Indie Authors and Book Editing

I recently read another (yes, another) post about indie authors needing to get book editing before they actually publish their books. This indie author and others I’ve seen argue, as I do, that too many indies should get book editing, and they don’t understand why indie authors don’t. I think some of the problem is that too many indie authors don’t know what book editing really means? Sadly, for many indie authors, book editing seems to be the notion that if I’ve spell-checked my novel and it’s free (or relatively free) of grammatical errors, then it’s good enough to publish. But those indie authors are missing a whole lot, because book editing means so much more than spelling and grammar.

Indie Authors and The Book Market

Many people (indie authors especially) love to make the argument that mainstream publishing is putting out crap along with the indie authors. In some regard, true (read the comments to this post for more on that). One thing any author needs to understand is that the mainstream publishing industry is about money, not literary excellence. Publishers look for books that they think will bring in the dough. If the book is cliché, isn’t original and so on, but it seems to have mass appeal, that book will likely get published. Furthermore, that book will get book editing before it ever hits the market. And like it or not, or believe it or not, the book is better than what the author first submitted it. That’s because of book editors.

Indie Authors and Book Editors

Give book editors who work in mainstream publishing their props – they DO know what they are doing. And if you talk to any mainstream published author, I suspect you will hear that author say that their editors were invaluable in helping make the book better (just read the acknowledgements and see how many authors thank their editors). But let me see, you as the indie author think you can do better than this? How? What qualifies you to know how to edit your own books? There are questions you should be asking yourself.

Indie Authors and Copy Editors

The copy editor is someone who will look for your spelling and punctuation errors. But this person will also look for awkward transitions in sentences or paragraphs, redundancies, and hyperbole. I can’t tell you how many indie authors miss these last aspects. I see the same words used over and over again, or dangling participles, sentences that don’t read very well, to name a few. Most of your friends or family (can you say free book editing) or whoever you choose (if you even do) to let read your works are going to miss these kinds of things. And many of them won’t give you a truly honest opinion because they don’t want to hurt your feelings. But your readers won’t miss the mistakes – they may not be able to point out a sentence and say exactly what’s wrong, but it won’t read right to them, and this reflects negatively on you, the author.

Think this isn’t important? I’ve been to multiple book signings and conferences over the years and I’ve talked with mainstream published authors. They equate the copy editor to the teacher with the red pen. I remember Stephen White saying that when he got a book back from the copy editor, he felt like every sentence has a bit of red in it and he wondered if the editor hated him (he was joking of course). But he also says that it’s invaluable to the quality of his books. So ask yourself, do you think you’re that good? Is free book editing, or no book editing, worth it?

Indie Authors and Developmental Book Editing

There’s also developmental book editing, an area that I believe many indie authors miss completely. A developmental editor will, well…help develop your book. But what does this mean? This editor will help you shape your story and your writing. Developmental book editing is taking your story and making it better. It’s helping you to get your book to shine. But how many indie authors have anyone who does this kind of book editing for them? Or are you again looking for that free book editing, and is your writing suffering because of it?

I’ll give you an example. When I first wrote Nephilim Genesis of Evil, I had a whole storyline where the main characters think that what they are dealing with is vampires. My developmental book editor read Nephilim and said that part didn’t work. She explained how it wasn’t that the story as I had it was bad, but that it could be tightened by taking out these parts. And she was right. I cut over a hundred pages from the book. Was it hard to do? Sure, I wrote those words. I loved some of the characters that got knifed out of the book. But the old adage stands: don’t fall in love with your words.

Want another example? I had an agent interested in This Doesn’t Happen In The Movies. I’d met this agent at a conference, sold her on the book idea, and she wanted the first chapter. I sent it to her and she requested the whole book. But she didn’t take me on because she felt I had a bit too much in the book, that it needed a little tightening (she also said if she’d had more time, she would work with me). At that point, I hired a developmental editor who had me cut a Goofball Brother (read the book and it will make sense) and a few other minor things that had a huge impact on how the book reads. I still wonder if I’d had quality book editing before I queried that agent, I might be more like JA Konrath (going indie after I’d been mainstream published).

Indie Authors and Free Book Editing

So, if you’re trying to cut corners by using free book editing (your spouse, mother, father friend and so on), are you helping or hurting yourself? Many of you are going to say (or think) that a bad editor can ruin a book too. True, but overall it’s still taking a positive step in your writing journey, because you’re actually letting someone else edit your book. Too many indie authors get little or no editing.

I read another post where someone commented that indie authors don’t have the money to pay for this. I don’t want to offend, but that’s an excuse. When I first started writing, I was making about $8 an hour as a counselor but I still scraped up the money for writing conferences, books on writing, editors and so on. Why? Because I cared (and still care) about the quality of my writing. I want to be the indie author that wows people. And I know I’m not going to do this by putting out poorly written and poorly edited books. Free book editing is not for me.

Indie Authors and Book Buyers

I’ve had comments on other posts I’ve written that say that the cream will rise to the top. And I read an interesting comment on another blog about why that argument is bunk. I can’t find that post, but when I do, I will let you know, because it was a great point against thinking that it doesn’t matter if indie authors publish bad works because people will find the good books.

And what about our readers? There are Kindle forums with readers wanting to petition Amazon to have self-published books marked so readers know. If you’ve read those, yes, they are amusing and many of those people don’t seem to have a clue about what they read or who’s doing reviews and so on, but it’s still concerning to have the argument going on. I’ve seen other readers in blogs say they’ve read enough crap that they now check to see who is publishing the book so they can try to determine if the book has been self-published. This kind of thinking doesn’t bode well for the indie author. Wouldn’t it be better to publish great works first, and eliminate this argument all together?

I hope you find these posts helpful. Weigh in with your thoughts. For those of you who are interested in improving your writing, I’m putting more posts in the Writers Workshop area of my blog. There are some great tips here, but keep in mind, they are only tips. It’s worth it to get a qualified editor to review your book.

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About Renée Pawlish

Award-winning author Renée Pawlish writes the bestselling horror book, Nephilim Genesis of Evil, the Reed Ferguson mystery series, short stories and non-fiction ghost stories.
This entry was posted in Indie Author Handbook, Writers Workshop and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to Indie Authors and Book Editing

  1. I agree. It’s sad to think that writers are self-publishing poorly written books and tarnishing their names without realizing it. Hopefully, your post will help.

    By the way, I’m a freelance copyeditor and writing coach. I edit for grammar, spelling, punctuation, redundancies, etc. and I do developmental copyediting (which is a combination of copyediting and developmental novel editing.) If you know anyone who’d like a sample edit, send them my way. Thanks.

    Lynnette Labelle

    • ReneePawlish says:

      Thanks for your comment. Part of it is being cheap (I don’t mean that in an insulting way) but we all have expenses, and it’s hard to spend money on your books. But this is a critical area in which one should not cut corners. I hope people check out your services.

  2. Deb Dorchak says:

    Hi Reneé! Here’s the link to the post “Your Self-Publishing Checklist”.

    Got some posts on how much it ends up costing you when you go cheap, too. ;)

    Unfortunately, such is the trap a lot of first time self-pubbers and new business start-ups fall into. There’s a huge difference between being cheap and making an investment in your future. I do it myself because I have the skills and tools to do so. However, I know when something is out of my skill set and so does my business partner. That’s when we look for a pro in the areas we know we can’t do.

    I think a lot of these newbies would be very surprised to find out that when they set an intention to get something done, the pathways open up and the right help finds you.

    • ReneePawlish says:

      Thanks Deb, good info – I have a post on what an indie author should budget in terms of must-do costs, so I should get your input on that :)
      Folks, check out Deb’s site, she’s in the know on this stuff…

  3. Good post, Renee,

    I’ve read elsewhere that part of the problem is Indie authors being in a rush to hit the market just because they can. Some wise person said ‘you never get a second chance to make a first impression’ and I try to remember that.

  4. James Ross says:

    An editor is worth the cost no matter what the charges might be. The one word to me that stuck out in the article was “shine.” An author can wipe off the shoes, clean the surface and apply the polish. But it is the editor that can really make it “shine.”

    Virtually all the points made in the articles are on the mark An author should not cut corners when it comes time to put the final product on the market. The editor is a key part of the process and a necessity.

  5. Janis says:

    I am an Indie Author and I haven’t used an editor for my work. I have to admit it is not that I didn’t want to, but that I am overwhelmed. I know it is important to have my book edited, but where do you recommend Indie Authors start looking for editors? Thanks!

    • Renée Pawlish says:

      It’s tough – I would look locally, colleges maybe, to see if someone does editing. You can look online, but I’d vet the person closely, find out exactly what they are doing and ask to see who they done editing for, and see if that person can comment on how good or bad the editor was. Hope that helps and thanks for the comment.

  6. Amy says:

    I have been enjoying reading books by Indie authors recently, and I have to say that I agree with you about editing. I do not have a degree in journalism or English, but I AM that teacher with a red pencil. I always loved English and grammar in school and consider myself a member of the “Grammar Police”. I have even started to read reviews of books– especially ones and twos (on Amazon), and if any reviewers note editing issues, I immediately abandon the idea of buying that book.

    I teach elementary school, but am Nationaly Board Certified in English/ Language Arts, and could teach through eighth grade. I have become rather interested in becoming an editor. I think I have some of the skill sets– an eye for detail, a love of books and reading, the ability to see details that others miss; but I feel like Janis who said she feels overwhelmed. I have no idea where to start. Do I find an author, one whom I have read and noted grammatical errors in his or her books and offer to edit a book for free, or is there some type of website out there where authors can link with editors? From the research I have done, I know that I need to gain some experience, but how do I get an author to trust me when I have no experience other than the editing I do for my own students.

    I would love your ideas on this. I really am interested in this as a future career path.

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