Thirteen months ago I reviewed a self-published e-book series called Worlds Apart. Everything I said in that review remains true (go ahead and read it—I’ll wait right here!). I just wanted to talk a little further about it in light of recent events.
With the uproar over the Amazon/Macmillan pricing feud, a number of people have spoken up claiming that writers don’t need the publishers—they can self-publish and find their own audience. And to an extent this is true. I’ve certainly covered enough of self-published writer Henry Melton’s work here to make it clear what I think of it.
But on the other hand, there are a lot of people who simply won’t read self-published works because of their reputation for poor quality—if the books weren’t “good enough” to make it through a professional publisher, then they probably aren’t worth reading. And certainly this is true for quite a few works as well.
Worlds Apart really falls somewhere in the middle. It has some great ideas behind it, an intricately-detailed background with page after page of supplemental material, and has excellent characterization and a gripping epic storyline. The problem is that it really needs the services of a professional editor.
Editors make things better. Something that many “Storyteller’s Bowl” publication efforts have in common—certainly the Big Meow project by Diane Duane, and Fledgling and Saltation by Sharon Lee and Steve Miller—is that the authors planned to pay for the services of a professional editor out of the proceeds of their story subscriptions, because they knew it was an important part of the process.
An editor can make a considerable difference in quality. Anyone who read the serialized first draft of Fledgling and then the published novel can tell you that the difference the editing process made was considerable.
Worlds Apart has not gone through that process, and it shows. Apart from the numerous typographical and editing errors I mentioned in the previous review, the pacing of the stories is often uneven, and things could stand to be tightened up.
I still think they’re really good overall, but they are on the order of rough diamonds—people who want their books to be more polished may not find it worth their time to read them. This is a pity, because I feel the books otherwise have a lot to recommend them.
And this is the same problem that self-publishing currently has in general. Editors cost money, and most self-published writers simply aren’t making enough money to be able to afford their services. Unless someone comes up with a cost-effective way of having these books professionally edited, the problem is going to continue.
Chris, you are absolutely correct about the need for a professional editor. I want to emphasize “professional”; there are lots of authors who think thye can do it themselves or that their friends, relatives, or neighbors — who are expert in their own fields but who are not professional editors — can do the editing.
I’ve written several articles on editing and why professional editors are needed at my An American Editor blog (www.americaneditor.wordpress.com), including a two-part article called Prfessionale Editors: Publishers and Authors Need Them (http://wp.me/pKZEY-H and http://wp.me/pKZEY-K), which describes what makes a professional editor, and Editor, Editor, Everywhere an Editor (http://wp.me/pKZEY-M), which describes the various types of editing. Before deciding to bypass the professional editor, I encourage authors to read these articles.
Without questioning the value of editors, I will say that consumers may eventually learn that the fact that a book hasn’t made it through publishers’ Zanadu-sized slush piles doesn’t mean it is not readable. There’s a difference between “not good enough” and “never saw it.”
In that light, I can proudly say (with tongue firmly in cheek) that my books have never been turned down by a publisher…
Chris, there’s a bit of red herring creeping into your post because publishers perform many, many functions beyond editing. I really don’t think too many people who see extinction of the big publishers on the horizon expect all books will then be unedited.
A great editor doesn’t have to work at a major publisher and, as I understand it, there is already a developing industry of for-hire editing and marketing shops for would-be self-publishers. For example, see http://www.authorsolutions.com/Home.aspx
All of the functions of the major publishers that are still needed in an ebook world can be easily replicated, duplicated or stripped away. The unique advantage of big publishers is their ability to print and distribute best-sellers. Publishing consultant Mike Shatzkin has written quite a bit about this lately on his blog.
Aaron, you are correct, great editors do not have to work at publishers and many of us do not. I have been independent for 25 years. BUT, most professional editors — freelance or inhouse — are hired and paid by publishers, not authors. Some authors do independently hire editors; most do not and very few self-publishers hire professional editors. The reason is cost.
Few authors are willing ot gamble that cost from their own pocket. And those costs can be very high, depending on the book, the type of editing, the initial quality of the author’s work, and what the publisher or author expects. I have edited books for fees that range from $3,000 to more than $50,000, that have taken weeks to months of work.
So I don’t think the issue is whether the editor can be inhouse or freelance, but whether authors will be willing to pick up the cost that the publisher now absorbs.
Absolutely true, editing is an essential publishing ingredient in print and in electronic versions.
I have a lot less faith in the process of initially assessing manuscripts by large over-managed and accountancy driven traditional publishers (remember the saga of Harry Potter – the book that almost destined never to be seen in print).
Personally I see a huge new employment opportunity where small electronic publishers receive manuscripts and farm them out to freelance editors. Editors who choose what they will edit because their reputations are important.
I’ve worked with professional editors, and I’ve worked with peer editors. Maybe other folks are encountering better professional editors than I have, but I haven’t found the quality of good professional editors and good peer editors to be vastly different. In fact, there’s no solid line between the two categories: I’ve met peer editors who have also edited professionally. They volunteer their services because they want to support the particular writing communities that they belong to.
For self-published fiction writers who can’t afford professional editors, I strongly suggest that they become involved in a writing community where volunteer editing is taking place.