Are Editors the Next Gatekeepers? Some people want them to be.

The one thing we say most about independent publishing is it has completely taken away the gatekeepers. You can publish anything you want, whenever you want, all you need is a properly (sometimes not!) formatted file and a good cover (sometimes not!). We all know that there are lot of good books that are indie-published every day. We also know there are a lot that aren’t.

I left another FB group the other day. The conversation turned so stressful that I was in a bad headspace all day. It’s hard to shake things off when people attack you for what you believe. What was it I said? I said some indie writers are good enough not to need the whole buffet of editing: development edit, copy edit, line edit, and a proofreader. That’s all I said, and I still stand by that. An author who is on book 30 is not going to need the time and attention an author is going to need publishing her debut novel. They simply aren’t. The craft is there, the skill is there, the experience is there. Two editors took my words the wrong way, or they were just spoiling for a fight, and tore into me.

Of course the conversation turned more ugly when price became a topic because everyone in the industry knows that editing is the most expensive part of publishing–especially if you do need the whole smorgasbord before you put your book out there–and the editors were defensive. I’ve never said an editor shouldn’t be paid what he or she is worth. I’d never devalue an editor’s work like that. You’re paying for a skill that they’ve (hopefully) honed for years. An excellent editor can take your lump of coal book and turn it into a diamond, I get that. On the other hand, not everyone can afford it, and they didn’t seem to understand that.

I agree with the belief that you shouldn’t publish until your book has been edited, at least by SOMEONE, but it’s also discriminatory to say that no one should publish at all if you can’t afford it. That’s gatekeeping all over again.

I didn’t point out in my exit rant that the people saying this were affluent white people who have the disposable cash to hire an editor. I’m white too, but I’m poor. I can’t afford a $2,000 development edit. I simply can’t. That’s three and a half months of rent. I do the best I can with the resources I have, and I will never let anyone insult me for it.

One of the big questions that come up when discussing editing fees is, why do editors cost so much? It’s not because each individual editor is trying to rip you off (though some are better than others, so ALWAYS ask for a sample and make educated choices). There’s an association that offers guidelines as to how much freelance editors should charge their clients. Editors/beta readers like Kimberly Hunt, the paid beta reader I referred to in my feedback blog last week, adheres by this association, and you can look at the pricing structure the Editorial Freelancers Association recommends. She, and many other editors, are charging the standard. Some editors who freelance on the side may charge more depending on where you’ve found them. Professional editors found on Reedsy, for example, are more than I can afford. On the flip side, there are writers and authors who want to start editing and charge a lot less because they are just getting their business going. It would be up to you whether you want to pay less. An editing sweep by a new editor will be better than no editing, but always make informed choices. Don’t just sign with her because you can afford her. And on the flip side of THAT, I wouldn’t pay a new editor the industry standard unless they can provide testimonials and proof that their skills are worth it.

Indie publishing has opened up a whole new world for scammers, and some of them don’t know they’re doing it. (Like the freelance book cover designer who will charge you 50 dollars for ten minutes of time in Canva. They think they’re running a business. I think they’re ripping you off.)

What can you do if you can’t afford an editor?

The obvious thing is to learn your craft inside and out. Learning your craft is a good first step in the editing process. It’s a lot easier to edit a good first draft than it is to tackle a draft that you know has plot holes, flat characters, and verb tense changes throughout. Hone your writing skills.

Then find feedback where you can, and like I said in the feedback blog from last week, listen to that feedback, or you’re just wasting everyone’s time.

And lastly, learn how to self-edit. Put the book in a drawer for a month or two, write something else, then come back to it with fresh eyes.

You can teach yourself to self-edit, and there are a lot of resources out there that will help. You can take editing classes, definitely edit for others (that’s why I do it for free for my friends because it helps me improve) or my favorite (and probably cheaper) way to learn how to edit is reading self-editing books.

Here are my go-tos:

Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, Second Edition: How to Edit Yourself Into Print by Rennie Browne and Dave King

Intuitive Editing by Tiffany Yates Martin

Cover to Cover: What First-Time Authors Need to Know about Editing (Read this book before you publish your book by Sandra Wendel (Hat tip to Jane Friedman for this find on her blog.)

You also should have a firm grasp on grammar and punctuation. No matter who reads your book, be it a paid beta reader or one of the authors you networked with who said they would give you feedback, make it easier for them to read you by knowing your grammar and punctuation. If you choose to pay a proofreader or a line editor, it will be cheaper if they don’t have so much to wade though.

Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing (Quick & Dirty Tips) by Mignon Fogarty

Dreyer’s English: An Utterly Correct Guide to Clarity and Style by Benjamin Dreyer

I have all these books; I’ve read all these books. Self-editing is a different skill than learning and practicing how to write good books, but I think they go hand in hand.

I’m glad I left that group, but I wish I would have asked those snobby women what they do to help the indie publishing industry if they so despise what come out of it. Do they beta read for free? Do they edit pro bono twice a year? How are they making a difference? Complaining about the state of indie publishing is only being part of the problem not part of the solution.

I try to help when I can. Maybe my edits aren’t as good as someone with a real editing degree, but I have a Bachelor’s in English with a concentration in creative writing, and I educate myself all the time. I hope that the authors I’ve edited for have gone away with a better book.

Saying an author shouldn’t publish without a professional edit is shortsighted to say the least. Authors are going to publish without an editor no matter what anyone says because they don’t have the disposable income to afford it. Hell, I’ve read some traditionally published books that have read like they haven’t been edited, either. (See my crabby review of Jasmine Guillory’s The Wedding Date novel.) It’s up to the author to learn what they need to learn if they can’t afford an editor and aren’t willing to sell plasma like Jami Albright to hire one.

Readers will always be the new gatekeepers. You, as an author, need to do what you can to keep your readers happy. In the end it doesn’t matter how you go about doing it, only that you do. And if you don’t, your reviews and sales rank will be proof that you’ll need to start doing better. It will be up to you as to how.

17 thoughts on “Are Editors the Next Gatekeepers? Some people want them to be.

  1. Hear, Hear! I can’t afford professional edits. I’m on a pension and writing is a hobby – if only my blog followers and my family read my stuff, that’s OK. I wouldn’t feel like that if I’d paid thousands (or even hundreds) for edits.
    I did take a proofreading course when I retired and decided that wasn’t how I wanted to spend my retirement (deadlines, responsibility, boredom…). When I found myself proofreading and formatting our writing group’s first anthology for print it was different. It was ours.
    There is a lot of advice out there online for those of us uncertain about aspects of our writing, and that’s before we even get on to books or courses.
    I’m still proofreading and copyediting for those of the group who want to self-publish (so far a novel and a poetry collection, as well as my own books). We are all retired from full-time employment. Editing someone else is, as you say, good practice, and it gave me confidence to do it for myself. I try not to let my own style and preferences take over someone else’s work and I’m getting better at picking and choosing online advice as it applies to what I’m working on. I don’t think I will ever feel confident enough to charge anyone for my services though – even if they’re not colleagues.
    I understand that editing my own work is like the near-sighted leading the partially-sighted (maybe standing too close to view the whole picture) but I actually prefer editing my writing – smoothing it over and making it flow – to drafting.
    Like you, I have read professionally published books which were badly edited, both developmentally and technically. But who am I to judge?

    Liked by 3 people

    • I doubt I’ll ever charge for my time, either. I like the satisfaction of helping out a friend, and I think that’s wonderful that you do that too for your own group! There is a lot of online advice out there, and what I like to go by is this: Learn the rules first, then you can break them. Writing like a chicken with his head chopped off won’t earn you readers. No one likes to admit readers are used to a certain standard, and yes, traditional publishing fostered that standard, but if you want readers, as a no-namer, you need to at least adhere to that, for a little while. Thanks for reading, Cathy! I hope you are doing well. šŸ™‚

      Liked by 1 person

  2. This is excellent Vania.
    I am just going to say it. People I know have published their indie booksand thanked their editors. And I thought what the hell are you thanking them for??? They did you no favours. At best they merely gave permission to publish your prose and it is not particularly decent.
    A writer asked me to tell her what I thought of her story. I am no one- but I am sensible so said I would do it on the grounds it was just an opinion. I suggested she basically tighten up stuff not over describe and move sections around to give the prose build up and tension. She said the critique was great and her editor had nevered offered her anything like that. Immediately I thought – it’s basic advice from a reader not even a writer. So what is she paying her editor for? Turns out (as she later said unprompted) basically grammar and spelling.
    New indie authors are precious about their work- WHY NOT? I was. It’s natural. An editor is not going to win repeat customers if they say this is utter crap you and need to rewrite it from the first word. That’s the author’s job to step back and take a long cold look. If they have any sense they will fix what holes are fixable within the paid-for time and encourage the writer so the writer returns- editing is a job and repeat customers are a mainstay.
    No wonder they misread what you said and argued. I think you are right! Good editors are like gold dust. Not all editors ar golden.

    Liked by 2 people

    • The problem is, a newbie writer probably won’t have the skill to take a step back and look at their work objectively. Maybe step back for a couple of years, but who is going to do that? Editors aren’t miracle workers, and if the author doesn’t have the skill to make their book better, they don’t have the skill. You’re right though. They do want repeat customers and I doubt any of them would tell a writer to start over. I’ve read debut novels that were edited, and maybe it reads clean, but there’s no character arcs, or they’re trying to write a book around a tiny idea that can’t hold up the plot. I understand that’s where developmental editing comes in, or even a book coach. But if that writer has an open mind, then a good brainstorming session could be just as valuable. Thanks for reading, Paul! Good hearing from you. šŸ™‚

      Liked by 1 person

      • You are right about a newbie not having the skills or patience to step back for the time it takes to develop and see objectively. Again I think you are right over the benefits with a good brainstorming session for a writer. Although one has to be careful who you choose to brainstorm with. Someone said to me when I started do not go looking for critique from other new writers. They know no more than you; however if a writer you respect offers advice bite their hand off! I think that was the best free advice I ever got.
        Take care Vania – I have read your new post. I think we have to believe talent and perserverence must count something towards success. If that’s the case you will have all the success you so truly deserve. Best Paul

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I 100% agree with you. The editing part is one reason I haven’t pursued indie publishing. Also, I’ve noticed new writers pursuing traditional publishing are being told to pay for editing before submitting to agents. I think a good critique partner or group can serve you better than the wrong editor.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I’ve heard that too, but then almost ever agent I’ve heard asked that denies it. I think having your work edited before querying can help your chances of getting picked up–so long as you write a good query letter too and that your manuscript even gets looked at {Rolls eyes} LOL


  4. Ugh… I started writing a response and it just got so big… Almost like another blog post! šŸ˜†

    So, I’m just going to say this: Oh, I completely understand your viewpoint and I agree with it. šŸ‘šŸ¼

    Liked by 2 people

  5. You already know what I think about this topic. But, I’m still mad at those ladies that pissed you off and made you feel that way. I wouldn’t call myself poor, but I also don’t think $1500 is a fair price for editing. Even if I was rolling in the money, I’d never pay that. I would sit back, wait, and like you said, learn how to self-edit before I paid that high price tag. I’ve seen people pay that much for editing and then their books still not be up to par. I appreciate the resources you’ve shared here. I own a few self-editing books as well and still listen to advice that’s engrained in the back of my head from someone who once edited for me. šŸ™‚

    Liked by 2 people

    • The problem is, an editor isn’t going to teach a writer how to write. Nothing an editor can do for you will replace you learning on your own and finding your voice. That only takes a lot of writing, reading, and listening to feedback and incorporating that feedback into new work. Thanks for reading and commenting! šŸ™‚

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Kudos for speaking the truth. New gatekeepers are popping up, in the form of editors and even “Professional Reviewers” who want to control and what becomes successful in their eyes.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Pingback: Working on your craft: Can you publish without an editor? | Vania Margene Rheault

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