From the archives:
You Can’t Right, er, Rite, er, Write!
Originally published on-line January 21, 2006
So let’s pull out the big weapon against self-publishing: the editing. Here, folks, is where the heart of the issue lies. If it weren’t for the poorly—if at all—edited books that take up most of the self-publishing bin, self-publishing would be, as a guess, just as valid as “regular” publishing. I mean, really, the only difference, at its core, that separates self-publishing from traditional publishing is the author acts as the publisher and not someone else. I agree that the author can wear many hats when he/she publishes their own work (i.e. writing the actual book, laying it out—though only recommended if you know what you’re doing—even doing the cover—again, if you know what you’re doing) but when it comes to editing, GET SOMEBODY ELSE TO DO IT!! This should really go without saying but the biggest gripe against self-published works are not against the stories themselves, but the writing of the actual stories, that is the final presented form of these tales and how these stories were edited prior to being released.
Rule 1: A writer should edit his/her own work up to a final polished draft. For some it’s 3 drafts, for others it’s 4. Others do even more, as high as 20 or 30. You should never submit a first draft to an editor.
Rule 2: Get a professional editor to edit your work once you’ve taken it as far as you can go, defined as you think your final draft is perfectly edited. I promise you, it’s not. If you can’t afford an editor, save up until you can. Editing rates can vary from as little as a half cent per word to as much as $4.50 a page or higher. Find one who works within your budget but who also does a good job (see Rule 4).
Rule 3: See Rule 2.
Rule 4: When seeking an editor for Rule 2, this editor has to be either a) a professional editor, defined as they edit books for a living, or b) a seasoned writer with professional writing credits who is accessible and edits manuscripts on the side, and whose work you have read and who really seems to know their stuff. Even give them a sample page or two to edit to see how well they do the job. If they return the sample back to you with only a mistake or two corrected, odds are they didn’t edit thoroughly enough or—and this rarely happens—you are too good of a writer and only made one or two mistakes.
Rule 5: An editor should not be your best friend, your father/mother, your grandma or any family member distant or close, or anyone you’re close to.
Rule 6: This editor MUST give you constructive feedback and, more importantly, YOU MUST apply it to your work. Word choice is one thing to argue about, but if the editor says you’re doing such-and-such wrong in your grammar, LISTEN TO THEM! The greatest fault of any self-publisher is thinking they know best and they want their work to appear as they want it to appear, which basically means zero editorial application to the work in question. I’m not talking about an editor rewriting your work; I’m talking about them correcting stuff that needs to be corrected, like spelling, grammar, story continuity, character continuity, etc.
Rule 7: Once you’ve received your marked up manuscript from your editor, go over their suggestions/corrections then go over the book again yourself for anything that might have been missed by both of you. And, to be extra thorough, go over it yet another time just in case. At this point you’re pretty much going to have an as-close-to-perfect-as-possible manuscript which you can then take to the layout stage.
And even after laying it out, go through the book again one final time just in case anything got screwed up in the layout process.
A serious self-publisher has an editor. Period. If every self-publisher had a professional editor, the overall quality of self-published work would go way up, which in turn would change its image and help beat the stigma back a mile or two. One self-publisher doing it right helps the next. What a wonderful world it could be if every self-publisher went the distance and had their work edited. It’d give the industry one less thing to gripe about when complaining about self-published work.
Get to it.