I am a natural editor. By natural, I mean I spent 10 years of my life being paid to edit people’s words. If you spend enough time doing anything, you can become a natural at it. Of course, I’m being facetious, but only a little.
In truth, while I like to write, I love to edit. Writing is hard, and the words get stuck coming out. Sometimes, the wrong things come out, and you have to recognize them, and either excise them, or replace them with what should have been there in the first place. It is the process of spinning straw into gold, of finding sugar amidst the shit. I typically write my books in 6 weeks to 3 months – my average productivity is probably around 50,000 – 60,000 words per month. Not bad, I suppose, for someone with a day job. However, after spending those few months writing, I spend, on average, 2 years editing.
For instance, I started Emprise in August 2010. I expect to start editing it again in June. Why so long? Because, as an independent writer, I am controlling costs. Now, I’ve had people “encourage” me by telling me I should just “go for it” and spend the money. After all, they say, you have the cash. Exactly. I have the cash, because I don’t waste money. When not at my writing desk, I’ve spent over a quarter of a century doing business case analysis, and business development, among other things. One thing I have always seen to be true: those who act rashly, without a plan, and without regard to ensuring what they do will pay out in the end, invariably end up disappointed.
I’ve previously discussed J.K. Rowling, and her 5 years of outlining and planning. The simple fact is getting published is hard as hell. Publishing yourself is easy, but publishing something that people want to read is as difficult as finding a publisher. The primary obstacle that I’ve encountered, from reading indie books (and my own) is editing. Simply put, most contemporary books are not well edited. Readers notice, I promise.
My issue with editing goes beyond price – actually, it’s more about control. Let me explain, by briefly mentioning the main types of editing.
- Developmental Editing – sometimes lumped in with substantive editing – according to the Freelance Editorial Association, this is the process of helping a writer to develop a novel from concept through any one of the initial drafts. Now I’ve bounced book ideas off my bestie, and found brainstorming with her to help, but the thought of paying someone to help me come up with an idea seems alien to me. Heck, that’s the fun part. However, if you’re better at execution than ideas, this can help.
- Substantive Editing – this is the hard stuff; sometimes it’s referred to a ghostwriting editing. This editor helps with clarity, organization, writing/rewriting portions of the text for readability, etc. Given the time and skill involved, paying $0.75 per word isn’t atypical. Much “works-for-hire” editing, tech editing, etc. falls into this category. Having done about 10 years of this, I can assure you that the writer does give up a modicum of control here. Frankly, there is a great deal of trust that the editor can make the book better. For instance, were I Stieg Larsson’s SE, I would have pushed him to take out around 100 pages of character backgrounds from his Milennnium trilogy (per book). As you can imagine, it can be contentious.
- Copyediting / Line Editing – this is important, and not as controversial. Grammar, spelling, syntax, word usage, inconsistencies, etc. At it’s basic, it’s error correction. This, not surprisingly, is where most writers stumble, and where it is VERY easy to lose a reader. Rates vary, often $0.05 – $0.25 per word, depending on what you want done. Me? Just find mistakes; fix nothing, just tell me and I’ll fix them. Control freak, me.
- Proofreading – Often confused with copyediting, this is basically light error correction, typos, checking the “proof” to be published for errors. Anyone should do this, if possible, before publishing. Prices vary, but $0.05 per word isn’t unreasonable.
So, what’s my beef? There is a reason I am still considering publishing Hard as Roxx myself, rather than traditional publishing. I don’t give a shit what an editor thinks of my writing style. I can’t see paying someone to argue with me regarding what to put in and take out of my stories. However, I think a hybrid that incorporates copyediting, as well as pointing out sections that don’t work, or flow wrong is invaluable. Therefore, the issue comes back to money.
Unless you’re making tons of cash selling your books, spending tons of cash self-publishing is nothing more than vanity. There needs to a balance of expected return (even if the return is only visibility) and cash outlay. Until I can find that audience that is willing to give my books a try, I’m stuck in the a no-edit Neverland.
Editors, if you trust them, without a doubt, help the writing process. Unfortunately, as a writer, I’ve learned that every single bit of “help” I’ve been offered costs money. Simply put, no one ever offers to help – they only offer to sell services. How much you pay for those services depends on how important getting the book done right is.
For now, I’m just trying to find my readers, and I understand the process will take me 2-3 years. For now, I guess I’ll keep editing myself, in between cranking out short stories. Those, I can edit in hours.