Tuesday, March 31, 2015

I Am Grammar And So Can YOU!!! (Or why professional editing is important)

Almost every author interview I've done has included some variation on the following question: What advice do you have for aspiring indie authors?

My answer is invariably the same: Hire an editor.

Since it comes up so frequently, and has come up recently in a number of forums I'm a member of as well, I thought I would address it here on the blog:

So, you've decided to forgo traditional publishing and get your work out there yourself. For your own reasons you've decided you don't want to sign your rights over to a publisher. You believe in the quality of your story and your ability to take on all the work that goes into publishing a book yourself. Congratulations! That's awesome!

Now hire an editor.

Please, please, please, please... hire an editor. Don't ask your mom to do it, don't ask your spouse to do it, don't ask your best friend to do it. By all means, have those people read over your work and make suggestions, but for the love of every reader who may ever lay hands on your story, PAY A PROFESSIONAL to give you feedback. (Yeah, I know your mom has a Master's in Linguistics, and your best friend is an English teacher, and your spouse is an excellent writer with master editing skills. Mine too. You still need to hire an editor.)

Yep. I know, I know. You're an excellent writer, and a fantastic editor yourself, people ask you to edit their stuff all the time. I hear you.

You still need to hire an editor.

Don't get me wrong, you are editor number one for your own work, and you should do MULTIPLE revisions on your book before you even let anyone else see it. And by ALL MEANS once you've done those revisions you should show your book to your mother with a master's in linguistics, your friend who's an English teacher, and your spouse who is a spot on editor. You should take into account all of the suggestions that they make and use them to make your draft even better.

And then you should send it to a professional editor that you have paid with real money.

Why? Because a professional editor does not love you, is not worried about your feelings, and is getting paid to make your story better, so they have a strong motivation to tell you the truth about what in your story needs work. Even if your editor does love you (happens to be extended family or a good friend who is also a professional editor that you are actually paying with real money) the act of paying them, and thus having a professional exchange with someone who is used to expressing their opinions about--and making suggestions on how to improve--other people's work for a living, makes it possible for them to be critical in spite of how they feel about you. And that is, well... critical.

My mom really does have an MS in linguistics and a BA in literature. She's an excellent editor, and has been paid to edit many people's work over the years. She is one of my early readers and she catches many of my typographical errors, as well as comma splices, and many other issues I have with punctuation. She even catches awkward phrasing and confusing sentences. All of that is incredibly useful to me and I take advantage of her expertise all the time. But she won't let me pay her and ultimately, whenever she reads my work she raves about how wonderful everything is and never has anything critical to say about the larger story. I love how supportive she is, but my work needs to be edited by someone who is more willing to pull apart my failings as a writer.

My husband is an excellent editor. He's one of my first readers and he catches all manner of inconsistencies, sentences that are unclear, and character failings. He's a wonderful person to have reading my work after I've made first round of revisions. But he won't let me pay him and he's my husband, not a professional.

As a former high school Spanish teacher, I have a whole horde of friends who are English teachers. Many of them are excellent editors and people whose opinions I respect and seek out during the revision process. They make great early readers. But they won't let me pay them, and they're my friends. They are hesitant to hurt my feelings.

Paying someone to assess your work, in particular someone who is often paid for their feedback on writing (as in a professional editor), not only gives them permission to express their honest opinion about your work, it requires it of them. If they don't tell you what they honestly think will improve things they aren't holding up their part of the contract. And thus you can be sure that any praise is earned, as is any criticism.

Of course, then you get into the question of finding the right editor for your work. Not all editors are created equal, and amongst the greats there will be some that are better for your story than others. Do your research!

As a reader, I can tell whether or not an indie book has been professionally edited in the first ten pages. It's in those first ten pages that I usually decide whether I will buy the book or not, and if I'm not reading out of an obligation of some sort, I will put down a book that doesn't appear to have been professionally edited. Too many independent novels that I have picked up lately have made me want to put them down in these first few pages. Even if I am enjoying parts of the story, a lack of editing usually dissuades me from reading further because I keep getting knocked out of the story by typos, comma splices, repeated words or sentences, or any other number of distracting errors. And, that's not even getting into the plot holes and character failings etc. that generally tend to accompany books that haven't had a professional editor's eyes on them.

The one thing that all traditionally published books can guarantee is that they've had a professional editor look at them (though I will admit there are a handful that I've started to read that have made me question that). But with the majority of the competition out there professionally edited, why would you deprive yourself of starting your story on a level playing field? Independent novels are getting a bad name because too few indie authors are willing to put up the money for editing.

"But it's too expensive!" you say. I hear you.

I agree. It's expensive. Good editors aren't cheap. But, if you can't afford one (as I couldn't), I recommend running a crowdfunding campaign. It's not an easy thing to do, but it's well worth it, and you can also raise the money to buy a professional cover while you're at it, which should be number two on your list of things on which to spend money.

From a dream

To a reality

Crowdfunding campaigns are a lot of work, but they make indie publishing at a professional level possible, and you won't regret feeling sure that your book is going out into the world at the highest level you could get it.

It's easy to fall into thinking that you can do every single thing about publishing yourself, or that you should do all of it yourself. You can't and you shouldn't. You can be in charge of all of it, and the responsibility of it will lie entirely with you, but know your own strengths and weaknesses and work with them.

Once you've written a novel, you're too close to it to catch everything. Not because you're deluded into thinking it's perfect (though sometimes that happens), but because your brain expects to see things the way you meant them to be rather than the way that they are, and you will miss mistakes that are right in front of your eyes, simply because your brain is playing tricks on you. This is true for things as small as typos and as large as plot holes. It happens to all of us, it's not a failing of yours (or mine), but rather it's just the way our minds work.

Do yourself, and all of your future potential readers, a favor: hire an editor. 


  1. I still don't know how to make comments appear with the relevant entry. My bad. (My Stupid.) OK, having already dissed myself thoroughly, I have to say I prefer the Australian coast cover. I like the understated font--and I love the scene, which has just the right amount of Pretty and Massive and Summer and Rain.. The other one seems hyper-dramatic, esp. with the huge Gothic font. It's not about summer rain. It's about huge cataclysmic autumn storm-disaster. GO ON, KILL ME.

    1. Hahaha! No, I refuse to kill you. :-) I did say that there would be a few people who would still prefer the first cover. And luckily you already have your copy! (Plus I have a few paper copies stowed away with the original cover should you wish to keep one.) The new cover goes with the story of the Flaming Oak, and is much more likely to grab new readers who have never seen my work. But I love that you prefer the old cover, and it will always have a place in my heart. :-)