Thursday, May 10, 2012

The Importance of Editing

by Elizabeth S. Craig, @elizabethscraig

2926501952_cd22de434aI’m thankful for the rise in dystopian fiction (my son’s favorite genre and one that was difficult to find before the Hunger Games gained prominence) and e-readers. Believe me, we’d tapped out our county library system before getting a Kindle. In fact, I was sending purchase requests weekly to the acquisitions librarian until they instigated a limit on the number of requests a patron could make.

Before ebooks, I ordered books online, drove across town to the bookstore, visited the second-hand store—and we still kept running out of books.

We got some relief from our problem when we bought a Kindle. Finally we had instant access to thousands of books. But recently, we’ve found that we’ve quickly plowed through the traditionally published YA books that are available. Since I’m his personal librarian (he only really wants to read the books…he doesn’t want to find them), I started looking at the self-published YA books on the Kindle.

There was one series that I kept running across. It had several books already available (practically a prerequisite when it comes to books for my son) and a lot of reviews…not the handful of 5-stars that you so frequently find with self-published books. I started reading through the reviews.

From all the reader accounts, the plot and characters were very sound—but there were a lot of errors in the books, (mostly typos but also continuity errors).

At this point we were pretty desperate. He was between books and the sequel to Divergent wasn’t coming out until May 1. I went ahead and downloaded the first of the books in that series. After all, I thought, we’re talking about a 15 year old boy. It couldn’t bother him too much.

But it did. He came back downstairs later that evening. “I finished the book,” he said. Then he looked at me funny. “You know, the story was good and I liked the characters…but there were so many mistakes. It was totally distracting. I’ve never seen typos like that in a book.”

Because he’d never read a self-published book before.

This is the main problem with self-published books. You can either get a fantastic book (frequently from an author’s backlist) that’s well edited or you can get a book that’s a complete disaster. It’s a minefield.

It’s easy to find a freelance editor. Yes, it costs money to hire an editor. This post by Meghan Ward gives an idea of what expense you could be looking at. This is the part about self-publishing that everyone has to get over…the books have got to be edited. I paid editors to work on the two books that I’ve self-published. It was worth it. They found plenty of errors that I’d missed.

It will cost you a lot less money if you first go over the book yourself and then get a beta reader to read it over for you. If an editor has got to correct a lot of errors on a page, it will cost you more money because it’s taking up more of the editor’s time that they could be spending editing other people’s books. Most editors charge an hourly rate instead of a flat fee.

There are different types of editors you can hire. You can find a substantive editor who will read for story and character arc, POV, and other global issues. You can find a line editor who will read for mechanics, style, and consistency. Sometimes you can find editors who cover all of these things. This post on the Novel Editor blog explains the different types of editors and their duties.

But you don’t have to get editors that suggest major revisions, if you feel your story is fairly sound (try to be objective here…is it sound?) At the very least, though, you need to find a professional proofreader who can fix typos, glaring grammatical errors, and other basic problems that will trip readers up when they read your book.

We put so much time into writing these stories….we owe it to ourselves (and our readers) to ensure our books are readable.

If we know we’re writing a book that we plan to self-publish, we can go ahead and start the process of looking for an editor while we’re still working on the book. Word of mouth/referral is a good way to find someone, or we might know editors from the blogging world—many freelance editors blog. Agent Rachelle Gardner has also listed freelance editors that she’s worked with in the past. I also host a free directory of ebook professionals, which includes freelance editors: click here.

But you’ll want a good editor. How will you know if an editor is any good?

Again, word of mouth is helpful. Editors should also be able to supply testimonials from clients. Thursday, Porter Anderson did a great wrap-up of posts on ebooks and editing. He referenced Victoria Strauss’ blog, where she listed ways to vet an editor.

Once we find a freelance editor we’re happy with, we’re usually set. The next time we have a project to be edited, we don’t have to go through this process…we just send it over.

If you’ve hired freelance editors, how did you find them? As a reader, how many mistakes are you willing to overlook when you read? How distracting are they?

Post image by Mad African on Flickr