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Sunday, August 14, 2011

A little word on the Indie Author/Editor self-editing conundrum

Lately I've found myself on the wrong end of several sticks on this subject - oddly being perceived as being anti-editing, which I'm not. I couldn't figure out what the problem was. Finally, though, I did. It's me. Or at least, maybe it's reality.

So... Now I'm about to burst some bubbles.

For those who think editing doesn't matter, but especially for those who think being an Indie writer is a short cut to the kind of success Amanda Hocking, J.A. Konrath and a few others have had switching to traditional publishers...

It's not.

And most especially for those who think your prospective agent/editor/publishing house will do your editing/polishing for you.

You're about to have a VERY rude awakening.

Think editing is supposed to be collaborative? Interactive, a polite interaction between professionals? Pardon my bluntness, but... grow up, you've been watching too much TV.

Here, courtesy of Jessica Faust from BookEnds LLC - a well known literary agency - from her Submissions 101 blog entry:

Before getting started, before even writing a query, you need to make sure your book has been written, rewritten, edited and polished, and, as you have heard from me before, I even suggest you’ve already started writing your next book so you have something to focus on besides just the query process. Fiction and narrative nonfiction (i.e., memoir) writers will need to have completed the full manuscript.

I didn't even submit my first manuscript until the second was complete.

That's a submission folks, not a completed manuscript. In the traditional publishing world you not only have to be a good self-editor, you have to be a really good one! If that manuscript isn't polished to a fare thee well, it will end up in the circular file beside their desk with a form rejection letter back to you for your troubles. They don't have time to 'fix' your work and to them it says volumes about your commitment to your writing. Or rather, the lack thereof.

A multitude of errors says the same thing to your readers - that you just don't care enough about your craft to do it right! Get enough comments about mistakes and they will stop reading your books. Amanda Hocking hired a good editor as soon as she made enough money to afford one. Konrath was a pro already but there's no doubt he had someone editing for him. What makes you think you're so hot that you don't need to do the same? Or at least a beta reader or three - preferably ones for whom English was a subject they did well with in school.

A good editor doesn't have the time - or to be honest the patience - to mollycoddle your sensitive feelings.  Even, or (that word again) especially, editors for small presses or for Indie writers. It's a job. It's how they make their living and they make their living by doing a lot of editing for a lot of people. And they may do it in addition to their day job, just like you. (Same thing for reviewers, BTW)

A good editor will send back your manuscript with corrections and notes. In the non-Indie world these are NOT suggestions and can come off as downright rude. After all their job isn't to do your work for you, that's YOUR job, and you should have done it right in the first place. A small press editor in this new world doesn't have time to waste. Think they won't ask you to change your manuscript to suit them or what the publisher wants? Think again. Their job is to get a marketable product out. Fast. I know of one author who was dumped by both agent and major publishing house simply because she took too long and it was taking too much effort. And it showed.

Even so, even with all the care I took, my first professional edit was a shock. Believe me, they weren't sensitive to my feelings. Every edit, though, taught me something else. I learned how to look at my work honestly, to see where perhaps this sentence, phrase or paragraph might work better someplace else and that I have a problem repeating myself. Which is why I need my beta readers so much. (God bless you Erin, Angela, Andy and Mateo, et al.) 

So I learned, and learned fast, to be a very good self-editor. It never occurred to me to do anything less. How could you possibly consider yourself a writer if you didn't? Was I really so arrogant as to believe I had written the Great American Novel  in one try? (Heck even Harper Lee, author of To Kill a Mockingbird, wrote multiple drafts.) No. My books were and are edited and re-edited every time I find a new pet peeve on a blog somewhere. Even so I still go back to do another polishing draft, just to be absolutely sure, before I post a single book anywhere.(I'm on tenterhooks waiting for feedback on the latest.) That's why I'd get so frustrated to find myself in the middle of this argument. I thought every Indie author wanted the same, to be as professional as they could be. I still get anxious every time someone contacts me to say they caught a mistake. 

And if you're a good writer, a professional writer, you should, too.