images.jpegThe author of the Survival of the Book blog, who is evidently an editor, raises an interesting point about the lack of the editorial process in with operations such as Smashwords. Is this a valid concern, or are editors doomed to be a thing of the past. Here is what he says and you can read more on the blog:

… What concerns me more is this kind of news, about Sony working with Smashwords and Author Solutions to adapt self-published books to their readers. I guess it’s not the news that worries me, but the idea so celebrated by many folks that anyone can upload files and make books available on readers, and then HA! They are as good as your fancy-pants published books that go through a whole, ya know, editorial process.

I like the editorial process. I make my living off of it. And I find it disrespectful when it is dismissed so casually by folks in such a rush to get their words into print, or onto screen. Eliot Van Buskirk, who wrote this article on Sony, states,
When books and shelves are digital, rules about scarcity go out the window, allowing unheralded scribes to bubble to the surface based only on the crowd’s reaction — just as many self-motivated bloggers have become old media mainstays and video entrepreneurs have become YouTube phenomenons. …

I really dislike crowd sourcing. I don’t trust crowds. I see this as just civilized, not elitism. Crowds have led to things like lynchings and putting people into camps, and a whole slew of the worst kind of reality tv programming on VH1. Why would we want to entrust crowds with our reading choices?


  1. There’s only one problem: There aren’t enough editors to go around. And as much as I don’t want to snub an editor, nor do I want to be snubbed by an editor who doesn’t even look at my work and says “I don’t have time for you.” (Which, BTW, is exactly what got me into self-publishing.)

    Editors may want to be needed and useful, but if they can’t keep up with the workflow, they shouldn’t complain when writers go around them… especially in the digital world.

  2. Just a thought; I agree with the need to have a book edited, but I think ultimately, the notion of editor must be divorced from the role of publisher.

    Right now, the current system is stacked against the authors; agents and publishers essentially work on commission so they are only interested in the books with great profit potential (or at least great prestige).

    In the next few years, I suspect that either editors will work for hire (hired by the authors themselves) or that authors will edit each others works (I think we are already seeing some of that on sites like

  3. @Steve Jordan: There are plenty of editors to go around and plenty of good editors. If you were snubbed, that is unfortunate. Some editors are too busy and can’t take on additional work and some editors specialize in particular fields. But that is no different than finding a car mechanic or a doctor or an accountant.

    If you want an editor and can’t find one, let me know. I know lots of editors who would be glad for your work. (It won’t be me as I do not edit fiction.)

  4. Our book was issued by a major publisher without — as I recall — any copyediting whatsoever. Perhaps ‘editing skills’ is intended to mean ‘promotional skills’ — but they did very little of that either. In fact their take of the gross appeared to purchase little more than an ISBN and the right to put their name on the front cover.

    Gatekeepers are fine and necessary — when they actually do any gatekeeping. Looking at the books that are currently published, can anyone seriously suggest that they would be worse if they weren’t edited?

    Writers whose work benefits financially from the application of editing skills can learn them quickly and easily. Those who can’t be bothered probably don’t have many writing skills either.

  5. A good editor usually does a good job on any story given. And you usually notice it very quick if a text has been edited or not. Those little flaws here and there, avoidable and never an asset to an otherwise good manuscript.

    As an eBook publisher I’m using my freelance editor, as a writer at least I have a very good friend at hand who is professionally writing himself and who has given me a lot of valuable input on any story.

    This is the least any writer should consider: Let others read your text before you publish it and take their criticism seriously.
    Writing is a craft, and each work needs some polishing.

  6. This editor assumes that self published writers never go through an editorial process. Those who are serious do see that their works are edited and copyedited.

    As for saying that crowds are only the source of bad things like lynchings and putting people in camps, my response is that such things generally result from leaders promoting bad behavior and bad attitudes in a culture in order to oppress other groups. Leaders are very influential, and crowds that form can do good things or bad things depending on the forces manipulating them. Were those crowds with Martin Luther King Jr. doing bad things? Were crowds of good people wrong to act upon the messages of MLK?

    Anyway, I think the opinions of this editor come from feeling threatened by people daring to exercise their freedom of speech. If a writer’s work is a terrible mess, the crowd probably won’t go wild over it.

    Perhaps this disgruntled editor should peruse self published works worthy of editing and try to make a hit instead of poo-pooing people for having the audacity to present their creations to the world.

  7. While I have some sympathy for the idea that there needs to be good copyediting in place to ensure quality, I must report that I’m not seeing it in the many Kindle books I’ve purchased. I have used the mark-up features to identify typos and other goofs, but not figured out where to send my “bug reports”.

    The truth is the books I’ve gotten for free from MobileRead and other places where people have lovingly scanned, captured, edited, and polished non-copyrighted works has a far lower rate of defects than the presumably professionally copyedited manuscripts in the Kindle store. I don’t know what the answer is to this. But, I believe that poo-pooing the notion that we mere mortals can produce quality work is unhelpful at best and inaccurate at worst.

    I want good quality books for my dollar, but just hand-waving, “let the pros do it!” is a path to failure until the “pros” get their skills updated, learn this new medium, and start performing AT LEAST as well as we amateurs.

    — Scott

  8. The original blog post is worth reading. In general, I share the author’s concerns about the decline of quality. But that decline is not limited to Smashwords and the Independent publishing movement. Big publishers also are slacking; see the two articles below:

    Time Magazine (1980):,9171,922149,00.html

    New York Times (1998):

    Editing is essential. There’s no question about the importance of a great editor. Not only in the ream of “copy editing” to pick up grammar and spelling and factual errors, but also in the complex art of “substantive editing” where the editor works closely with the author to shape the content and tone of the work.

    Like Jon Jeremy and other commenters here, I am not convinced that every book churned from the factories of the big-name publishers is expertly edited.

    I’ve found hilarious and grade-school-level gaffes in books from Random House, University presses, and self-publishers. One has a number of paragraphs repeated twice, making one wonder if anyone at the publishing house even bothered to read the book. Another — an academic critique of 19th century literature — consistently misspells Edgar “Allen” Poe. And the third gave the world a forgettable novel that began with this stirring sentence:

    “His hand creeped up her thigh like a beast of pray.”

    Maybe it’s better to take a lighter approach to this kind of ubiquitous grammatical meltdown. It’s amusing to find these blunders, like the sign in a hotel in Warsaw, Poland:

    “This elevator is broken. You are unbearable.”

    To the author of the =Survival of the Book= blog, I would ask: Is it accurate to generalize, and to claim that “All books published by big-name publishers are well edited; and all books published by small presses and by individual authors are poorly edited” ? … It seems to me that poor editing, and non-editing, is a fact of modern life that plagues books published by all publishers, great and small.

    There’s a lot of schlock out there; at the same time, there are many people working in publishing — corporate publishing, University presses, and Independent publishing — who are skilled and who deeply care about their work, and are producing excellent books.

    Michael Pastore
    50 Benefits of Ebooks

  9. Great discussion here. When blogging first hit the scene a decade ago, the same fears were raised about the unwashed masses playing a writing role typically performed by professionals. Just like with blogging, the best written (and best edited) books now have a fair shot at finding their audience, free of gatekeepers who might otherwise reject works based on perceived commercial merit alone. This democratization of publishing levels the playing field for authors and allows readers to judge merit.

  10. I don’t know, I think ‘editing by crowd’ does have some useful applications 🙂 I am thinking of reviews here—if you go to research a product and find dozens and dozens of bad reviews, it will give you pause. Similarly, I know people who use recipe websites who tell me they never attempt a recipe that does not already have a few good reviews (and/or is from a contributor whose work they already know). Certainly I have been disappointed in the past when I have bought a regular cookbook from a regular store, published by a ‘real’ publisher and then bought ingredients, went to all this effort and didn’t like the food 🙂 I would feel better trying a new recipe if I knew that others had already tried it and liked it.

    I am not sure ‘editing by crowd’ would work for fiction, of course. But I don’t think ‘the people’ are quite as useless as this editor thinks they are, and I agree that his post seems more about fear for his job than anything else.

  11. Scott said-
    “The truth is the books I’ve gotten for free from MobileRead and other places where people have lovingly scanned, captured, edited, and polished non-copyrighted works has a far lower rate of defects than the presumably professionally copyedited manuscripts in the Kindle store.”

    Most books at Mobileread are in the public domain, were edited way back when originally published, and have come through Project Gutenberg before being reformatted and posted on Mobileread. They are not unedited books.

    I read a lot of free ebooks, usually self published. Some are good. Some authors clearly make an effort to clean up their writing and do a good job. It’s unfair and wrong to assume that all self published books are going to be bad.

    I also buy Fictionwise multiformat books, and most of them don’t seem to be well edited either.

    Should a badly written non-edited book cost the same as a professionally written and edited book? If they’re all together in the bookstores, how do you know the difference before buying? Right now it seems like if they are from big publishers they are most likely to have been well edited.

  12. There’s a simple reason why most self-published books are bad. As Malcolm Gladwell points out in the Outliers, it takes 10,000 hours of practice to become an expert at anything – playing a violin, playing professional sports, writing a book. Most of the amateurs who self-publish have come nowhere close to paying their dues as authors.

  13. And, in my previous post:
    Scott said-
    “The truth is the books I’ve gotten for free from MobileRead and other places where people have lovingly scanned, captured, edited, and polished non-copyrighted works has a far lower rate of defects than the presumably professionally copyedited manuscripts in the Kindle store.”

    should have been “… ave a far lower rate of defects…”

    showing definitively that I also need a copy editor.

    — Scott

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