Wednesday, August 31, 2016

The Most Repeated Advice for Authors

I just returned from one of the largest events in my industry: the American Christian Fiction Writers conference, held in Nashville this year. For three days, around six hundred people attended workshops, lectures, continuing ed courses taught by the giants in our field.

This year I concentrated on things that would guide me through this maze of hybrid publishing--being both independent and traditional--but with special attention to those courses about indie publishing. Guess what the #1 piece of advice was? I doubt it will be a big surprise.

Hire an editor.

Just before being indie became vogue--what? Four years ago? Five?--stodgy traditionalists sneered at the idea that anyone who went the "vanity publishing" route could be considered a serious author. They hadn't jumped the hoops, paid the dues. Their works were destined to be inferior. They'd never rise above the stigma. I know the attitude, because I was a stodgy traditionalist.

Things are far different now. Those of us who once snubbed indie--and fed on crow for quite a while afterward--are now among the number of those who learned how wonderful it is to have complete control without having to share profits. Eventually, the pros in the publishing industry began advising and guiding those who once were learning as they went along.  And, as I said before, advice #1 is--say it all together, kids--"get an editor."

Judging by the whoppin' increase in my freelance editing business, indies are listening.

Having your manuscripts edited professionally is the most expensive thing you, as an indie, can do for your career. The sticker shock is apparently wearing off as authors realize they can earn their investment back. Wise authors understand that they have to invest in their products and build their readers' trust.

But why is the edit the most expensive part of the process?

Think about it: No one else in the entire process has to know your manuscript as well as you do in order to do their jobs. No one. A cover designer needs only the story basics; a formatter needs to know what you want italicized, how you want your title page to look, what design you want for your chapter headings and scene breaks.

But an editor can't do her job unless she delves into your book. She doesn't know whether you have an effective story arc until she's read the story. Can't help you with your weak spots until she knows what they are. Can't know that what you wrote on page 12 is repeated almost verbatim on page 51 unless she's deeply involved.

That not only takes time, it takes expertise.

So, how do you get the most bang for your buck?

Know what you're doing. Know what you want.

Different editors have different terms for the same type of edit sometimes and it's frustrating as the dickens. What some call a "content" edit, others call a "developmental" edit. What some call a "copy" edit, others call a "line" edit. One thing that is the same across the board: Proofread. A proofread shouldn't be confused with an edit; it's necessary, but different. If you think you're hiring a copy editor, and the manuscript comes back with only spelling and punctuation corrected, you didn't get your money's worth.

Here are some tips to help:

  1. Do as much as you can to correct your own mistakes. What you can catch yourself saves your editor from doing it, and if he charges by the hour, that savings can add up. Do you already know you have pet words and phrases? Hunt them down. Check your punctuation by skimming the page for it rather than reading so you're actually focusing on the punctuation. Print the document and read it aloud. The different format, and the fact you're hearing it out loud, will help you catch things that you wouldn't ordinarily catch.
  2. When you're done, have a critique partner catch as much as possible. Make corrections based upon those recommendations--then proofread your corrections.
  3. Know what kind of edit you want. A content or developmental edit covers everything about the craft of writing: characterization, story arc, setting, plot, dialogue, narrative, literary devices, etc. A copy or line edit covers everything pertaining to the mechanics of writing: progression of thought as presented through sentences and paragraphs, sentence structure, word choice, etc.
  4. Make certain you and your editor are on the same page about what you expect in an edit. Find an editor who will provide a sample edit. Most will, because it lets the editor know your expertise while helping to determine a cost estimate. If you're primarily getting corrected spelling and punctuation when you want to know whether your POV is deep enough, then you need to keep looking.
  5. Understand that it takes roughly 30 days to do a good edit, and that some--if not most--editors demand partial payment up front. Like other editors, I require full payment. The funds go into an account until I finish the job.
  6. Understand that whether or not you agree with the editor's work, the editor did the work. Unless you expressed a content edit and received a proofread, the work has been done, and the editor is to be paid for her time. Plumbers are paid for the time it takes them to repair a sink. Doctors are paid for treatment time. Editors are paid for editing time.
  7. Know that the piece is yours and you ultimately have the final decision. If you disagree with something the editor suggested, don't do it. It's your work, your decision.
Ideally, you'd start with a content edit, then the copy edit (which is pointless to do if the content is is flawed), and finally a proofread (which is pointless to do unless the craft and mechanics of writing are corrected).

Give yourself and your editor time. While this manuscript is being edited, prepare its marketing schedule, design ads, start arranging for guest posts. There's always something you can be doing. Ultimately, you can earn back what you spend on your final product. 

Add to Technorati Favorites
Bookmark and Share