A Professional Editor Takes on Self-Editing

by Joel Friedlander on October 5, 2012 · 90 comments

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By Linda Jay Geldens

Linda Jay is a very experienced book editor and member of the Board of Directors of the Bay Area Independent Publishers Association (BAIPA). Her last contribution to the blog was 6 Ways Copyeditors Make Your Book Better. Today she gives us her take on the practice known as “self-editing.”



Recently I’ve noticed a topic popping up more and more in books, workshops and seminars, even those offered by Writer’s Digest. Targeted mostly toward indie authors (perhaps you’re in that category), these books, workshops and seminars encourage writers to self-edit their own work before they self-publish.

Now, self-editing is fine. Going through your manuscript’s rough drafts several times over a period of weeks searching for errors and omissions, perhaps even reading the text aloud to catch awkward phrasing or redundancies or overcomplicated construction, is certainly not going to hurt—and possibly might even improve—your writing.

But let’s face it, there’s only so much self-editing an author can do. Frankly, you as the author are too close to the subject matter to be objective, even if you take a break from the material and come back to it later.

In my opinion—and I’m not just saying this because I happen to be an experienced book manuscript copyeditor—an author truly needs an editor’s fresh perspective to make his or her writing as excellent and polished as it can possibly be.

Recently I made editorial suggestions to an author, pointing out missing information and details in her novel; of course, she hadn’t left out facts intentionally. But on the other hand, she hadn’t noticed that she needed to “fill in the blanks” in that particular section of text so that a reader could understand the characters in-depth.

I also offered specific ideas for improving the text that the author hadn’t thought of, but was happy to implement immediately:

  • short titles summing up each chapter,
  • translations of Latin terms and phrases so that the reader will understand their meaning,
  • clarification and explanation of obscure historical points,
  • easily understood transitions between scenes.

The Role of Traditional Publishers?

Traditional publishers no longer pay for the routine editing of manuscripts, and self-publishers often believe that they cannot afford to hire a professional editor.

If you as an author have done your best self-editing but are still convinced that you want a professional editor to work with you, ask the editor to work on just a few chapters at a time. That way, it’s within the realm of financial possibility.

Far beyond being merely a spell-checker, a good copyeditor is essentially able to “hear” what an author has written, and sense how a piece of writing will be received by other readers. An experienced copyeditor will also notice if the writer has made unfounded assumptions about the subject matter or the intended audience.

In other words, self-editing is indeed useful, but it will never take the place of the opinions and comments of a professional wordsmith.

The two processes should be used in tandem.

copyeditingLinda Jay Geldens is a longtime publishing professional who has edited over 60 book manuscripts in the past three years. She specializes in the genres of: business, novels, memoirs, spirituality, sci fi, academic topics and children’s. Linda is also a promotional copywriter.  Contact her at LindaJay@aol.com, visit her site at www.LindaJayGeldens.com, or connect on Twitter at @LindaJayGeldens.

Photo credit: Nic’s events via photopin cc

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    { 85 comments… read them below or add one }

    Michael N. Marcus October 4, 2012 at 11:38 pm

    Sadly, not just economics and ignorance, but ego often cause self-publishing writers to forego professional editing.

    Even editors who write books should hire editors. It’s vital to have at least one additional pair of eyes examine the text. Very often a writer will not see errors, or will think words are on a page that are merely in the head.

    I once asked the author of a horrible, error-ridden book why she did not hire an editor. She replied, “I am an editor.”

    Michael N. Marcus
    http://www.BookMakingBlog.blogspot.com
    http://www.SilverSandsBooks.com
    http://www.BookFur.com
    http://www.Facebook.com/SilverSandsBooks

    Reply

    Linda Jay Geldens October 5, 2012 at 9:27 am

    Michael,

    Your observations are so true. Ego certainly does play a role in whether an author actively seeks a manuscript editor — even though it’s up to the author to accept or reject edits that are suggested.

    Reply

    Marilyn Slagel October 4, 2012 at 11:44 pm

    Hi, Joel!
    I was on the conference call with Dan Blank recently and enjoyed hearing your ideas. Love your website and just want to say that this article is so true.

    I am a medical editor 40 hours a week. I thought I could copy edit my own book. No way! On the advice of my publisher, Abbott Press, after seeing a 1700 word sample edit, I realized just how much the author does not see!

    I paid for the Line Editing and now look forward to a much more polished book.

    Thanks to both of you – great article!

    marilyn slagel

    Reply

    Linda Jay Geldens October 5, 2012 at 9:29 am

    Hi, Marilyn,

    Case in point! Glad the line editing you paid for resulted in a more polished book for you.

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander October 5, 2012 at 10:00 am

    Marilyn,

    Thanks for stopping by, I always enjoy those calls with Dan’s group, and this one was no exception.

    Reply

    Ernie Zelinski October 5, 2012 at 1:36 am

    I agree with you. After all the self-editing that I did for my inspirational novel “Look Ma, Life’s Easy: How Ordinary People Attain Extraordinary Success and Remarkable Prosperity”, I hired a freelance editor for around $400. I was quite surprised by the number of grammatical errors that she found. She was well worth the price.

    Even so, I still like this quotation:

    “Write drunk; edit sober.”
    — Ernest Hemingway

    And this one is not all that bad:

    “There’s no thief like a bad book.”
    — Italian Proverb

    In short, even if a bad book is edited perfectly, well . . . . you know what I want to say.

    Ernie J. Zelinski
    International Best-Selling Author, Innovator, and Prosperity Life Coach
    Author of the Bestseller “How to Retire Happy, Wild, and Free”
    (Over 165,000 copies sold and published in 9 languages)
    and the International Bestseller “The Joy of Not Working’
    (Over 250,000 copies sold and published in 17 languages)

    Reply

    Linda Jay Geldens October 5, 2012 at 9:33 am

    Ernie,

    Since the freelance editor you hired found grammatical errors before your book was printed, yes, good investment!

    LindaJay

    Reply

    Esmeralda October 5, 2012 at 4:16 am

    The history of literature is full of beloved classics that were never “edited” by anyone other than the author.

    I agree that most manuscripts, especially those written by fairly new writers, would benefit from a good editor. But like most articles on this subject, this one oversells the idea.

    A professional editor does not have magical powers. She or he does not and can not do anything that a good writer couldn’t do him/herself. And just as a good editor may be able to make a flawed manuscript better, a bad editor can make a good manuscript worse.

    I don’t object to people promoting the services of professional editors. I DO object to people overselling those services, as in “an author truly needs an editor’s fresh perspective to make his or her writing as excellent and polished as it can possibly be.” That statement just isn’t always true, period.

    Reply

    Tracy R. Atkins October 5, 2012 at 7:38 am

    Esmeralda,

    Although the majority of writers have the ability to self-edit to some degree, I feel strongly that most will benefit from a professional service. I would wager that only one in a thousand writers possess the necessary skills to successfully edit their manuscript to a professional level. Even then, a proofread by a third party is advisable.

    Aside from line edits, content editorial work can be very valuable. Writing in a bubble can lead to issues with the story missing elements. It is not always the case, but still something to consider.

    Writers, like every profession, has a bell-curve of skill. Those at one end may be fine, but the majority of us in the hump need some form of assistance. I am one of those people and I feel that my editor was an irreplaceable companion on my author journey.

    -Tracy

    Reply

    Esmeralda October 5, 2012 at 8:23 am

    Tracy,

    You reminded me of another problem I have with the overselling of professional editors: The sad fact is that most people (I won’t say 999 out of a thousand, but most) who are trying to write simply don’t possess the necessary skills to produce anything readable — with or without a professional editor.

    A professional editor can’t help these people, and advising them to hire one is advising them to dump money down a well. Of course, no would-be writer believes that they’re in that hopeless majority, but it’s a sad reality of life. There’s a point at which the selling of professional editing and cover-design services to self-publishing writers blends into the bad old days of vanity presses — it becomes a way to make money off of people who are delusional about their talent.

    Reply

    Linda Jay Geldens October 5, 2012 at 10:11 am

    Esmeralda,
    Self-published writers want their books to be of high quality. To achieve that goal, hiring professional editors and cover designers is often an excellent decision. I cannot agree that most would-be writers are incapable of producing anything readable.

    Reply

    Esmeralda October 5, 2012 at 10:24 am

    “I cannot agree that most would-be writers are incapable of producing anything readable.”

    I imagine our definitions of “readable” differ significantly. Perhaps I should have said “salable in sufficient quantities to earn back any significant investment made in professional services.” That’s a more quantifiable thing, and one that’s less arguable. Or at least it would be less arguable, if any statistics were available.

    Joel Friedlander October 5, 2012 at 10:16 am

    Esmeralda,

    If by “overselling” you mean making false or misleading claims, of course that’s bad business practice and something authors ought to be aware of and guard themselves against by getting educated on the process.

    However, most people who are trying to write absolutely deserve the chance to tell their stories, and saying that most people don’t have the skill to produce something readable seems to me to be another expression of the “gatekeeper” mentality that’s kept many writers silent for too long.

    If someone has a “story that must be told” I hope they will publish it no matter how much editorial help they need. Many of the books produced by amatuers using the new tools of self-publishing won’t be read by many people, but so what? In my experience, most authors don’t self-publish from a commercial motive.

    Writing your story, no matter what it is or how well you tell it, is a basic form of self-expression. If you then decide to publish it for a wider audience, editing should be considered a necessity.

    And thanks for taking the time to comment here.

    Reply

    Linda Jay Geldens October 5, 2012 at 9:57 am

    Tracy,
    Glad you feel that your editor was “an irreplaceable companion on your author journey.” That’s the whole idea. That’s the way the author/editor relationship should be — collaborative. And yes, some writers are absolutely capable of self-editing; but still, as you say, a professional editor might take their writing to an even higher level.

    Reply

    Linda Jay Geldens October 5, 2012 at 9:51 am

    Hi, Esmeralda,
    That’s for sure — a professional editor does not have magical powers. But an experienced editor does have the judgment and the discernment and the ability to make useful suggestions that come from years of working with manuscripts. It’s up to the author to choose an editor with a solid, proven track record. I stand by my statement that a professional editor can improve an author’s writing.

    Reply

    Esmeralda October 5, 2012 at 10:08 am

    “I stand by my statement that a professional editor can improve an author’s writing.”

    I have no problem with that statement. The difference between “can” and “will” (as you said in the article) makes all the difference.

    Reply

    Carol October 5, 2012 at 11:16 am

    I’ve been a professional editor for decades, & a writer as well, & like Esmeralda I’m very dubious about the popular generalization that every author should hire a professional editor. That’s a great way for us editors to cultivate a new income stream since publishers’ budgets have shrunk; but how ethical is it, given that most self-published books sell fewer than 150 copies? & no 2 editors recommend exactly the same changes in any ms.? Sure, everybody has a right to tell their story, but not everybody has the ability to fascinate potential readers/buyers, with or without an editor. Unless an author is OK with losing $$ on the project, why not start with reviews (e.g. from literate friends) &/or a diagnostic evaluation for an affordable fee, before committing to a full edit?

    Reply

    Linda Jay Geldens October 5, 2012 at 12:30 pm

    Hi, Carol,
    Reviews from literate friends and a diagnostic evalution for a reasonable fee are good beginning steps. But if a self-published author is serious about producing a high-quality book, working with a professional editor is an important next step.

    Joel Friedlander October 5, 2012 at 1:16 pm

    Carol, I think that’s a decision that should be left to the author/publisher. Unless you are publishing for completely commercial motives, the expected return on your investment is not necessarily the best way to decide whether to hire a professional editor or not. If an author is realistic about her goals and likely outcomes, it’s her decision how much to spend on making her book the best it can be.

    Ruth O'Brien October 5, 2012 at 3:11 pm

    Hi Jack,
    I’m an experienced editorial director, managing editor, editor, copy editor and writer. Self-editing is part of the WRITING and REVISING process. It’s circular and multi-layered, but it in no way takes the place of the editing and copy editing stages, which take place after the writing is over. A writer doing her own copy editing is like a surgeon doing her own brain surgery. Very sloppy! I know many writers who think they can do their own editing and bristle at the suggestion that they might benefit from a professional copy editor. Big mistake.

    Copy editing is a highly developed editorial skill and an art form. Professional editors are worth their weight in gold. I definitely hired a copy editor for my newly published first novel, The Darcy Widow Journals, First Kiss. It was worth every dime.

    Reply

    Linda Jay Geldens October 5, 2012 at 4:49 pm

    Amen, Ruth! I could not agree with you more.
    Congratulations on the publication of your first novel.

    Reply

    Carol Brill October 5, 2012 at 4:37 am

    Linda, I could not agree more. I had no idea of the value a professional editor brings until I hired one. Sure she found grammar and spelling errors, but her insights about character development, transitions, sharpening plot, showing etc. etc. were priceless.
    Not only did the experience make my MS better, it helped me become a better writer.

    Reply

    Linda Jay Geldens October 5, 2012 at 10:14 am

    Hi, Carol,
    Glad the editor you worked with was so helpful, both in your particular manuscript in specific, and in helping you become a better writer in general.
    LindaJay

    Reply

    Jo Michaels October 5, 2012 at 4:54 am

    I’m in agreement with Linda (especially with all the books I’ve read with glaring errors) with a caveat: If you don’t believe in editors, pass your book to SOMEONE and at least get some kind of feedback. I cannot stress that point enough. Yes, we know grammar and proper use of words. No, we will not find all our errors (no matter how good we are). WE know what we’re trying to say. We need to give our manuscript to someone who has no idea and see if the story is translated the same way.

    Your reviews will suffer if you don’t. Not to mention you’ll alienate potential fans if they happen upon a shite manuscript wrought with errors.

    Great post. WRITE ON!

    Reply

    Linda Jay Geldens October 5, 2012 at 10:17 am

    Hi, Jo,

    Glad we’re in agreement about getting feedback on your manuscript before it’s published. That’s the whole idea. I can’t tell you how many friends have told me that they’re reading books published by major publishers, and the text is absolutely riddled with errors — so distracting, so unnecessary. LindaJay

    Reply

    R.B. Davidson October 5, 2012 at 4:58 am

    I completely agree. I am looking to self-publish my epic fantasy manuscript next year and just spent a long time interviewing editors. I’ve hired one to do a manuscript assessment and plan on them doing a line edit and another editor to do a copyedit. Its expensive, but just based on the samples edits I got from the editors I interviewed I know the end result will be a far superior novel.

    Reply

    Linda Jay Geldens October 5, 2012 at 10:19 am

    Hi, R.B.,
    So good to hear you’re convinced of the value of working with editors, and that you’ve taken the time to find the right editors for you. It’s so, so important to getting a great result. LindaJay

    Reply

    TNeal October 5, 2012 at 5:27 am

    I believe, for an indie author, going to press before an editor looks at the manuscript is a mistake. I recognize the added expense of a good editor but I also know the value added as well. My novel didn’t go out the door until my editor said it was ready for publication. In my case, my wife is a freelancer who has a number of award-winning books to her editing credit. Her stamp of approval lent credibility to the process and, in those moments of writer’s doubt, I said, “Yes, the book was ready to be released into the reading world,” based on my editor’s experiences with other authors.

    Reply

    Linda Jay Geldens October 5, 2012 at 10:23 am

    Hi, TNeal,

    Wonderful that you believe that an experienced editor adds value to an indie author BEFORE he or she goes to press! At the moment I’m working with an author who wants to know when her manuscript will be ready for publication. That’s where experience comes into play.

    Reply

    chris October 5, 2012 at 6:51 am

    Self-editing makes you question everything you write. Email, memo notes, grocery lists, etc. Keep your sanity; don’t do it.*

    *This message has not been edited by a professional. Therefore, any mistakes regarding spelling, grammar, or intent are unintentional and should be regarded as such.

    Reply

    Tracy R. Atkins October 5, 2012 at 7:44 am

    Chris,

    Man, that’s the truth! I feel paralyzed with our MS Word some days. I’m part of the spell-check generation!

    Reply

    Linda Jay Geldens October 5, 2012 at 10:44 am

    Tracy,
    Spell-check often misses the fine points, though — for example, the difference between its and it’s (I do hope, though, that spell-check rejects the non-word its’ — with an apostrophe after the s). I’m so pleased that I’ve mastered Word’s editing feature Track Changes. It opened up a whole new world to those of us who used to edit only with hard copy and red pen!

    Reply

    Linda Jay Geldens October 5, 2012 at 10:27 am

    Hi, Chris,
    Very funny! It might be good to self-edit your e-mails, but I think you could draw the line at memo notes and grocery lists…
    I can’t tell you how many friends have dashed off e-mails to me, and then said in a note at the bottom: Please don’t edit this.

    Reply

    Joan October 5, 2012 at 7:39 am

    While I understand the advice of having an editor go over just a few chapters at a time, I have to caution about this as well. The time breaks between chapters mean the editor’s mind gets “out of the project”, and continuity problems may still exist. It’s kind of like having a critique group look at one chapter a week, then if they read the whole book at the end they will find things they never noticed in the first read.

    I realize the poster included this option as a help for those who couldn’t afford otherwise. I just felt a caveat needed to be added.

    Reply

    Linda Jay Geldens October 5, 2012 at 10:31 am

    Hi, Joan,
    Thanks for your thoughtful comment. You may be right, but in my experience, when I’ve returned to a project after a break of several days or even several weeks, I’ve been able to get right back into the editing after a brief review of what’s come before. LindaJay

    Reply

    Tracy R. Atkins October 5, 2012 at 7:47 am

    That’s a great point Joan.

    Line edits for grammar is one thing. If you want everything to flow well, you need continuity. Readers may hit one chapter at a time, but I know a lot of people that will marathon a book from cover to cover. That experience exposes any flaws in flow and continuity. The editor needs that same continuity when performing the work.

    Reply

    Linda Jay Geldens October 5, 2012 at 10:33 am

    Hi, Tracy,
    Well, as I just answered Joan, I’ve had many projects that I’ve come back to after a break of several days or even weeks. After a brief review of what’s gone before, I’ve been able to pick up the editing thread right where I left off.

    Reply

    Martha Stettinius October 5, 2012 at 7:49 am

    Yes, even if you’re an editor, you need to hire at least one editor to review your manuscript. I ended up hiring 4 editors over 4 years! Each brought their own strengths. Then, a few weeks before I published my book through my own publishing company, a friend, who works as a proofreader for major publishing companies, volunteered to check the draft. Thank God she did, because she found dozens of errors that no one else had caught. Each time I thought my book was well-edited, it was not. I encourage any self published author to invest in multiple editors and a final proofreading.

    author, “Inside the Dementia Epidemic: A Daughter’s Memoir”
    published Sept. 2012. http://www.insidedementia.com

    Reply

    Linda Jay Geldens October 5, 2012 at 12:33 pm

    Thanks for your comment, Martha. You are the true voice of experience regarding the importance of working with editors who bring different areas of expertise to the project.

    Reply

    Linton Robinson October 5, 2012 at 10:35 am

    You know… I can’t help going, “Whoa! Somebody who makes a living editing thinks you have to have a professional editor to survive?”
    We hear this over and over and over.
    Dentists probably think you can’t get published without having your cavities filled.
    That’s a harsh reaction, I guess. But think about it.
    And think about what we end up reading in all the forms and blogs and “content”.
    What might be innovative and interesting would be an article about how indie writers can AVOID spending money on covers and editing and publicists and web designers.
    Sorry to be grumpy, but am I all wet on this?

    Reply

    Linda Jay Geldens October 5, 2012 at 12:38 pm

    Linton,
    You don’t have to have a professional editor to survive, but it’s working with a professional editor will help improve your writing.

    Reply

    Nas Hedron October 29, 2013 at 11:04 am

    Linton,
    Yes and no–you are and are not all wet on this.
    An editor is not just someone who reviews your writing with attention to detail. Editors have a specific set of skills that most writers don’t have. For instance, there are a myriad of conventions that go into editing (some of which are about grammatical correctness, and others of which have nothing at all to do with it) that contribute to a text having a professional “feel” when you read it. That’s why style guides like the Chicago Manual of Style can run to hundreds and hundreds of pages. When do you hyphenate and when do you not? When does punctuation go inside a quote and when does it go outside? When is the word “mom” capitalized and when isn’t it (yes, there’s a rule for that). You may think that these are tiny, arcane points, but they add up to a polished, professional style that readers associate with a book that’s been professionally produced. They also tend to notice when it’s absent, in which case the writing can seem amateurish.
    It’s also notoriously difficult to spot issues in your own work just because you wrote it. You tend to see what you think you wrote rather than what’s actually on the page.
    On the other hand, I agree that helping indie authors avoid spending any more money than they have to on editing is entirely worthwhile. I specialize in working with indie authors, but I *want* my clients to do as much of the editing as they’re capable of doing for at least two reasons.
    First, it makes my life easier. Believe it or not, even if I can make money by correcting simple errors that an author could have corrected on their own, I’d rather not. These tend to be simple erros, and the same one will often appear many times in a manuscript, making it painfully tedious to correct.
    Second, when an author gets the most for their editing dollar it makes it more likely that they will become a long-term client. Money isn’t the only reason authors write, but it can certainly affect their decision as to whether or not they’ll keep writing. I would much rather have an author come back to me over the course of five or six books, because what they pay me makes sense in the overall picture of their work, than pad my editing bill on their first book and then have them get discouraged by the result.
    For these and other reasons, I’ve written a three-part series of articles designed specifically to help improve an author’s ability to self-edit. I tried to focus on specific, practical techniques that writers can apply when they sit down with a manuscript in front of them. Anyone who’s interested can find the first one (and links to the other two) at http://www.indiebooklauncher.com/resources-diy/self-editing-part-1-self-editing-fundamentals.php.
    To sum up: I absolutely recommend using a professional editor if you possibly can, but I also suggest self-editing your manuscript to the best of your ability before that editor starts the meter running.
    I hope this is helpful.
    Nas Hedron

    Reply

    Linton Robinson October 29, 2013 at 11:50 am

    Actually an editior IS somebody who reviews your work in detail. There are many kinds of editing chores, not just one.

    That style manual really means little for fiction.

    Hire editors if you have the money to burn and are incompetent to produce something workable yourself, is my recommendation. Do NOT take advice on whether you need editors from people trying to get work as editors. That seems self-evident.

    Same goes for design, marketing, any of it.

    Reply

    Linton Robinson October 29, 2013 at 11:54 am

    BTW As a matter of fact, readers DON’T notice if a comma is in or out of the quotation mark or if Mom is caps or not in compliance with some wire service style manual. More important–and this is HUGELY important–they don’t care. They aren’t a panel deciding on the “professionalism” of your book. If they like the story and other elements, they’ll read it, maybe buy more. If they don’t, they don’t give a rats ass that your had the commas in the right place.
    I wish people would figure that out. It’s pretty obvious to the general reading public. (Otherwise known as “the market” to writers, if not to those who make a living off writers)

    Reply

    Nas Hedron October 29, 2013 at 12:38 pm

    I’m frankly not sure how productive it is to continue this discussion, but in fact one of the most common complaints about indie books is the lack of professional-quality editing. Anyone who does a Google search can easily confirm this.

    Michael N. Marcus October 29, 2013 at 1:26 pm

    “As a matter of fact, readers DON’T notice if a comma is in or out of the quotation mark or if Mom is caps or not”

    Linton, I’m a writer, publisher, editor, reviewer and reader — and I always notice and hate stupid, avoidable mistakes.

    Bad punctuation, grammar and spelling are as annoying as a caveman wearing a wristwatch in a movie, or a chalk screech on a blackboard.

    Writers, editors and publishers should not lower their quality to the minimum they can get away with. Professionalism does matter. When books are substandard they imply to readers that substandard is standard — and that’s bad for civilization.

    Do it right, or don’t do it at all.

    Nas Hedron October 29, 2013 at 12:32 pm

    Linton: to be accurate what I said was that an editor is not *just* someone who reviews your work in detail. My point was that they do that, but they also bring to that review a particular skills that most writers don’t have because they haven’t been trained as editors.

    As for refusing to take advice from people who happen to sell the service they’re advising you to buy, that seems shortsighted to me. By all means take what any such person says with a grain of salt, and don’t necessarily buy your services from the very person who made the recommendation. Look around, compare prices and services, get references from previous clients of an editor you’re considering. Hell, if you decide you don’t need an editor, don’t hire one. But to entirely ignore the perspective of editors on editing when you’re making your decision is to deny yourself a potentially useful resource.

    As for a style manual “meaning little” to fiction, I disagree. My point is this: editors in traditional publishing developed style manuals and used them (for fiction and non-fiction) for a good reason. They did it because it produced better books. It’s sensible to do without the trappings of traditional publishing if and when they simply aren’t available to you as an indie author–that’s one of the reasons I wrote the articles that I linked to, to help people do a better job of self-editing when they simply couldn’t afford an editor–but to simply jettison useful elements of traditional publishing without a reason makes no sense.

    To be clear: if someone can’t afford an editor, rather than ignoring the accumulated practical tools that are contained in a style manual, I recommend that they buy one and use it themselves, second-hand if necessary. You can find used copies that aren’t the latest edition on Amazon for two or three dollars.

    Nas

    Reply

    Linton Robinson October 29, 2013 at 12:56 pm

    Since you want to quibble, I’d reply that the “just” doesn’t change anything. In fact, there ARE editors who JUST do certain things.
    I think you are conflating a lot on googling customer complaints. They aren’t whining about misplaced commas and if Mom is capitalized. They are complaining about rotten reading. If they are seeing it enough to complain, it’s obvious enough that a writer should be able to fix it. They don’t own style manuals.
    The problems here are not a matter of “not hiring professionals” (and the people are saying “this needed professional editing”) it’s a matter of author diligence. A good thing to keep straight.
    A novelist really doesn’t need a style manual unless he’s uneducated in basic writing. All he has to know is what the average reader knows. Think about that a minute before jerking your knee. Seriously.
    BTW, ever wonder how the numbers of complaints about editing might change if you subtracted commments from people who charge for editing?
    Again… and look at this twice, OK?–a book doesn’t have to be “professional”. I has to be readable.

    Linton Robinson October 29, 2013 at 1:32 pm

    Michael, you are really making my point for me. You say “I’m a reader”, but that is sophistry. You know (or should anyway) that when I say “readers” or “the market” in a discussion like that, I’m not referring to the personal pet peevss of any one indiividual who is highly involved in editing and all that. If one can’t separate their own reactions from the general market, it causes a lot of problems in understanding what is going on.

    I think my point has been made here. I’m sure there are a lot of working editors who could continue to harp on “you can’t make it without paying a working editor”, but that’s another point, and just repitition over an over of what is a pretty obvious, and self-serving viewpoint. Don’t you think?
    No everybody hears those screeches on the blackboard. Not everybody gives a rats ass about mom being capitalized.

    Lorraine McCann October 5, 2012 at 10:48 am

    Hi,
    Interesting subject. I thought I’d ask about the claim that publishers don’t hire copy editors any more. I’ve been copy editing for nearly 20 years and I still get as much work as I want from traditional publishers. Maybe publishers hire copy editors less often (my experience notwithstanding), but I can’t agree that they don’t hire us any more.
    As for what any given copy editor might be able to do for any given piece of writing… Well, where do you start? The variables are endless. I’ve copy edited work by very well-known writers and only been able to offer the fact that McDonald’s has a hyphen in its brand name or that one sentence out of 90,000 seemed redundant. But the authors were grateful and I felt I’d earned my fee as much by leaving excellent work alone as I do when I have to take whole sentences apart and rebuild them so that they make sense.
    In other words, it’s a bit of a lottery. But, in general, if an author can afford it, hiring a copy editor with a good reputation would be a worthwhile thing to do.
    Best wishes,
    Lorraine

    Reply

    Linda Jay Geldens October 5, 2012 at 1:10 pm

    Hi, Lorraine,

    Thanks for your comment. As I said in my article, traditional publishers aren’t hiring copyeditors on a routine basis any more. Yes, some of them still hire copyeditors, but not for every manuscript. When I was an advertising copywriter at Little, Brown Publishers in Boston a long time ago, we of course had on-staff copyeditors.

    Reply

    Lorraine McCann October 5, 2012 at 10:49 am

    Good grief! That’s not very encouraging, is it? I meant to say that McDonald’s has an apostrophe. *hides*

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    Linda Jay Geldens October 5, 2012 at 1:12 pm

    That’s OK, Lorraine. No reason to hide. I once saw a very expensive ad in a glossy magazine with a word left out of the main headline. It read, “When everything has to just right.” Now THAT would be a reason to hide!

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    Lorraine McCann October 5, 2012 at 10:52 am

    Aaargh. I meant to say ‘one sentence out of 90,000 WORDS’. This is why I don’t normally comment on websites. Sorry, everyone.

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    Linda Jay Geldens October 5, 2012 at 1:14 pm

    Once again, happens to the best of us, Lorraine.

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    Jack Dunigan October 5, 2012 at 11:18 am

    Linda, thank you so much for this article. I recently released my third book and I can attest to the imperative for at least one set of objective eyes who will fearlessly edit the manuscript. Most authors are gifted with what I have called in my seminars – Immaculate Perception. This is the attitude that when I come with an idea, write a sentence, or propose an action, it surely must be inspired because I thought of it.

    To underscore this, I belong to an area-wide writer’s group. About 150 of us get together once a month to learn from and encourage each other. At a recent meeting, one member had several copies of his self-published book on…you guessed it…self-publishing. When he passed them around hoping to sell a few copies, I held one up at my seat long enough to check it out. In just the first two chapters I spotted no less than a dozen spelling and grammatical errors, and it desperately needed a designer’s eye for the layout. He was beaming with pride but I was not in a relationship that permitted me to say anything, after all it was already published.

    Before publishing, I submit my books to friends who are themselves published by commercial publishers (Chicken Soup for the Soul and Barron Publishing) and who have proven histories as pro’s. Once I’ve made the changes recommended, I submit it again. After more alterations, it goes around once more. Then I read it through myself another time just to be sure.

    So, in our rush to see our names in print, we are polluting the publishing landscape with the residue of solid haste. As you have written, we need “the opinions and comments of a professional wordsmith.”

    Thanks again for speaking out. We cannot hear this too often.

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    Linda Jay Geldens October 5, 2012 at 12:43 pm

    Hi, Jack,
    Your experience underlines the importance of having an objective set of eyes look dispassionately at your manuscript.
    Thanks for your comments.

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    RD Meyer October 5, 2012 at 4:00 pm

    I think if you want to make this a profession, you need outside eyes to look at it. You may reject what they say, but at least a fresh prespective can give you that option.

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    Linda Jay Geldens October 5, 2012 at 4:52 pm

    Exactly, RD. A fresh perspective on your manuscript is absolutely vital.

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    Marilyn Slagel October 5, 2012 at 4:37 pm

    Even after reading all the comments, I still say self-published authors need a professional editor. I purchased an ebook recently for $2.99 from Amazon. The cover attracted me and the subject matter was interesting. The author was a woman with not one, but two degrees. That book was the worst I have ever read as far as errors in grammar, word usage, etc. Example? Medaling should have been Meddling – a glaring error IMO. There were several others like that.

    If the author had paid a professional, much of that would have been caught. Consequently, I won’t give Amazon a review on her book – would never recommend it to anyone.

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    Linda Jay Geldens October 5, 2012 at 4:56 pm

    Right, Marilyn. Makes you wonder why the author, with her two degrees, just looked the other way when it came to producing the best book possible — text without the typos and other errors that could easily have been addressed before publication.

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    Tracy R. Atkins October 5, 2012 at 7:02 pm

    Perhaps the author was under the misconception that it didn’t matter that much. I do encounter people who argue that because it is a “low budget” self published book, that people will forgive errors.

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    Linton Robinson October 5, 2012 at 7:11 pm

    I guess the question I would have on that would be, “Do you have some reason to believe people won’t forgive errors in a low budget book?”
    And if so, what you base that on.

    On thing that gets over looked in these is that the get discussed at the level of writers (who tend to at least give lip service to the “perfection is everything” concept –Neil Gaimon doesn’t agree http://www.brainpickings.org/index.php/2012/09/28/neil-gaiman-8-rules-of-writing/)
    And editors, who have an obvious bias towards feeling their work is essential, if not more important than the writing itself.

    Who got left out? Readers.
    We hear how they have a stigma against indie authors, but that doesn’t seem to be true. They don’t pay much attention to the names of publishers. And they show a willingness to overlook things that give editors apoplexy.

    One thing I’ve been noticing, as have my authors, and following up on is that a lot of readers seem to like finding errors and sending in corrections. Makes them feel good, participatory, etc.

    This may be part of the many things that are changing.
    It might be one of those things where everybody in the industry agrees except the customers.

    But one thing for sure: you can’t just assume it.
    And if you don’t, you start having to weigh expense vs. return and feeling you way through uncharted territory.

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    Linton Robinson October 5, 2012 at 7:13 pm

    I’m going to post the significant part of that Gaimon list because I think it’s valuable to consider in these matters. This stuff is not a one-way street, and as soon as you get out of the “insider tent” things can look different.

    “Fix it. Remember that, sooner or later, before it ever reaches perfection, you will have to let it go and move on and start to write the next thing. Perfection is like chasing the horizon. Keep moving.”

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    Linda Jay Geldens October 6, 2012 at 9:02 am

    Litton,
    I don’t know one editor who feels that the editing is more important than the writing itself.
    Even an author with a small budget could hire a proofreader to catch some of the more egregious misspellings. There is no excuse for printing a book riddled with errors.
    Readers like finding errors? That’s a new one.
    You are certainly entitled to your opinions, though.

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    Linton Robinson October 6, 2012 at 9:19 am

    A lifetime of writing for publication inclined me to believe there are a LOT of editors who think that their contribution is a bigger deal than the content, actually.
    Guess it means how small a budget you’re talking about. And yes, they COULD hire somebody. But maybe there is not reason to.
    Funny how people keep harping on how all the writers keep producing work full of “egregious” mistakes that the poor little dears are incapable of seeing, but leap right out to the eagle-eyed paid editor… but ignore the larger model I’m talking about. Things like ROI.
    Everybody (especially people trying to sell services) always comes off with the “you have to treat writing as a business”, but when I mention business thinking (generally to people who primarily work not as businessmen, but employees) it gets ignored and flips back to all the craftsman pride sort of thing.

    I don’t know why or how you would have been exposed to readers sending in corrections and getting a kick out of participating, but take it from me–and a great many other small and indie publishers I talk to–it’s a real phenomenon. I’d say a lot of it has to do with–here I go again–the quality of the content, not editing. People will buy into a good book, bear with things, and love to get involved. They won’t do that for a trashy book. And spending a bunch of money to plaster over a crappy book will not help–just create more red ink.

    Thanks for your gracious permission to have my own opinion. I think it’s kind of neat when a forum with a certain slant on things gets opinions from a different angle. Everything said here is from the editor slant, I’m talking from the author, publisher slant– and bringing in those pesky readers.

    I realize it’s a kind of threatening concept, and have kind of apologized in advance for that. Some react to it more defensively than others. But once again, I see an editor talking about “what readers want” without any real mention of why they think that.

    Linda Jay Geldens October 5, 2012 at 8:42 pm

    Tracy, I’ve heard that argument, too. Oh, but it does matter. Sounds like a lame excuse for overlooking mistakes.

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    Linton Robinson October 5, 2012 at 9:10 pm

    Again, what makes you say “it does matter”?
    Do you have research on this? Anything to cite?
    Or just kind of a feeling that you’re an editor so you’re desperately needed by everybody?
    I’m not being sarcastic, I’m asking. And asking you to think about it.
    There was a program in the army called “zero defects”, the idea was that every job called for complete perfection. If failed. Attempts to apply it to civilian, profit making concerns TOTALLY failed, fast.
    There is a reason that machined parts are specified with “tolerances”. Margin of error.
    There is something economists call “the law of diminishing returns”.
    People accept errors. Big publishers’ books contain errors.
    They can be made to work for you.
    Modern methods like POD and ebooks allow errors to be corrected after publication. I have gritted my teeth and crossed myself and signed something that would start presses rolling out 3 million copies of 80 page, full color publications.
    A lot of the “ethic” that gets passed on is a shadow or perseveration of those times, and those processes.
    Any more you can always make corrections. Every one of my authors has gotten errata sent it by readers and it’s been a positive, fan-building interaction.

    It might not be a “lame excuse”, it might be a realistic, business-like attitude regarding investment/return balance in the modern models and processes of production.

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    Tracy R. Atkins October 6, 2012 at 11:03 am

    Kind of the Anne Rice Method?

    From Anne: “But never were drafts of anything produced. My methods would never allowed for anything so sloppy to have been done. I’m too compulsive for that method. I understand why it might work for another person, but I must control the manuscript much more tightly. By the time I reach the last paragraph of a book, everything else is in line behind it, and giving birth to that last paragraph. I go back and back over that last paragraph countless times, getting up out of bed in the middle of the night to go in and redo that last paragraph, but all the rest is polished and edited right down to the last. And then the completed version goes off to the publisher.”

    http://www.annerice.com/sh_MessagesBeach2.htm

    kingsley October 11, 2012 at 2:30 pm

    It appears from this thread, that a traditional publisher and/or copyeditor recommends the errors be flushed out before you go to print/publication. But the technology is POD / print on demand, so you’re not doing a production run of thousands of books, at least not for indie books. In this case, it may not be critical to hire a professional. I have to agree with Linton, it can be corrected later by reader feedback or another set of eyes, after release, if its minor edits.

    Although … it has to be minor corrections, if exceeds 10 percent of the book, CreateSpace advises you get another ISBN!

    One other point is poetry is tough to have another person review. As with everything, there are exceptions. In his 90′s Nobel laureate Czeslaw Milosz book of poems Second Space was translated by Robert Hass. I am sure Hass did some edits while translating, so this situation makes sense. But what a great end product!

    Turndog Millionaire October 6, 2012 at 4:05 am

    Too true!

    I am trying to improve my own editing, but the truth is, I will ALWAYS need a second set of eyes (and to a point, when you consider BETA Readers, a 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, etc).

    We get too close to our work. We miss things out. It’s not on purpose, it’s just how the mind works. Without my editor, I wouldn’t feel comfortable releasing my debut novel. No way Jose

    Matthew (Turndog Millionaire)

    Reply

    Linda Jay Geldens October 6, 2012 at 8:57 am

    Hi, Turndog Millionaire (Matthew),
    Glad you appreciate an editor’s value. Beta readers are very helpful as well.

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    Michael N. Marcus October 11, 2012 at 3:28 pm

    Kingsley said: “But the technology is POD / print on demand, so you’re not doing a production run of thousands of books, at least not for indie books. In this case, it may not be critical to hire a professional. I have to agree with Linton, it can be corrected later by reader feedback or another set of eyes, after release, if its minor edits.”

    Readers and reviewers should not see books that are “not ready for prime time.” You are cheating them and hurting yourself.

    Michael N. Marcus
    http://www.bookmakingblog.blogspot.com
    http://www.SilverSandsBooks.com
    http://www.BookFur.com
    http://www.Facebook.com/SilverSandsBooks

    Reply

    Linton Robinson October 11, 2012 at 4:49 pm

    One think interesting to see in the sides on this one (other than the “people who charge for editing think paying for editing is a good idea” division) is to notice the “SHOULD” thing being brandished.
    As opposed to the “CAN” kind of idea.
    It’s easy to color something by calling it “cheating”. And it might be resented if it didn’t seem like an untried postulate rather than an actual judgment based on data.
    But it could also be called things like “inclusive”, “community”, “participatory”. The kind of buzzwords we hear about marketing books but are apparently anathema at the nitpicking level.
    Well, since Kingsley was referencing my remarks and perhaps you didn’t read them, let me iterate that I, and authors I work with, have received have had very good experiences with both reviewers and readers sending in corrections. It seems to be seen as fun, as “belonging”, and seems to build better fan bonds and multi-buys. There is something going on there that makes sense if you stop and think about it. I mean, you know… stop and think about it.
    This is something that can work for you. It’s too early to tell if it will become a model, but the more I talk with indie and self publishers, the more I hear about it.
    Kind of like people promoting around little blog communities instead of distant irrelevant peaks like big urban newspaper reviews.
    My feeling is that it’s an emerging model or trait or something. A lot is changing. I kind of smile when people thunder down pronouncements about anything in the state of development that indie publishing is these days.
    I repeat this, as well. It probably only works with material that is really, really good. Which is to say, of course, material that is very much in keeping with the tastes of that readership. People aren’t going to want to help out and be part of something they don’t strongly identify with.
    That, of course, is exactly the sort of reader you want to own.
    Over time, this can improve a book. You hear of people actually rewriting based on reader input.
    This is all POSSIBILITY. You can slap SHOULDN’T signs on it if you want.
    The whole different life cycle of contemporary books is a factor in all this. You don’t have to jump out and wow everybody and build a quick-kill buzz before remainder date any more. A book can loaf along building friends –and improving, you do it right and let it improve–for years.
    But yeah, it only works for the good stuff.
    There’s an very old ad/marketing koan that comes to my mind here. They did studies and found out that high quality chocolates can get buy with less fancy wraps than the cheaper chocolates. Buyers of the quality line know what they want, the inferior line needs more help and everything to be shiny. Maybe that’s not a factor here. But can anybody say for sure? I don’t really see a lot of “I ran the numbers to be sure” going on, just personal mottos being slapped down like mosaic law.
    It’s a new world, it’s surprising what might be done.

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    Linda Jay Geldens October 14, 2012 at 1:35 pm

    Couldn’t agree with you more, Michael.

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    Marilyn Slagel October 12, 2012 at 9:00 am

    I’m sticking to my original thoughts. Yesterday I received the full Line Edit for my new book. Just giving it a quick look before work last night, I was shocked at the corrections and comments. There is no way I would want the original copy printed for reader consumption! The little things become the big things over an entire manuscript.

    I will ALWAYS pay for professional editing!

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    Joel Friedlander October 13, 2012 at 10:35 am

    I’m with you, Marilyn, I’ve had the exact same experience many times over the years. Copyeditors and proofreaders have saved me and my clients many times over the years, and I consider this one of the most basic ways to respect the readers and buyers of our books.

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    Marilyn Slagel October 13, 2012 at 7:46 pm

    An example for those who don’t agree with me: On 3 or 4 pages, my editor needed clarification on a sentence. How did it relate? She didn’t understand it. One paragraph needed to be rearranged for better clarity. Two characters needed to be filled out – not much, just enough to tie them in to the protagonist a little more.

    These are all things that I, the writer, did not see – because it was my story – I knew all these things in my own mind. I’m grateful she pointed them out to me.

    As a medical transcriptionist, I’m used to grammar and punctuation for medical reports. It is very different in a novel. Monica saved me dozens of times with those corrections.

    When I submitted it to her the first time, I thought I had it together – wouldn’t need much editing at all. Imagine my surprise when it came back to me all marked up! LOL Took me down a peg or two and made me thankful for her expertise.

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    Linda Jay Geldens October 13, 2012 at 2:17 pm

    Exactly, Marilyn! You’ve pinpointed the value of professional editing.

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    Linton Robinson October 13, 2012 at 2:29 pm

    Actually, it pinpoints the value of putting out a book that’s edited within a tolerance that readers will accept.
    It doesn’t really matter who did the editing or how it was arranged.

    Marx held that the value of a product was determined completely by the amount of labor that went into it: free market theories hold that value is determined by what the market will pay.

    (Kidding around with that last sentiment… but there’s something to it. Publishing is seeing some massive break-ups and shake-ups for not paying attention to what was going on, telling themselves what was a good idea without much reader input. It’s easy for a group to sit around telling themselves how much their services are needed, but it’s good to keep an eye cocked to the prevailing winds)

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    Barbara Kenniphaas October 24, 2012 at 5:40 pm

    As an avid Kindle reader AND a professional copyeditor, I am always amazed to see work published that has not been professionally edited. It is the writer’s job to pour out her thoughts; it is my job to polish her words to perfection. If I read an ebook full of errors or formatting issues, you can be guaranteed I will never read another one by that author. I would never take my valuable time to let them know about the errors. I am proud that the more than 200 books I have edited make my authors look the best they possibly can.

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    Linda Jay Geldens October 29, 2012 at 7:36 pm

    Absolutely agree with you, Barbara!

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    Anna Erishkigal December 14, 2012 at 6:19 am

    I hired an editor for my first fiction book. Paid them $1,000 too. Cut it down from 850 pages to 550 (I write epic fantasy). Bit the bullet and cut. And cut and cut and cut. Self-published it.

    Around 100 of those cut pages began to haunt my dreams. I mean … I write epic fantasy. World-building is part of the genre. I -wanted- to describe some of the stuff I was told to cut. Reading my own book, I felt like I had ADHD (most of the edits were to ‘build suspense’). I finally went back and added 100 of those 300 cut pages back in. This time, I did -not- go with a professional editor on the revisions.

    Is it better? Is it worse? Who knows. All I know is that the original release of my book did not pay back anywhere near the cost of getting it professionally edited and I am dubious about ever seeing a Return On Investment (ROI) of what I spent. The editor helped me see all the places backstory was slowing the story down, so now I do an edit for just that. I am glad somebody pointed that out to me, but am not sure it was worth $1,000 to do it. The 7-hour Plotting Your Novel class I subsequently took at the Cape Cod Writer’s Center conference did the exact same thing for $185 … only it gave me the tools to do it for EVERY book I write.

    My fans like the book … both versions … though most agree the second self-revision is better. As for strangers … who knows? This time around I’m using my Plotting Your Novel checklists to self-edit the next book in the series and then hiring a bunch of college kids to read it over winter break for $50 per pop and tell me all the places they’d suggest things (I’ve provided them with a checklist). THEY are my target audience and much of my most useful feedback as a writer has always come from involved fans … we’ll see how that works. It’s an experiment in this wild, wild west new world of budget self-publishing.

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    Linton Robinson December 14, 2012 at 9:18 am

    Refreshing post, Anna.
    The bland assumption is that editing makes books better. This is absolutely and definitely not always the case. (Don’t make me share horror stories)

    One question I’m curious about: did you make your $1000 back?

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    Richard Sutton April 16, 2013 at 6:53 am

    Which leads right into one of the primary reasons that self-published authors try to go it alone when it comes to editing: many of us have shallow pockets. Still, editing your own work will not be enough to make your work the best you can make it. That will require more pairs of eyes and reader opinion and even some experience. I have been fortunate to be able to assemble an effective team organically. One grows from another. I would recommend to all writers, to join and become active in writing communities online or in your nearest library. Share your own talents and skills with other writers you trust, and watch the tide rasie everyone equally. Make sure there are grammar reference books in your personal library or in your bookmark lists and don’t be afraid to reference them. Try to find someone with editing skills you is willing to exchange a once over for something you can do for them. Trade is a wonderful concept. My first book needed to be re-written thirteen times. I also had it beta-read by seven readers, all readers in my target genre, who all found different things that needed fixing. These were not expected to be line-editors or catch typos, they were specifically asked for their overall and to approach the book as a recreational read. Some of their reports took several pages. Personally, I can recommend two sites for those just beginning the process (and it is a process. Possibly a long one that will need serious commitment): http://www.Litopia.com (currently being re-designed, so offline for now) and http://www.absolutewrite.com there are many others, as well as writer circles in specific genres. Since we don’t expect our books to be read in a vacuum or on a desert island, we need a community to help us write them properly. Even if we have deep enough pockets to afford to pay for the help.

    Reply

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