On Editing

     The ever-growing popularity of e-readers and related devices has opened the door to countless individuals longing to become published authors. It’s never been easier to develop a work and self-publish, thereby bringing one’s dream to fruition. Unfortunately, there’s a problem that lurks within this wonderful realm of opportunity. The problem has to do with quality. Far too many books are being published before they should be, lacking thorough, quality editing.
     I’ve been asked by a wonderful friend to post the following open letter to writers/authors. She is a voracious reader and has many friends who also devour books at an impressive rate. She has informed me that her thoughts are shared by a vast number of readers. I believe her and consider it to be a massive red flag. My intent is simple: to help bring about positive change in order to help authors and their works shine.
     Her letter:
     First, let me say I am not a writer. I am a reader. I am not, nor do I claim to be, an editor or an expert of any kind. 
     I have the greatest admiration and respect for all writers, be it Indie or otherwise. I read lots of Indie books and most are very good stories. However, far too often I get turned off by the books because of editing errors. Some are slight and some glaring. While I will continue to read the books with errors, I have friends that will not read Indie books for that very reason. 
     I am NOT trying to be mean; in fact it’s just the opposite. I want each of you to become world class authors, but to do so you must do a better job of editing your books.
     I do realize how difficult it is to see your own errors until it’s too late. However, if you’re going to publish a book on a worldwide site I urge you to do whatever it takes to ensure that your books are error free.
     Please take this in the spirit it is intended as I truly have the greatest admiration for each and every one of you.
     I’m very grateful for this letter, as it’s a wake-up call to those of us who really care about our craft and wish to give our readers the best we have to offer. Please bear in mind that this is not the first time I’ve heard this message; insufficient editing is one of the greatest challenges adversely affecting our endeavors as successful authors. Further, I can speak to this topic with experience and conviction. The beginning of my journey as a writer found me as guilty of falling short of thorough editing as any other. I self-published prematurely, my work containing what I now realize was an unacceptable quantity of errors. The bottom line: you don’t know ’til you know. As a result, I decided to take action.
     I completely stopped promoting my own novel, In Memory of Greed, while receiving a vast amount of assistance from a number of experienced colleagues. As a result, during the time I was doing so, sales of my work all but disappeared. Yet, I have no regrets. I truly strive to offer my best work to readers and feel like I’ve finally done just that. A silver lining exists in the fact that I can now offer a paperback version of my novel with confidence and will do so in the next few weeks.
     I’ve asked my colleague Steve Umstead to write a guest post on the topic of editing, which he has graciously done. Steve is an author I have a great deal of respect and admiration for. I believe you’ll find the following post entertaining and informative.
     I hope you’ll give his Evan Gabriel sci-fi series a look. I’ve read his work. If you enjoy sci-fi, I know you’ll find his writing to be top-shelf.
      Unfortunately, there is a stigma attached to the phrase “self-published”, and in the past it was well-founded. Self-publishing meant taking a first draft, using a vanity press, printing books for family and friends, maybe selling a handful at a trade show table. Today, self-publishing is incredibly easy…meaning that stigma is raising its ugly head again. Now it’s as simple as taking that same first draft and uploading a file to Amazon. The stigma? Poor editing. 
     I’ll preface this by saying I would never call my books error-free. I’ll also preface (can one have two prefaces??) this by saying when I refer to editing, I’m referring to copy edits (spelling, punctuation, grammar, capitalization, etc.), not editing for plot holes, inconsistencies, and so on. Why only copy edits? Because that’s the first thing a reader will pick out. In the case of e-books, they are only potential buyers who download a sample – if the sample has spelling and punctuation errors, that’s a lost sale even before they get to any possible plot holes.
     I’ve got some mild form of OCD, I’m sure of it…spelling errors and the like simply jump off the page to me, like glowing red letters. If someone pinned me down on what I felt was my strongest asset as a writer, I’d probably say what I call the “mechanics” of writing (the copy editing I mentioned before). So I find myself pulled out of a story when I stumble across an error. Actually pulled out, like setting the book down and doing something else before (maybe) going back to it. And that’s the stigma that self-published authors must avoid. 
     How? Never rely on only yourself to proofread. There is no possible way the author can read his or her own work and pick out errors. It’s like the sign in a doctor’s office that has the first and last letters of each word correct, but all the ones in the middle mixed up, yet your brain rearranges them on the fly and it becomes readable. The author’s brain reads what he or she meant to write and moves on, skipping right over “it was better then he thought”, or “he knew he woudln’t run”, or “the laser sites were misaligned”, or “hit the gas peddle”. (Did you catch those?)
     Who? Not Mom or your aunt. They will read it and love it and praise you at the bridge club meeting that night. Not your best buddy, who will skim it and buy you a beer for being an author. Either (a) use a professional editor, and/or (b) use multiple beta readers that know what they’re doing and will give you their full attention. 
     I’ll admit, I have never used a professional editor. Honestly, I can’t afford it – even a buck a page (a bargain!) would be a few hundred I didn’t have when publishing my first book. And I’ll admit again (don’t tell anyone), the only person to edit my first book was me and my son. However, for my second, I enlisted a whole slew of incredible beta readers and received such amazing and useful feedback and corrections, I will always have future works go through a series of beta readers.
     I’ve been in marketing most of my adult life, and the old saying of “you never get a second chance to make a first impression” is 100% true. Don’t skimp on editing, even with the best, most fascinating story ever written. Readers may never get past the first, poorly edited chapter.

Steve Umstead

Gabriel’s Redemption
 – Book 1 of the Evan Gabriel Trilogy
Now available for Kindle, Nook, iPad, and more
Gabriel’s Return – Book 2 of the Evan Gabriel Trilogy
Now available for Kindle & Nook
Visit http://www.SteveUmstead.com for details
     I want to thank you all for visiting my blog and reading this post on editing. Please feel free to add your questions/comments. Together, let us show a world of readers the quality that indie/small press authors are capable of.
All the best,
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27 Responses to On Editing

  1. susielindau says:

    Excellent post! I am one of those OCD readers and have caught several errors in published books that used editors. Getting my book published and then finding an error is one of my biggest fears. I plan to hire a top notch editor and pay random people that I don’t know to read it. If I could only finish it…. : )
    Good luck with your book!

    • Al Boudreau says:

      I’m here to cheer you on, Susie, and love your outlook. I encourage you to take all the time you need to make the work shine. A great book will sell, especially one that is as error free as possible. Thank you so much for weighing in on this important topic.

  2. Tom Williams says:

    Beta readers have changed my world as it applies to my work. I was fortunate to find some very good ones that will rip me apart in a heartbeat. Yes, that is a good thing if you want to produce a good book. This is rock solid advice. 🙂

    • Al Boudreau says:

      Bravo, Tom! Betas are the best. I owe so much to them for helping me get things right, and try to return the favor whenever possible. Thank you very much for taking the time to read and comment on this post.

  3. Jason Darrick says:

    I think the authors who heed this advice have a far greater passion for the written word than those who simply “push product.” I too, couldn’t (still can’t) afford an editor when releasing my work, however I slogged through my final draft at least 3 times and then unleashed it upon the beta-readers. Love me some betas, they found little things that quite frankly I just plain missed.

    I will say one thing to fans of traditional publishing – it ain’t all roses there either. I’m currently reading and reviewing major publications and major authors, I shouldn’t find copy edits. Sadly, I do. A lot. A dear friend of mine went with a medium sized press and was shocked to learn they’d published her first draft, not her fourth and final. Errors happen on every level. I say, lets keep on editing them right out.

    • Al Boudreau says:

      Thank you so much for your response, Jason. Your friend’s experience is an unfortunate one, and yet such events seem to occur far too often.
      You bring up a common dilemma … cost. Many writers/authors simply don’t have the proper funds available to hire a full-fledged, pro editor to edit their works. While beta readers are certainly far better than simply attempting to edit one’s own writing, there is no substitute for the expertise a professional editor can provide.
      And you’re absolutely correct. Even the big houses give the green light to releasing works that simply aren’t ready to go to print.
      And the beat goes on.

  4. I’m a writer, editor, and copy editor, by trade. I tend to be a curmudgeon when it comes to usage, grammar, and typography. While I wholly support the sentiment and the intent of the reader’s comment, I have to point out that I cannot recall a single book, even from major publishers, in which I have not found at least one error. And I usually find several. I used to write letters to the publishers complaining of sloppiness. But I have since concluded that it is likely just a statistical reality that in a work of hundreds of pages, there will always be an error or two.

    So, yes, I agree that indie authors tend to be far sloppier than they should be, they are not the exclusive culprits in that regard. Even I, the curmudgeonly editor-cum-writer, have found post-publishing errors in my own work. It wrenches my gut. But the beauty of self-publishing is that it is very easy to issue a new edition with corrections as many times as you need to!

  5. Kelly Gamble says:

    I highly recommend those that self edit to read their text out loud. I was shocked at the errors I found when my mind was not allowed to skim over the familiar. However, I do believe that everyone should find a way to afford professional editing services. Personally, I think they are quite affordable for what they offer.

    • Al Boudreau says:

      I completely agree, Kelly. Reading out loud is a practice that brings problematic areas of our work to the fore. And I wish I was independently wealthy, so I could fund the use of pro editors to each and every one of my author friends.

    • lostbowyer says:

      Hi kelly I found letting a kindle read me the book even better. That way I am totally detached from the book itself while I am listening to the kindle. Occasionally. The kindle has been known to skip lines or even chapters but usually. It is a great asset

  6. lostbowyer says:

    Every person I’ve run into that has asked me what is the most important thing they should know when it comes to writing a novel, I tell them edit, edit and then edit again. But there are always going to be something that gets through. When a reader complains about the copy editing of a book. I ask myself whether it is actually a case of poor copy editing or the writing style. My first book I paid a large sum of money for professional copyediting. It was my single most expense because I wanted a quality book. The copy editor was good, and she did an excellent job. It still didn’t stop one reviewer from calling it a “literary trainwreck” while another reviewer the same day wrote “it was a very well written novel” The reality was, if you read the review, the real issue wasn’t grammatical, as much as it was style. The reviewer expected the book to be a certain way, it wasn’t, so it was poorly edited.

    Most Indie authors in my opinion are not sloppier that traditional, they just don’t have the resources to give their books the scrutiny of a traditional house. They should within their power strive to come as close to that level as possible. I think many do. Traditional houses know their audience, they know their preferences. They turn away that which their readers would have issue. With the boom in indie publishing and decline in traditional. these readers are now being exposed to styles they have never seen and are not comfortable reading. It is easier for them to cry bad editing than admit, they have a preference. There is nothing wrong with having a preference, A reader neads to take a step back and look at it objectively. Was it really poor editing, or is it their style that is the issue.
    I like the online autocritiquing software that is available. it helps to clean up a lot. Follow that with a a group of 5 or more beta readers. Another round of tightening after that and then I pay a professional proofer for a final inspection.

    • There is a functional difference between an editor and a copyeditor that many people don’t grasp. The latter cleans up misspellings, grammatical errors, and usage anomalies that may cause the reader to stumble or be confused. They often, but not always, proofread for continuity and consistency as well.

      An editor, on the other hand, is a full-on gatekeeper between the writer and the reader: he or she will judge style, tone, audience-appropriateness, marketability, and get right down to the nitty-gritty, such as chapter length, font, linespacing, word count, and so on.

      Most self-published authors do not have an editor. Some ask a friend to proofread and check for typos. Most of these friends are not trained in proper usage and can only spot the most egregious misspellings and glaring grammatical errors.

      Other indie authors will hire a copyeditor, and it usually shows in the quality of their work. Yet the style, voice, tone, POV, and other issues that traditional editors usually filter for an audience are left just as the writer created them. Often it is these elements that the reader finds new and unusual, but they usually can’t put their finger on just what it is different. They simply like or dislike it, and sometimes blame it on faulty editing.

    • alboudreau says:

      Hello, Glenn. Thank you so much for offering your thoughts on the topic of editing. I appreciate your visit to the blog, sir.

      And thank you, Marty, for defining editing vs. copyediting.

  7. Terrific post, Al.

    I am really delighted that you have re-edited “In Memory of Greed.” It is one of the best books I read this year and am so glad to know it is getting an editorial makeover. When I published my first book, it had been edited by a professional writer who also knows grammar very well. I thought I was in the clear. But I wasn’t. While the person did help me with a great deal, he was NOT a professional copy editor. I pulled the book off the market and put it back after a professional editor had gone through it.

    One great thing about having a professional editor is that you learn SO much from having your book edited that you will make fewer errors with the next one. That said, even though my third novel, which is coming out very shortly, was in “great shape,” my editor still found LOTS of things that beta readers would never find. Because she is a professional editor.

    In the editing of this book, I first went through it several times for different things: words/sentences that I didn’t need, excess adverbs, etc. After it received a professional edit, I then sent it to beta readers who caught a bit more. I wish I could have had three professional editors review it, but there’s so much one can do. I have a top-notch editor (who works very inexpensively for indie authors) and the thought of not having her expertise gives me the chills. I’m sure the book isn’t perfect, but I feel confident that it’s in excellent editorial shape.

    I should caution new writers that many people advertising professional editing services are NOT professional editors. Money is very tight for most of us, so, if you do make the decision to hire an editor, do check out his/her credentials.

    I think Kelly’s advice to read your work out loud is excellent. And if you have a text-to-speech program that you can use, that is really helpful. We do tend to see what SHOULD be there, but hearing a missing word is a very different thing. Text-to-speech also helps one to hear the repetition of words. I do not have such a program now. Word used to have that feature but took it out. 😦

    Editing is vital. I urge all authors to do EVERYTHING in order to publish the best possible work. Even if it means delaying the release. It’s well worth it.

    Thanks again for a great post, Al. And I eagerly await your next book!

    • Al Boudreau says:

      Thank you so much for sharing your experiences and wisdom with us, Lisette. I respect and admire your work very much, and so appreciate your kind words. It’s wonderful to know your new work is on its way to us, and I look forward to reading it.

  8. last_lines says:

    Brilliant post Al! Great letter from the “reader”. Fantastic post from Steve!
    Agree! Agree! Agree! I agree with what everyone said in this post.
    I am with Steve on having chronic OCD when it comes to copy-editing….it can be a curse but more often than not it is a gift when it comes to editing: whether it be my own work or one of my cp’s WIPs, I am a copy-edit sergeant major. 😀 , you cannot over-do copy-editing. It is something that will turn me off an author and a book every time no matter how good the story is. I agree with the reader in that if you are going to put your work out onto the world’s stage….get it checked, rechecked and checked again for good measure. Readers may not be writers but they are experts when it comes to buying the writer’s books and recommending them. All writers should be readers as Mr Stephen King says. You can’t write well if you don’t read.
    The only problem with this post: there is no LOVE button on WordPress 🙂
    – Kim

    • Al Boudreau says:

      Thank you so much, Kim. I’m glad you agree with Steve and my lovely reader friend. Editing is such an important factor if we,as writers, hope to succeed in the literary world. Your input is greatly appreciated, as always.

  9. danniehill says:

    Thank you once again , Al, for bring a subject forward that needs to be told over and over. It’s the one sure way to get rid of the ‘self-publish’ stigma that some reader attach to books.

    And we as authors are our own worst enemies in perpetuating this image. Yes almost every book I read I find an error or two and as a writer I think I look for them more than a ‘normal’ reader would, but it’s a bad day when a writer/reader throws a book down because it’s so poorly edited.

    Steve is one of the few writers I know that can actually edit, completely, his own book. For the vast majority of us we have to have help and I think it should come from a professional. Yes it’s the most expensive thing we do, but it also means the difference between a good story and a great read.

    I congratulate you, Al, for re-editing your book. I loved it and didn’t see that many errors, but your story was such that I might have overlooked a few. I told you when I first read In Memory of Greed that I thought you would be the next big thriller writer and I still think that.

    I hope every indie author with read this article and take it to heart– for all our sakes.

    • Al Boudreau says:

      Thank you, Dannie. I’m grateful for your constant support, not only for me, but for many of our mutual author friends. I see you constantly helping fellow writers and I admire that. You’re a wonderful author and a true gentleman.

  10. Quill Shiv says:

    Thank you, thank you, thank you for posting this. I would also like to add that there are MANY levels of editing and all of them will require patience, communication, and a willingness to go back into your novel and make it better.

    The grammar nuts and bolts: most of the time, they are hard and fast rules. Authors: do yourself a favor and pick up a copy of ‘Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style.’ DO IT. I’m not kidding. Read it before you write another word.

    While some of the advice within is a bit antiquated, once you know the rules, you can break them; you DO need to know the rules.

    Having less of the obvious grammar issues to sort out will leave a copy editor with more time to focus on the nitty-gritty and your turn-around will be faster. Which will make you, and your editor, happier in the long run.

    If you are going to pay an editor (and I suggest that you invest in this), shop around. An editor should offer several services with prices clearly defined. They should also give the author the option of sending sample edit pages. These pages will help the two of you determine if you are a good fit to work together. Yes, these sample pages must be paid for.

    If you are NOT going to pay an editor, I would suggest beg, barter, with someone whose grasp of grammar, story arc, and characterization you admire.

    Remember, in all editor/writer relationships, it is a business relationship. Communication is key. If, as an author, you are not happy about something, you must speak up. The same goes for the editor, professional, or not.

    This might not be very popular, but I would also suggest, in fact, implore, all entering into an editor/author relationship to have at least a written agreement. If, as the writer, you have a certain deadline in mind, that must be communicated and written into the agreement. If the editor has constraints, those need to be written in. If it is a barter, that agreement needs to be in writing, etc. I know, it sounds icky, but REALLY, document everything!

    I would always employ beta readers in the early stages. Say, once you have done your final self-edit, send it to about four beta readers. When you receive that data, edit one more time. Then send it for an edit.

    Sorry this has gone on so long. I’ve been bursting to talk about this. Why not at 4am?

  11. Thank you for your post, Al.
    As an avid-reader and proofreader, this is a topic near and dear to my heart, and I take it serious. All too often, I have downloaded a sample from Amazon and have not followed up with a purchase because of errors in the first chapter. My first novel is due next month, and I confess, I have read it at minimum thirty times. I’m sure some readers will find some obscure error, but I have made it my goal to have it as error-free as possible. I cannot guarantee all readers will enjoy my story, but I am certainly doing my utmost to provide them with a well-written novel for their money.

    • Al Boudreau says:

      Hi, Carmen. Thank you very much for sharing your thoughts and experiences with us. My goal is to help raise the bar, in order to improve the quality of indie/small press works. I’m so glad you feel the same.

  12. Thanks for posting this, since it helps to have a reader say she doesn’t like copy errors. I am a professional copyeditor and writing coach, so spend my days correcting other people’s errors. But I’m also a published novelist. And one thing I’d like to say is that no matter how many times you go over your own work (and even if you are a trained editor), you often cannot see your mistakes. It is as if they vanish into the background of your words on the page like a Where’s Waldo image. Every time I have turned in a novel to my publisher(s), after I have gone through thoroughly to catch all mistakes, and even after their editors and finally their proofreaders have gone through, I still do one final pass. Invariably I have on my list for the typesetter about 2-10 dozen corrections everyone missed.With my latest release I had three single-spaced typed pages of corrections!

    So … I highly encourage one and all, no matter how well versed in English and Chicago style, to hire a professional copyeditor and have your book edited well before turning it in or self-publishing it. Here are some great points to think about regarding editing: http://critiquemymanuscript.com/editing/
    And you may really need a thorough critique before you edit: http://critiquemymanuscript.com/whycritique/

    BTW, I would be glad to do some guest posts on tips for self-editing, some great books that will help authors do this, and what to look for in an editor.
    Thanks again for your post!

    • Al Boudreau says:

      Thank you for responding, Susanne. I’m glad you’ve pointed out a simple fact that can’t be reinforced enough: “no matter how many times you go over your own work (and even if you are a trained editor), you often cannot see your mistakes.” If there’s one bit of wisdom we can impart, this is it.

  13. Pingback: Weekly Writer’s Round-Up; Week of November 27th | Chris Devlin's Blog

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