One of the issues brought up in the comments of this post is about overconfidence in writers – especially self-published writers. Part of what fuels the amount of poorly-conceived self-published books is a sense of overconfidence and misunderstanding the role of an editor. Because “editor” has become synonymous with “gatekeeper,” it’s possible some writers do not think the editorial process is necessary and think the freedom of being your own publisher means you have the freedom to avoid the editorial process.
They’re wrong. For one thing, if you are trying to get a book deal via the traditional route, it’s not a bad idea at all to hire an independent editor to scour the manuscript before you send out your queries. As is frequently mentioned, acquisition editors want a finished manuscript. So you want to get a book as close to ready for publication before submitting it to agents and editors. They’re probably going to want to “piss on” your manuscript (colorful description of offering their opinion, ala dogs marking territory) because agents and editors want to feel as if they made their imprint, but there is much work that can and should be done before it ever gets to this point.
Self-publishing is going to have even less of a filter so hiring an editor should be mandatory. I became painfully aware of just how important the editorial process is with my upcoming novel, which I had edited by Erin Stropes. I feel confident posting this because I know the book is not a total mess, but I also know that there were plenty of issues that I did not see myself. A book just has to be looked at with fresh eyes. Here’s a sample of a page with the most annotations:
This is a novel that I’ve read I don’t know how many times and there were many sentences that I’ve read over and over again that I thought were clear of errors, but actually my brain either filled in the missing word or neglected to see an error when I knew what the sentence was trying to say. Here’s a prime example of how readers can fill in the blanks no matter how many errors there are in a paragraph:
Aoccdrnig to rscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it deosn’t mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmotnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteer be at the rghit pclae. The rset can be a toatl mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit a porbelm. Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe.
To think that you’re your own perfect editor is more than a little presumptous. To think that you’d be able to do this when you’ve only written a couple of novels heads into arrogance. Here’s another example. Count the number of F’s in this sentence:
Finished files are the result of years of scientific study combined with the experience of years.
The answer is
6. Most don’t count all the f’s in “of” because it has the v sound. The brain is a curious and imperfect instrument, so there are many issues that a writer is not going to be able to spot. Hiring an impartial editor who doesn’t necessarily have motive to make you feel good about your work (such as a family member) is necessary for every writer. This one’s a bit easier – find the mistake in this sentence:
See other word-based optical illusions here.
Cheryl Gardner at Pod People has a great post singling out some of the biggest problems you’ll see in unedited fiction.
After falling from the balcony, my mother picked up the busted flower pot.
Did the mother fall from the balcony or the flower pot?
Walking down the cobblestone path, the flowers were beautiful.
Here we have a flower parade, and I am wondering if they were wearing top hats?
I saw the glowing street lights peeking through the curtains.
Damn nosy street lights.
Be certain of it, you have a sentence or two constructed like that – it’s an issue where the reader knows what you’re trying to say, but it enters a little confusion into the mix. Do that enough times and the reader’s going to become a little exhausted and maybe even stop reading – even if the reader’s not entirely sure what the problem is, i.e. he or she doesn’t stop reading because of bad grammar, but just a sense that the book is not flowing correctly.
The trouble with having readers become the gatekeepers is that many readers aren’t grammar experts. You could make the argument that: if the book is successful, it doesn’t matter if it’s poorly constructed. People are reading. And certainly, poorly-written books have become successful. But as a self-publisher it is much less likely for this to occur, and if it does, it is less likely for it to occur on a large scale if the book has numerous problems. Finally, there should be some pride in craftsmanship – of putting together the best book possible – so by avoiding the editing process you’re virtually guaranteed to be releasing a book that has more than a few flaws.
The moral: hire an editor.
About Henry Baum
Author of The American Book of the Dead, which won Best Fiction at the DIY Book Festival and the Gold IPPY Award for Visionary Fiction. Largehearted Boy says it's "reminiscent of Philip K. Dick and Haruki Murakami, a book that boldly explores the future and defies genre." Also the author of North of Sunset, winner of the Hollywood Book Festival Grand Prize, and The Golden Calf - first published by Soft Skull Press, with editions in the U.K. (Rebel Inc.) and France (Hachette Littératures). Henry was a finalist along with Alan Moore and Dr Brooke Magnanti for his novel " God's Wife" at for Best Writer at The Erotic Awards London UK in 2013. He lives with his wife Cate Baum in Los Angeles. He is the founder of SPR. Visit henrybaum.com for more information.