2 January 2014

"Editing Your Book: It's a Basic Requirement, Not a Selling Point"

Browsing through my Twitter feed this morning, I came across this pure gem:

 I've written about the importance of editing before, including at Emlyn Chand's excellent Novel Publicity, but still too many writers are ignoring it.

The problem, as far as I can tell, is that editing costs money, is voluntary, thus writers want to skip it. There's a shared trait in many creative people - we don't like criticism. After dedicating months or years to a project who wants to pay someone to tear it apart? This, in my eyes, remains one of the biggest issues with self-published books; that anyone can upload their writing to Amazon with zero editing, fact-checking or accountability to quality means that for the first time in publishing there is no guarantee of a basic standard. When you buy Random House's latest book you can be sure that it's properly formatted, has been edited and proofed multiple times and non-fiction books will be fact checked. Conversely, when you buy a book on Amazon's platform, it could literally be the work of a toddler whose proud parents uploaded it to the Web in the hope that their child becomes the Mozart of the literary world.

Like many, I try to downplay this with the suggestion that the cream rises to the top, and these wannabe writers will quickly be found out. I'm sure that's true to an extent, and while I could discuss both sides of that argument all day long I'll mention just one point here: it doesn't matter too much. The people who don't yet own Kindles use that as a big reason why they don't want one, or why people who do own them won't buy cheap or free books from the store. Given that many new authors - even those who have put the time and money into making it as good as possible - will launch with a free or cheap price, the upshot of this is the platform is being affected by those who release garbage.

(And never underestimate how much garbage is submitted to publishers - but now, rather than the public being mercifully spared these offerings, they can be self-published with no warning to their inadequacy.)

Thankfully, plenty of authors fully appreciate how important editors are and put their book through the process. Unfortunately, plenty of authors think they're good enough at catching the errors, and friends will catch what they miss. I'll put it bluntly: this isn't true. It undermines what editors actually do - which far exceeds catching typos.

Self-publishing's popularity today, combined with bloggers and free marketing opportunities makes it possible for indie authors to gain a wide and loyal following, thus creating a lucrative career. There's every chance of that happening now if the work is put in. But it requires dedication and effort, and if you want to write and sell more than one book, each and every one needs to be professional standard.

I frequently tell my clients that they're not just selling books, they're selling their name. We all have our favourite authors and we will buy their books because their name is on the cover - if you have any hope of readers doing the same with your books, they need to be bulletproof in their quality. Your name and reputation is literally at stake here; what no author wants is for the word of mouth reviews to be "Yeah, the story was ok, but it was so full of errors and badly written that I couldn't finish it."

Good editing means readers don't even think about it, they can just read the book. A bad book is one that keeps the reader distracted with dodgy formatting and endless errors.

Yes, editors cost money. As they should, they're selling a professional service. It's an investment, that an editor will make the book good so you have a fighting chance of establishing a good reputation and selling your writing. You wouldn't build a house and not hire an electrician or plumber, so why write a book and not hire an editor?