The Need for Editing by Christopher Patterson
As a writer, one of the advantages of getting picked up by any publishing house, whether major or small publisher, is the benefits artwork, interior design, direction, and, yes, editing. These were the carrots at the end of the stick that all writers chased even just ten years ago. As a writer, you couldn’t make it without these services and, lets be honest, they were just so expensive and unreliable if you didn’t have a publishing house taking care of them for you. I mean, how are you supposed to pay for any of this stuff if you’re not making money from your craft.
Then comes along CreateSpace and IngramSpark and a number of other companies that are now offering writers the opportunity to self-publish, retain all authority over their own work, and minimal out of pocket expenses when it comes to these crucial components of publishing a book. Suddenly, authors aren’t chasing the big dogs anymore and even previously published authors are going the self-published route. Its amazing. What an opportunity. It’s the free market at work. Its American ingenuity. And then here comes the flood of stories that are maybe promising, but…well, could have used just a little work. Here are the books that are really good, but they are so hard to read because of the internal formatting. The books that are awesome, but no one ever picks it because the cover is terrible, some homemade picture or drawing that looks like it was done by a six year old. And then there are the downright, awful, terrible stories that really have no business being published.
I mention all of these because I know that I have fallen into each one of these categories. After chasing after big publishers and agents for several years, I finally received what every author dreams of—a contract with a publishing company. It was a small press, which was fine. This was my chance to make it big, get my feet wet, get a start and then move on to bigger and better things. However, I didn’t realize that I still had a lot of work to do. In fact, the easy part was creating my story. So, after rounds and rounds of editing, people leaving the company, and getting mixed reviews from past and present authors with this particular press, I decided to do something incredibly crazy and leave, back out of my contract, and self-publish (much to the encouragement of one of my previous editors).
I love American and am deeply proud of American ingenuity and entrepreneurship, but they do have their dark sides. In the world of writing and publishing, one of the things that has happened is a complete shift towards DYI—do it yourself. I think the greatest mistake many DYI authors make is the avoidance of editing services. And I get it. I was one of those guys. And why do we, as authors, ignore the obvious need for professional editing?
- I’m a great writer and it’s expensive. Why would I pay for something I can do myself?
I know a guy (or gal in my case) who’s getting their Masters in Creative Writing. I’ll just use them.
I’ve got a couple friends that will do it.
I’ll pay CreateSpace to do it. It’s a little cheaper.
People know I’m a self-published author. They’ll forgive me.
So I am sure there are more excuses—and that’s what they are—that a self-published author can give, but let me give a resounding response to all of these, which, by the way, are all excuses that I have given. My response is ...
Not just no, but HELL NO!
I’m a teacher. I hope to one day be able to make a living through my craft as a writer, but as a teacher, I couldn’t begin to tell you how many times I have come across disgruntled parents. They weren’t necessarily upset with me, but just upset.
All of these people are experts in their respective fields. Just as you are an expert in writing whatever genre it is you write. Just as you are an expert in whatever other field in which you might work. But teaching that subject to another human being is a whole other ball game. It’s different. You see, you get whatever it is you do. You understand it. In fact, you probably don’t go through the steps and processes that you once went through in order to do what you do. You are so automatic at your area of expertise that there are times where you have to take a step back and actual refresh yourself on the steps that you once took, reevaluate, and even relearn. I know I have to do both of those as a writer and teacher. Someone who is learning math doesn’t “get” math and a teacher is a person who not only “gets” it, but has been equipped with the tools to teach it to someone else. They may not be engineers, but they can prepare someone else to be an engineer.
Writing is very much the same. I write. I get writing. In many cases, I just write. I don’t do as much planning as I once did, not that planning isn’t important. I just know what I am going to do, how to do it, etc. However, I don’t necessarily understand industry dynamics. I don’t necessarily understand the changing trends in the science fiction and fantasy world. I’ve never studied marketing side of fantasy fiction. In fact, even though I had to self-edit in college, I’ve never really studied editing.
So, you see, you need an editor, and not a buddy who reads a lot of what genre you write, and not some starving college student, but a professional editor. This is their job. This is how they make money. This is what they do and, by doing it well, get more clients.
You will never have an objective eye for your own work. There will always be something in your story that needs to go, or needs to change, and you won’t have the will power to do it without someone, metaphorically of course, standing over you and making you do it. I finally hired a professional editor. The comments I was receiving on Amazon in regards to editing, the slow pace of A Chance Beginning, and the lack of buy through to my second book, Dark Winds, was finally enough to give me cause to call up a local publishing company in Tucson, meet with them, and then have them recommend an editor that could work with me and, after looking at what I had, want to work with me. One of the first things Graham did was tell me I had to cut the first three chapters. Then, at what I thought was an integral part of the story, he told me to remove that as well. My heart was broken. I felt crushed. I wanted to cry (maybe I did but I’ll never admit it) and it was the best thing to ever happen to my story. Suddenly, I started realizing things about my story, and about the industry and genre that I write for, that I never had before. You see, Graham is an expert in the fantasy and science fiction genre. He has experience editing in this genre. He studies the industry and studies trends. He studies story arcs and the different ideas on creating a plot and characters. Yes, these are all things that I have done as well, but not as in depth. This is what he does.
So, is it expensive?
Is it worth it?
ABSOLUTELY 100% YES!
In my opinion, what are the steps to getting an editor?
1. Get an idea of how much it is going to cost and start saving.
I knew it was going to cost me about $2000. I started saving. Graham was okay with doing a section at a time—2 -3 chapters—and so that helped with the cost as well. I didn’t have to come up with everything up front. I would discourage people from taking out loans to do this. I’m not big on debt in the first place and what if it takes a long time for everything to work out? What then? Just save. Forgo cable and eating out and whatever else so you can pay for editor. And understand it wont happen tomorrow. We want instant gratification so badly. It may take a year or more and that’s okay.
2. Find an editor who is recommended by another author, publisher, agent, etc.
Just because some says they are editors, doesn’t mean they are. I think recommendations from the industry go a long way. Heck, when we start selling our books, our biggest marketing campaign will be word of mouth, right. So, contact some people. You would be surprised at how willing the big names in your genre would be to giving you five or ten minutes to just give you a coupe bits of advice, including a couple names of editors. They were like us once. They want to help.
3. Find an editor who knows your genre.
You actually do have a friend who is a legitimate, professional editor. Heres the catch: You write mystery and suspense and they edit romance novels. I’m sorry. It’s not going to work. I know they are your friend and I know they might get their feelings hurt and you might save some money, but they don’t know your industry. They don’t know your genre. They know their genre. It would like someone saying to me, “Hey, I know you’re a teacher. I would like to hire you to tutor my kid.”
“Okay, what do they need help with?”
“But I’m a history teacher.”
“That’s okay. You’re a teacher.”
So, find an editor who specifically works with your genre.
4. Find an editor with a good resume.
Probably secondary to recommendations, make sure your editor has a good track record, a good resume. I understand, just like us as fledgling authors, some editors need a way to get their feet wet, but do you want to chance the success of your book to that? Most editors will work for a publisher, newspaper, magazine, online blog, etc. at some point. That is how they get their feet wet. They don’t get their feet wet by doing freelance work for self-published authors. Find someone who has experience. And be wary of discounts. Be willing to pay top dollar for good work.
5. Until you have found someone able to edit your work, don’t worry about cover artwork, marketing, or anything else. Take care of the content first.
Yes the cover needs to catch the eye, and marketing can turn a great book into a best seller, but if what is in between the covers isn’t quality, for 99% of authors, you won’t go anywhere.
I had mentioned earlier that I had dealt with many of the issues a self-published author deals with. When I first published through CreateSpace, my story was good but the writing was a disaster. The cover was terrible. My friend took some really cool shots of a sword and of a flame, but when we put it to the cover, it just looked awful. The internal layout was all jacked up. Spacing was off. Page breaks were off. It was a mess. So I did what any self-published author should do, I revised. And it got better. I paid someone to do my cover and now its pretty good. I adjusted the layout—put a little money into having it done. Much better. I cleaned up the writing. Better. But the problem was I never had someone professionally look at it, and I should have done that first. I pretty much did everything backwards.
So, take it from me, if you want success as a writer, the first thing you need to do is save up and hire a good editor.
I know its been a while. Stay tuned for my next bit of advice—hiring an agency to help you self-publish. What? I know. Sounds weird. But again, if I could do this whole process all over again, that’s what I would’ve done in the first place, and what I am doing now.
Hope you enjoyed this weeks article and writing tips. Until next time, HAPPY READING!!!
Make sure you visit Christopher Patterson’s website at www.christopher-patterson.comand also make sure you sign up for his monthly newsletter where you can keep up to date with what’s going on in his world, his articles and blogs, get access to freebies, and experience promotional material. You can sign up for Christopher Patterson’s email newsletter here