look over the mechanics of your work. Does someone at your local library know of a writers’ group in your area? If not, check out online possibilities for critique groups. Read comments posted by current members or those who have belonged in the past. Does the group get positive feedback? Create a list of beta readers—people who love to read, will recognize a great story, and will give you honest criticism on your book’s strengths and weaknesses. Remember that editing is never elective. Sometimes we have to think outside the box to get it done.


Rant: Too many self-published writers do not take the steps necessary to create professional-level works. Unfortunately, the ripple effect of their sub-standard books impacts those of us who also self-pub and who strive diligently to put out great stories. Why? Because writers who don't take quality seriously have collectively earned a reputation as second-rate rejects from the big houses—unworthy of publication—and that spills over on the rest of us who self-publish. We have an uphill battle to overcome that reputation. However, we can do so by always remembering that effective editing in some form is a must in every book we publish.

What types of editing do you use? If your circumstances don’t allow you to hire an expensive freelancer, how to you turn your story into a well-polished final product that will please your readers?
 
Linda Lane and her editing team mentor and encourage writers at all phases of the writing process. To learn more about what they do, please visit them at www.denvereditor.com.

14 comments :

  1. I have tossed aside best sellers that desperately needed a little editorial love.

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    1. Haven't we all? Maybe it's time to call out those "professionally edited and traditionally published bestsellers" when the writing/editing is subpar.

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    2. Good idea, Holly! The big houses were quick to look down their noses at those of us who circumvented the system and published our own books. They should certainly be accountable for maintaining the quality they insisted we should be producing.

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  2. Me, too. In fact, I dropped a favorite author off my list when her then-latest offering showed a strong lack of editorial attention -- after previous books had been well edited.

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  3. I respectfully disagree - I think most self-published authors who expect to make writing their business and have some experience over the last ten years' worth of publishing industry changes, "get" that they need professional editors, as well as cover artists, and possibly even marketing help. The biggest change I've seen is a strong shift TOWARD very professional indie writing. Of the thousand or so indie e-books on my Kindle, and of the ones I have read because the synopsis was tight... I'd say 3 out of 4 were good to excellent. From a random, but fairly large sampling of novels.

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    1. I've seen plenty of both. For better or worse, self-published books seem to suffer most from horrible cover art. Amateurish covers set certain expectations, including the preconceived notion that the writing and editing will be similarly shoddy. Turns out, I do judge a book by its cover.

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    2. I've seen some that cried out for editing and others that stood tall next to anything Random House, etc., puts out. I do agree, Dani, that the professional level of self-pubbed books has increased significantly in the last decade. I think you nailed it when you said those who seriously want to make a profession of writing have been instrumental in raising the bar "TOWARD very professional indie writing."

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    3. Yeah, I totally agree about the cover art. I think that's partly because the authors don't have a clue what good art is, which puts them at a disadvantage.

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    4. I guess the level of quality depends on where you acquire the books, Dani. Of the books that I am sent for possible review, I am still seeing maybe 1 in 10 that is professionally done from editing to formatting for Kindle.

      And in the past ten years, there has been so many more poor-quality books released that the good-quality books are lost in crowd. When I first went Indie with the e-book and paper edition of my first hardcover release, One Small Victory, a little over ten years ago, it sold well month after month following a very successful freebie offer. Nothing since then has even come close, even though more recent books have starred reviews from PW and have won awards.

      I have been in reader forums where people have posted that they will never, ever buy another indie self-pubbed book because there is too much junk out there to sift through to find a good one.

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    5. This is similar to what I have read and what I've heard from others. While I believe more writers are aware of the need for editing and other professional services to produce a high quality book, not all of them do it. Sadly, that can take a toll on the sales of those who do all the right things.

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  4. Hear, hear, Linda! Everyone needs two editors: a content editor and a copy editor. I'm a content editor but not a copy editor. I explain to clients that just because we have excellent skills at grammar, spelling, and punctuation does not mean we can rely on ourselves to do the copy edit. Once we've worked on the content, we're too close to the story to notice mistakes. Content editing is about good writing, and copy editing is about mechanics. Both are necessary for a professional product.

    I don't self-publish my solo projects, however it's also important for a manuscript to be polished by the time it reaches an agent's or editor's desk, so my beta readers are professional writers and editors.

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  5. I agree about content and copy editors. One of each is required to produce a quality book.

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  6. Sorry to be coming to the discussion so late. This is a good reminder about the importance of editing, and I hire editors for all my indie books. I've been working with a content editor and a copy editor for several projects, and have been very happy with both.

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  7. We all need to set the same good example, Maryann, and hopefully others will follow suit.

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The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. Some of our contributors are editors, some are authors, and some are writing sheep. Yes, sheep.

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