When I posted my Self-Publishing To Do List, I promised to come back and write about some of the things on that list in a little more detail. I think editing is a good place to start—it’s likely to be one of the biggest expenses involved in getting your book to market, and it’s certainly something I gave a lot of thought to.
Of course, the first question is… Should you have your book edited at all? Honestly, I can’t tell you that. It’s a topic I see brought up and vigorously fought over among indie authors all the time, and there are good points to be made on both sides.
The case for editing
Most arguments in favour of editing boil down to professionalism. For some people, it’s about competing on a level playing field with traditional publishers: their books are professionally-edited, ours should be too.
It’s also about long-term strategy—it’s all very well grabbing sales with your great cover and snappy blurb but, goes the argument, if your actual book is riddled with grammar mistakes and plot inconsistencies, those readers won’t come back next time. And there’s a good chance they’ll leave bad reviews to warn away others. It’s about respect for readers, too—doing everything you can to make sure your book delivers on the promises made by your marketing.
Something that’s harder to measure in sales is this: having your work edited can make you a better writer. I know I learned an awful lot from my editor that I can use to write better books in the future.
The case against
Basically, editing costs a lot of money.
Editing should cost a lot of money, because you’re buying hours of a skilled person’s time. But, well, I personally am nearly five years out of university and only last year started making anything noticeably above minimum wage from my (non-writing) work, so I don’t necessarily think of myself as being in an “employing people” sort of place.
Arguments against editing tend to be about… I’m going to say “agility”. The less time and money you spend on developing a product, the less money it has to make to be profitable. It also leaves you free to go after market trends, to try things out and drop them quickly if they don’t work. There are authors doing very well putting out a book every month or two (or maybe even more than that), with minimal investment but at minimal cost, and making a fortune on volume. Some readers probably are turned off by the lack of editing—but those authors reach so many people that it doesn’t matter if they lose a few.
There’s also a school of thought that readers don’t notice most of the errors an editor would catch, or don’t care about them if they do. I don’t think that’s true. What I think is that these agile writers are very fast and very clever, and figure out very quickly how to self-edit to a level that their audience is happy with. That’s not an option if you haven’t met your audience yet.
So… should you do it?
Ultimately, it depends what your goals for self-publishing are, and what your strengths are as a writer. If you’re just publishing for bragging rights, you probably don’t need to spend the money—but maybe you’d brag harder if you knew your book was better. If you’re aiming to make a profit, maybe you’ll want to speculate to accumulate—or maybe you know you’re fast and savvy enough for the agile approach.
Me, I know I’m not agile. The Rose and the Mask took three years to write. I’m aiming to get the sequel done in less than one, but that’s still slow by indie standards—and glacial to those agile writers.
There was probably also an emotional level to the decision for me. As it went further and further over-schedule, TRatM became a labour of love on which I’m definitely never going to make a return on my investment of time. After all that, the idea of someone thinking it was just something I threw together, on the basis of mistakes that an editor would have caught, was unacceptable to me.
Next time*, I’ll talk about what the actual editing process was like for me. (Spoiler: hard work but sort of awesome.)
* Maybe not literally the next time I post, this blog is run entirely according to whim.