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Do you need an editor?


That was a short article, wasn’t it?

At the MPIBA conference last weekend, just about everybody had stories to share of authors who don’t think they need an editor, or copyeditor, or proofreader. Most of them, in fact, don’t know the difference between those three (more on that in a moment). Well, if Stephen King needs an editor and a proofreader, so do you.

Let’s say you’ve just banged out an absolutely amazing 100,000-word novel. You have created unique and believable characters. Your have brought each scene to life, so that readers feel, see, smell, hear, and even taste the places in your book. And with the average word being about five letters long, you have pressed a half-million keys (not counting spaces and punctuation marks). The odds of doing that without a mistake are infinitesimal.

I’m sure you proofread your own work. If you’re like me, you’ve probably proofread your book many times. But there’s a problem with proofing your own work: you see what you think you wrote instead of what you actually wrote. You know the book inside out. You will often read right past a typo or continuity error. That’s why there are three people you really need to enlist (sometimes one person may fill more than one of these roles):

An Editor

Your editor is the one who reviews the book for continuity and flow. It’s the editor that might say, “spend more time explaining what’s going on in Chapter 3” or “I think Chapter 14 is completely superfluous.” Editors look at your plot structure if you’re a novelist and clarity if you write nonfiction. If you write YA or children’s books, it’s the editor that can tell you if you’ve hit your target age group. Good editors are experts in their genres. You may choose not to take their advice, but you should always listen to what they have to say.

A Copyeditor

Your copyeditor is the one that goes deeper than plot elements and structure. Copyediting involves checking your book for formatting problems, factual errors, style consistency, and other mechanical issues. If you say “see page 142” and the thing you’re referencing is really on page 144, it’s the copyeditor that will catch it — although in this era of ebooks, you really shouldn’t reference page numbers!

A Proofreader

Your proofreader puts your work under a microscope, looking at spelling, punctuation, grammar, and the minutia of language. Treat your proofreaders well, because they’re the ones that catch the really embarrassing typos!

An Example

There’s a book we’ve been selling for years in my bookstore. It’s called Scats & Tracks of the Rocky Mountains. Here’s what the cover of the 2nd edition looks like:

Scats and Tracks 2nd ed cover

The publisher has a new look for their Falcon Guide series, so they decided to redesign the cover. In general, it’s a good look. Everything went well until someone told the cover designer, “add an animal footprint on the front.” The designer added one, and they sent the book off to the printer. Unfortunately, there was a problem with the placement of the track:

Scats and Tracks 3rd ed

Yep. It covered the first letter of the title, changing the book from Scats and Tracks to Cats and Tracks. Even the big publishers need to use proofreaders more often!

Can’t writers all just get along?

Before addressing the main issue of this post, I’d like to provide a bit of background. When somebody hits that magic “follow” button on my blog, I get an email telling me about it. Here’s a sample email I received this evening:

Shannon is Following You

Sometimes I scan down the short list of “great posts” and see things like “One strange tip for making money on eBay.” I delete the email and move on. Sometimes I see fascinating post titles like the second one in the image above. That made me want to follow the link to Shannon Thompson’s blog and read the article Why Are Authors “Hating” On One Another?

I ended up subscribing to Shannon’s blog post and deciding to write my own follow-up post on her topic. That, my friends, is known as a win-win situation. When she clicked the “follow” button, she didn’t just sign up to read my posts, she gained a reader for her own blog.

Why the hate doesn’t make sense

Shannon’s post ponders why traditionally-published authors, self-published authors, and small-press authors spend so much time and effort verbally assaulting each other. That’s a fine question, and one I’ve pondered myself.

You see, all three of those descriptions fit me. My first two books were self-published, one was large press, and the rest have been small press. Now I’m pondering what to do with my upcoming work. Let me provide my perspective on Shannon’s observations:

“I’ve seen hate from traditionally published authors, generally saying anyone else is not ‘good enough’ for bigger publishers. Ironically, a lot of these authors have admitted to previously knowing someone in the industry. Even worse, they don’t seem to consider many authors aren’t comfortable with traditional publishing houses monopolizing the market.”

Inside CaptioningLet’s get real here. It’s often not the author that determines whether a particular book is suitable for a big press, but the book. I decided to self-publish Inside Captioning because the market was too small to interest a big publisher. With a total potential market of only a few thousand people at the time, it also meant that I couldn’t make enough money to be worthwhile from a buck or two per book in royalties. I went ahead and printed 1,500 copies, which was quite an investment, and started speaking at conferences. I sold all 1,500 books — most of them through back-of-room sales and hallway book signing tables at conferences.

The best part is that when interest in closed captioning expanded and the government passed laws mandating television access for deaf and hard-of-hearing people, I made a proposal to a large publishing company and it was accepted largely because of the platform I’d built with the self-published book and the speaking engagements (among other things).

As a traditionally-published author, how could I possibly hate on self-published authors when that’s what got me started?

“I’ve seen hate from small press published authors, saying almost the exact same thing about self-published authors.”

The same argument applies here. Some books fit better with big presses, some with little presses, and some with self publishing.

“But I also see hate from self-published authors, saying they don’t like traditional publishing houses for the reasons above but also hating on small-press published authors, because they aren’t ‘capable’ at marketing themselves and, therefore, have to rely on someone else by means of payment.”

The latter part of this argument is really silly. I didn’t go from self-publishing to traditional because I couldn’t market myself. Traditionally-published authors have to market themselves, no matter how big the press. The thing is, even though I make the majority of my income through writing, I still do have a day job. I also really like the traditional publishing model for cash flow: all money flows toward the author. I don’t like paying for my own cover design, copyediting, proofreading, fact-checking, ebook conversion, layout, and printing. I also don’t have time to do many of those things myself — and I freely admit that I’m not the best cover designer in the world.

We are not in competition with each other

It’s easy to convince yourself that every other author in your genre is in competition with you. After all, there’s only so much publishing money to go around, right? And there are only so many readers in your genre, all of whom have fixed budgets for books.


In fact, reality works exactly the other way around. Let’s say I write steampunk dragon mysteries. I’ve written two, with modest success. Now you come along with your own steampunk dragon mystery. Yours sells like hotcakes. What happens? More people get interested in steampunk dragon mysteries. After they read yours, they look for more in the genre, and they find mine. Realistically, nobody is going to say they can only afford one steampunk mystery novel this year.

A high tide floats all boats.

In fact, if we’re smart, we’ll do some cross-promotion. Maybe follow each other’s blogs. Perhaps blurb each other’s books. Does it matter if one of us is small press and one is Big Six? Not a bit.

We all have a common goal, which is to keep people interested in reading. Specifically, reading the kind of cool stuff that we like to write (although making the house payment is a pretty important goal, too). Let’s stop fighting with each other and focus on the important things in life, like em dashes. Don’t you just hate it when people confuse them with hyphens. Drives me nuts.

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