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
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.
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.