gargoyle grumpy

Retread #2: Editors and Credibility

Several years ago I read a lot of spirited discussions on a LinkedIn writers’ group which no longer exists. I suspect it self-immolated. Here’s a post from early 2013. Grumpiness warning!

Since joining LinkedIn’s Fiction Writers’ Guild last year, I’ve wasted — er, spent a lot of hours reading and occasionally commenting on several discussions. They are all about fiction writing and increasingly about self-published fiction. Inevitably, the topic of editing comes up. Someone opines that of course a self-published work must be substandard if the author has skipped the all-important step of having their work “professionally edited.” In the throes of one of these debates, someone said, “A writer who edits him- or herself has a fool for a client,” echoing a similar opinion about people who represent themselves in a court of law.

I found this statement quite provocative and felt a Rant coming on. Several weeks have passed and now I can offer a few temperate observations.

First of all, I will say that a writer who has contracted with a “traditional” publisher to publish their work has no choice in the matter of being edited. Since the publisher is investing their time and treasure in the work, it is entirely logical that they should shape the product in whatever way they believe is necessary. I’ll say no more about this. This screed is entirely about self-published works.

“Editing” is not a monolithic process. There is structural or developmental editing, in which the editor suggests getting rid of characters or giving specific characters more important roles. Entire scenes or chapters may be cut, or new ones written. The entire novel may be rewritten. This is huge and fundamental stuff. To me it makes sense that structural editing happen[s] early in the writing process. A writer who is having trouble making their story come to life as envisioned may well need a structural edit.

Line and copy editing happen in the final stage of a manuscript’s life, to deal with things such as typos, grammatical problems and continuity.

Freelance editors with connections in the traditional publishing industry may be worth paying for, but I suspect they are in a position to command high prices and be selective as to which writers they take on — just like agents.

So who is a “professional editor?” Anybody. There is no accrediting body or degree-granting authority for editors. Like writers, they create their reputations by pursuing their craft. Success comes in the form of recognition by readers, writers and peers. And as with writers, just because someone calls themselves an editor doesn’t mean they are any good at it. Writers who want to hire an editor to help them structure their work or provide the professional polish are advised to use a process similar to that of hiring a contractor to do renovations on their house — request references and ask to see samples of their work. Someone suggested getting test pieces edited and going with the one you like best, but given some of the opinions expressed on LinkedIn, my suspicious self wondered if the opposite approach wouldn’t be better. We writers are a self-castigating bunch.

Here I’m getting into Rant territory again. Perhaps because the current abundance of self-published fiction includes quite a lot of naive, or unpolished, or — to be quite frank — “bad” writing, some people have decided that all self-published writers are childish, self-indulgent seekers of adulation, brainlessly inflicting half-baked textual travesties on the overburdened reading public. They need to be whipped into shape by Editors.

Like all sweeping condemnations, this bugs me. Which is why I’m writing this.

Back to that “fool for a client” remark. I disagree with that 100%. I think anyone who wants to call themselves a writer should also know how to edit. It’s part of the package.

Another thing to keep in mind is that independent, self-published authors are just that — independent. Unlike editors who work for publishing houses, they are not obliged to create a marketable “product” that will show a return on investment in a limited time. The self-published writer decides how much of their time and treasure they are going to invest in their work, and what constitutes success. Options for editing include critique groups, beta readers and endless rewriting.

In the end, what is the worst consequence of publishing a flawed, unpopular or obscure piece of writing? If it’s an e-book, it will cost the reader no more than a few dollars (less than $5 in many cases) and however much time they are prepared to spend reading until they decide a book isn’t for them. That happens all the time with traditionally published books — even so-called “best-sellers” — bought for considerably more money. And at least an unwanted ebook can be disposed of with the push of a button. It won’t be cluttering up anyone’s shelf or taking up space in the landfill.

33 comments

  1. I agree with you, Audrey. You get good and bad books in both Indie and traditional publishing. I like Indie books as the authors have more freedom with their writing and are not writing to the populist script of the moment. I have also read traditionally published books, including classics, which have errors in them. Indie writers should try and uphold a high standard in the presentation of their work by editing and traditionally published authors should criticize others for making different choices. To me it all boiled down to freedom of expression.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Readers are living in a golden age right now. There are so many choices and an enormous range of written works to explore. I find I’m reading at least as many indie authors as trad published, maybe more. Many indies are achieving high quality writing and production. Whether we do it by paid services or DIY should be invisible to the reader. Thanks for your comment, Robbie. It’s great to see folks I’ve met through blogging responding to my posts.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I could not agree more, Audrey. While I do like having more pairs of eyes checking a piece of my writing, there is no reason a writer can’t edit their own work. In fact, I’d argue that doing so is one of the keys to becoming a good writer.

    One of my favorite essayists, Paul Graham, once wrote an essay that touched on this. His main focus is technology startups, but he makes an effort to make points that can be generalized to any fields where there are “insiders” and “outsiders.” He wrote: “So if you want to beat those eminent enough to delegate, one way to do it is to take advantage of direct contact with the medium…for example, be both writer and editor, or both design buildings and construct them.” (His full essay is here, I’m quoting from the section called “Delegation”: http://www.paulgraham.com/marginal.html)

    Is it harder to edit your own work? Sure; it absolutely is, at least if you do it well. But if it were easy, everyone would do it. I think there are great benefits to someone hard-working and disciplined enough to actually do it.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. There are techniques for self-editing that can be learned and Word’s “find” function really can find many niggling errors. For writers who want to produce a good quality book but can’t afford a competent editor, much can be accomplished with a critique group, beta readers and self-editing. Thanks for the link; I’ll take a look right now.

      Liked by 2 people

    2. That Paul Graham article is really interesting. Note that it was written in 2006, before indie publishing really took off. I like his term “hacking things together.” That’s what a lot of us do, with varying degrees of success. Thanks for the link, Berthold.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. As a reader, I like a smooth (edited) read, no matter how it got there, and surely there are authors who can self-edit well although I reckon they are few and far between.

    Also, a novel doesn’t have to be perfectly edited for me to enjoy the story.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. That’s actually true, Priscilla. A few small errors aren’t a problem, if the story and use of language are good. But if a word is consistently spelled incorrectly, or there are so many errors that I find myself noticing them (Uh-oh, there’s another one!) it takes my estimation of the work down a notch.

      Liked by 2 people

  4. I only wish that indie authors would at least have somebody proofread and copy edit their work before hitting the “publish” button. More in-depth editing, sure, that should be up to the indie author. But it drives me crazy when I read a self-published book that is filled with typos.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. If there are enough errors that you start anticipating the next one, that’s bad. Copy editing and proofreading can be learned, but authors who don’t want to slog through that really should find someone to do it for them. The developmental stuff can be done with critique partners and beta readers, as long as they give useful advice.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. The one thing I’m going to quibble with is that authors can copy edit and proofread their own work. Once you’ve written and edited something over and over again, you lose sight of what you’re reading. But, yes, critique partners and beta readers can help as long as they give useful advise.

        I’ve learned that with my own work, I will inevitably miss typos. It takes several layers of other readers to catch all of them.

        Liked by 2 people

  5. Totally agree, Audrey. To be able to edit your own work is a valuable skill, and I don’t really understand why more indie writers don’t spend some time developing that skill. For one thing, even if they wind up hiring a proofreader or copyeditor, that person’s job is a lot easier (and potentially cheaper!) with a clean manuscript.

    As an editor and writer myself, I’ve always handled my own editing and proofreading, and I admit that it can be pretty fraught. But one key is to “ABE”: Always Be Editing. Every time I read a passage written the day before, I spot problems and fix them. By the time I’m done writing, I have a draft that doesn’t need much work, and the proofreading goes a lot more smoothly.

    Thanks for your take on this!

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Agree! I’m entirely self-edited – I don’t trust anybody else, either for technical knowledge like grammar or usage, or for chopping and adding material. I recognize that my books are too long, but I basically write for myself and if other people tinkered with my writing, it wouldn’t be my book any longer. No reviewer has ever said I was a bad writer, even in the unfavorable reviews.
    I’ve edited a couple of books – one for someone I met way back when I first went on social media (that one needed stringent technical editing for matters like usage – my favorite gaffe was “the horse was eating juicy chutes”). The second was a work put together for the purpose of raising money for animal shelters. It was a lot of work and I decided I didn’t want to do it again, because nobody likes you when you criticize their babies! Heh heh

    Liked by 3 people

      1. I occasionally do catch an error after publication, but nothing bad enough to warrant uploading a different text (except when I was new at self-publishing and ended up repeating several paragraphs). And I don’t find any errors in your books either, Audrey. I learned my grammar from my mother, who taught English and Spanish.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. It took me awhile to figure out what that gaffe was really supposed to say!

      When I see glaring errors in writing, it slows me down in my reading, often to the point of abandoning the book or article completely.

      Liked by 3 people

  7. I tend to think of self publishing as a business. Therefore, as a small business person, I have to weigh the cost of editing versus the potential profits.

    To be honest, I believe the benefits outweigh the costs.

    Of course, I don’t spend nearly as much money as a traditional publishing company might, and, when I put my job out for proposals, I am specific in my expectations and needs.

    That being said, it is very interesting that traditional publishers, who must also watch the bottom line, spend so much money on this process. They obviously find that there is value in it.

    Liked by 3 people

  8. Well ranted. I think it’s not well recognised that editors cost more than what most self published authors can afford, so the choice isn’t really there. Some say, that’s the price of entry. But that’s a bit harsh on the poverty stricken but worthy writer.

    Liked by 1 person

What do you think? Opinions welcome!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.