Dawn Colclasure's Blog

Author and poet Dawn Colclasure

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Self-publishing and editing of manuscripts

I recently checked out a book from the library. This book, which shall remain unnamed, seemed to have helpful information that I could use. I am planning to get back into self-publishing next year and I am trying to read EVERYTHING I can get my hands on about self-publishing, book promotion and marketing. If I'm going to do this a second time, I want to make sure it gets done right! (The first time was, obviously, a failure.)

Anyway, I did feel that this book had helpful information concerning self-publishing, yet as I started to read it, something bugged me: The copious amount of mistakes. Periods were missing and wrong words were used ("he" instead of "the," "and" instead of "an," etc.). I assumed this was just a small thing and kept reading the book. After all, there's bound to be mistakes such as this in lots of other books, too. Some kind of mistake or another gets through the cracks. But more and more, these mistakes kept cropping up, and the more I saw wrong words being used, and even sentences missing words, my feelings went from irritation to anger.

That anger mostly stemmed from the fact that this particular book was self-published. The author identifies himself as an editor but, apparently, the manuscript was NOT professionally edited, because there are so many typographical and grammatical mistakes, that surely a professional editor would have caught them by now, 50 pages into the book. (Many, many book reviewers won't review a self-published book, for the very reason that many self-published books are poorly edited.)

I even found a mistake on the back cover of the book where I found, to my surprise, a blurb from Dan Poynter. (I wonder if he suggested the author hire an editor to correct the mistakes?)

I have to wonder if the author even bothered to have his manuscript professionally edited. Now because he identifies himself as an editor and publisher, I'm suspecting he may have not. I have seen SO MANY self-published authors claim things like "I have a background in journalism so I don't need an editor" or "I was a really good speller in high school so I can edit my book myself." (True!)

But the point is, it doesn't matter what kind of background you have. It doesn't matter if you were at the top of your class at J-school, if your English teacher always praised your writing in high school, and even if you yourself are an editor.

If you are going to self-publish your book, please, please, PLEASE get it professionally edited. I cannot stress the importance of this enough. It's extremely crucial a book is professionally edited before it goes into print. Because a poorly-edited book makes the author look bad (it looks like you don't really care if your book is in the best shape it can be) and it looks bad for any other books your self-publish later.

When I discussed this irritation with my sister, she thought maybe all of those mistakes were the editor's fault, and not the author's fault. But that's not true in the case of a self-published book. At minimum, the self-publishing author is also the book's editor. The author is the first step in determining if the manuscript is in publishable shape. And as a precaution, it's a good idea to get it professionally edited and proofread BEFORE publishing the book.

The self-publishing business leads many to assume that it's one person responsible for the writing and publication of the book. Wrong. It takes a team of people to make a self-published book work -- a team that includes a typesetter, book cover designer, illustrator in some cases and, yes, even an editor. An editor who is NOT the author.

I have worn many hats as a writer, and one of those hats was as editor. But even I don't trust myself with my own writing. I know an editor should look it over first. There's just always something that can be caught and corrected. So a professional editor should be enlisted to look over the manuscript to make sure it's up to snuff.

I would like to suggest that every other self-publishing author out there should do the same.

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4 Comments:

  • At 7:00 PM , Blogger Lillie Ammann said...

    Dawn,

    Obviously, as an editor who specializes in working with authors who self-publish I agree with you strongly. I even advise my clients to get other opinions as well.

    For example, I'm working on a historical novel set in another part of the country. The author selected eight people as advance readers, and I sent advance reading copies to them requesting their input directly to me, assuring them they could respond honestly with no fear of hurting the author's feelings. He's tough-skinned and isn't likely to get his feelings hurt anyway, but we wanted the advance readers to be completely comfortable.

    Each reader was chosen for a specific reason: some knew the history or genealogy of the story (it's based on a real family history, and the author is careful that real people are portrayed accurately); one lived in the part of the country where the story is set and ensured the author described the geography accurately; another knows a lot about words used in various time periods to be sure word choices were't inappropriate for the setting; one is Jewish and could verify the Jewish ritual that took place in one scene; etc.

    After all the advance readers sent back their suggestions, I incorporated some—things like word use and correct spelling of place names—into the manuscript. Then I created a Word file with track changes and inserted the other changes and comments, and the author and I discussed each. The author made the final decision on each change, but if two readers mentioned the same thing or if I agreed with a reader's suggestion, he usually accepted the change.

    This is a lot of work and takes a lot of time. It's also expensive for the author. He doesn't pay the advance readers, but he gives them each an autographed book. The cost of printing and mailing the ARCs and the time I spend reviewing and incorporating changes and discussing suggestions with the author add up. But the book is much stronger as a result.

    I'm not suggesting every self-publishing author needs this degree of review and editing. This author is trying to ensure accuracy on a lot of different levels, and no editor or reader knows about all of those fields.

    I am suggesting that every self-publishing author needs a professional editor and probably one or two other readers to get different perspectives.

    Lillie Ammann
    A Writer's Words, An Editor's Eye

     
  • At 10:12 PM , Blogger Dawn Colclasure said...

    Lillie, bless you for bringing that up. Yes, I agree. Self-publishing authors definitely should ask some advance readers to offer a look at their manuscript, especially if that manuscript is a novel.

    I am greatly impressed with how the author you described here chose readers who would be helpful in verifying certain aspects of the story, yet readers can definitely help the author see things that are not so easily caught, such as head-hopping, tripping over words and inaccuracies known only to the reader. (One author I know was chastised by her publisher for putting a gun in a certain time period in which that gun had not yet been invented.)

    Advance readers are definitely a necessity and I have definitely encouraged many writers to get some crits and feedback before submitting their books. So I appreciate it that you brought up this importance. Thank you. :)

     
  • At 11:14 PM , Blogger Nancy said...

    I agree with you on this of course and guess what...I am editing a book right now for someone who might self publish their second book, so its ironic you wrote about this at the same time I am doing exactly what you wrote about!

     
  • At 9:01 AM , Blogger Dawn Colclasure said...

    Thanks for the comment, Nancy. Yay! I'm so thrilled to hear that you've decided to go for it and get into the editing! I feel you are a very good editor and I wish you much success with your endeavors.

    And it is funny how life works like that. A series of events happening that lead us to things. :)

     

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