Dawn Colclasure's Blog

Author and poet Dawn Colclasure

Sunday, September 15, 2013

If you're going to self-publish your book, PLEASE get an editor

When I first joined LinkedIn, I did not realize there were groups on there in which people with a variety of interests can indulge in discussing their passions and sharing ideas. I joined some writing groups, as well as groups for creative people, and have been reading discussions ever since. Sometimes I’ll participate in a discussion, but only when I have something of value to add. Most of the time, though, I will just read the main discussion and peruse what other people are saying.

One particular comment from a member of a writing group caught my eye – and caused me to worry.

This person talked about how he self-published his book (was not clear on if it was a novel or nonfiction book). He commented that he paid for the cover design but could not afford to hire an editor, so he edited the book himself.

This worried me because I really, really don’t think an author should trust him/herself to edit his or her own book. I know people who work as editors and edit their own books, and while I am not going to take issue with them or get into any arguments with them, and I still think they’re awesome, I really still feel it is important to have another person, specifically an editor, edit a manuscript before it is published.

I feel this is important because, for one thing, an editor will not read a manuscript as a reader. An editor will read a manuscript as an editor. The editor knows what mistakes to look out for and be able to hone in on areas of the manuscript that could use a little extra work. The author is too close to his/her own book to be able to see these things. It really takes an objective (and somewhat merciless) pair of eyes to be able to catch things that are wrong with a manuscript.

Also, someone who has been editing manuscripts for a while has likely “seen it all” and has also seen how books with poor editing have either failed miserably in sales or received negative reviews that point out editorial mistakes. An editor is aware of what can make or break a book, what it takes to make a good book great, and how the author can fix up their manuscript in a way that will make their writing shine.

As a book reviewer, I have seen many self-published books that have spelling and grammar mistakes. I have also seen many books that were poorly written, poorly organized or which contained insufficient information. (One nonfiction book wasn’t really much of a book at all; it was more like a very long advertisement for a product.) With books I cannot refuse to review because of such mistakes, I try to ignore these things, though they do ruin the reading experience. With books I can pass on reviewing, however, if I sample the book and see such mistakes, I pretty much will pass on reviewing it. It’s not so much snobbery that compels my decision, but the realization that the author really must not have cared about his/her book enough to want it to be edited. The author decided to just write a rough draft of a book and throw it out there. I want to read a good book, and an editor will make sure a manuscript is transformed into a good book. If the author could not bother to take the time to edit his/her book, why should I take the time to read it?

Likewise, I have hired freelance editors for my self-published books (well, my poetry books). The editor is amazing and has really honed in the problem spots in my manuscripts. She really helped to make my writing the best it could be. The same can be said of editors I have worked with at publishing companies. I have gotten manuscripts back with editing requests and changes, and I was surprised at so many things I missed in my read-through.

Unfortunately, many new authors are under the mistaken assumption that “editors are evil.” The thinking goes that an editor will only “kill” a book, ruin the author’s voice and try to make the author’s book into something it was completely NOT meant to be. This is not true because an editor, a GOOD editor, only wants your book to have some kick-ass writing. If you want your writing to shine and if you want your book to be the best it can be, then please do not skimp on editing. Please consider finding an editor who will work with you in polishing your book.

I understand that times are hard and that a lot of people cannot afford an editor. But, really, you CAN afford an editor. There may be stories out there of editors charging an arm and a leg for edits, as well as editors charging thousands to edit a book, but the affordable editor DOES exist. There ARE affordable editors out there. I may no longer work as a freelance editor (with one exception of a writer), but I was always, ALWAYS willing to work with an author in paying for edits. Heck, I even edited one book for free (the author ended up later thanking me with a gift certificate – a nice surprise that was actually appreciated). I have even recently agreed to edit one writer’s three manuscripts for a very low fee.

But I am not the only editor willing to negotiate on price. I know others are out there. I know freelance editors who DO work with authors on the fee for edits. So, you CAN try to negotiate a fee for edits on your manuscript, and I really think you should, especially if you are self-publishing a book. If anything, save up for the editing fee. Writing, revising and self-editing a book takes time. Use this time to save for your cover, editor, etc.

If you really want to publish a good book, and if you want people to buy your next book, then investing in an editor is well worth it. Please find a way to hire an editor for your manuscript. Negotiate the fee, hire a college student or ask on a message board for writers about any affordable editors. Believe me, you will be grateful later on that you took the time to get your book edited before self-publishing it. You really should try to put your best book out there, with your best writing, and an editor can help you make that happen.

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  • At 7:28 PM , Blogger Lillie Ammann said...


    Obviously, as a freelance editor, I totally agree with you. :-)

    I don't trust myself to edit my own books. I've had my self-published books edited by my associate or other authors. As you said, I'm too close to my own work. I know what I intended to say, and that's what I read. Someone else reads what's actually on the page and not what's in my mind.

    As for the fear that the editor will destroy the author's work, my goal is for my clients' books to sound exactly like them--only better. I send my edits to the clients in small chunks, usually chapters, to be sure I'm on track throughout the process.

    And I have an associate who works with me. She does the first edit, then I go through it again and make additional edits. Then we send it to the client for review. I make whatever changes the author requests when the chapter is returned, then send the manuscript back to my associate for her to edit the next chapter.

    After the book has been completely edited by both of us and reviewed by the client, my associate does the interior layout. When she is finished, I read the manuscript again, reading as a reader, and I still catch things at that stage.

    I'm not a low-cost editor, but my clients believe they get value for what I charge. I always do a sample edit of the first few pages to be sure the client is happy with what I do and to help me to determine how long it will take so I can quote a price. In the sample edit, I add comments explaining my suggestions--especially on problems that recur. Most writers have a few problems that appear consistently in their work. I point out these problems, explain why they need to be revised, and give examples of how they can be corrected.

    Many of my clients are inexperienced writers who are good storytellers or knowledgeable about their nonfiction subject but not necessarily good writers. After I done the sample edit, I encourage the writer to do another revision of the manuscript using the suggestions I have made. After they have done that, I will do another sample edit and give a new quote based on the revised manuscript. A writer can save a lot of money in editing costs if they take my advice and self-edit the book one more time before turning it over to me. However, a lot of my clients prefer me to do it for them.

  • At 11:51 AM , Blogger Dawn Wilson said...

    Thank you for your very detailed comment, Lillie. I appreciate it. :)

    Some editors who do charge a lot of money are definitely worth the price. I agree that an editor who is competent and has years of experience is in the right to charge a hefty fee for editing. Nothing wrong there. However, I wanted to stress that the affordable editors are out there, even editors who are willing to negotiate on the fee. I think a self-publishing author who needs an editor but can't afford one should try to put in extra effort to find an editor that they can afford.

    Thank you for your comments on the notion an editor will "ruin" an author's voice or book. With the edits I have done, I look for clarity. If there's areas in the story or the book which confuse me or are not very clear, I note this to the author and ask him/her to clarify what they mean or what they are saying. I also look for grammar, spelling and punctuation mistakes, and try to make sentences that are too vague a little more complete.

    With the client I have now, he wants to put his three books into one. I think such an effort may require a bit of revision on the author's part -- work the author would have to do.

    I don't think editors are on a mission to change every book they edit or try to make the book appear in the editor's voice instead of the author's. They just want to make the writing be the best it can be.


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