Editing Honesty

My niece and her book club recently read a self-published novel written by a member of their church. The group was excited to read the book and show their support for their friend. My niece said the writer described the book as “gentle fiction” (I don’t really know what that is but will assume it’s Christian fiction?) and it sounded like the perfect way to debut her book. Naturally, I asked my niece her opinion of the book. What she told me was a story many of us have heard too often. Grammatical errors and mistakes were sprinkled throughout the book. The truth is, the number of errors was so distracting, she found herself unable to finish the book.

Yes, I know this has been one of the most common knocks on self-published books and many are tired of hearing it. But I want to push the point since I am planning to self-publish my novel soon and I strongly believe the importance of editing can never be overstated. I like to follow Elizabeth Spann Craig’s blog Mystery Writing is Murder and she recently published a similar post (see here). Her post describes her son’s experiences reading self-published young adult fiction. Again, errors in the text were a problem – even for a teenager! Could the message be any clearer? If you plan to self-publish your novel, hire an editor. Although there’s still no guarantee your manuscript will be perfect, without professional input, your chances are next to none.

As I pour over the suggested corrections my editor gave me for my novel, A GUILTY MIND, I am humbled by the things I missed. Like most writers, I believed I had submitted a manuscript as polished as it could get. Wrong. Even though she did not find fault with my story arc or pacing, she still managed to find several corrections/comments in every chapter. Every chapter! And boy am I grateful. While a few changes are “up to me” as she put it, most are little grammatical things I didn’t even realize I had done (or not done in some cases). No, there were no missing periods (this happened in the book my niece read) and no misspellings. But what if I had just gone on and published as is? I could have. After all, it has been read by many, including the founding members of my own book club, and no one found these issues. I have self-edited (a must for all writers) several times. I certainly could have published, believing I had done enough. But I would have been wrong (again).

I love the idea of self-publishing but only if writers treat the process in much the same way a traditional publishing house would. The difference is the writer gets to select their editor, their cover artist, their distribution network, and their marketing strategy. Certainly, it’s easier just to write and consider the job done. And that’s fine if your goal is just to see your book in print. However, if your goal is to have many people (that is a loose number, of course) read it, your book had better be as professional as possible. If for example, you self-pub on Amazon and your reviews are more focused on the mistakes than the storyline, your book will not sell – to anyone other than your closest family and friends (and maybe your church book group). But if you want more than that, be honest with yourself and admit you may have missed a few mistakes. Encourage your friends and family to be honest with you. And most of all, hire an editor for their honesty. What you will get is a better book.

8 comments

  1. I am so very paranoid about grammatical errors and typos. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve proofread my book. I agonize over the placement of every comma.

    I’m on my last major proofreading, and then, once I convert it to e-book format, I’ll read through it again to make sure that the formatting is okay and that there’s nothing terribly out of place.

    Unfortunately, I don’t have the capital to have my book professionally edited, and I’m not cruel enough to ask friends to proof the entire book. But I do try to get one or two other people to proofread my short stories before I publish.

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    1. Keri – I completely understand about the cost of hiring an editor but there are a couple of editors on my list (see the Editing Services block) that will just do punctuation/spelling type work for a minimal price – just in case. I also agree that sometimes it’s hard to keep asking friends. Either way, your situation is completely understandable. Congratulations and all my best to you on your upcoming publication!

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  2. Great article. In light of Keri’s comment above, a lot of colleges offer editing programs and a student would love to get experience editing they can put on their resume. The cost would be considerably lower.

    As for myself, I had my WIP editied and found I repeated certain phrases consistently, for example I used the phrase “headed out…headed to…headed over to…” you get the picture. I didn’t even know I used it, let alone used it over and over and over again. If it wasn’t for my editor, I never would have noticed this.

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    1. Janet, that is great advice about college editing. Also, you’re right that one of the benefits of an editor is they find things you weren’t aware you were doing. My editor also spotted places where I used a word three times on the same page. Those are just the kinds of things a writer is prone to miss…Thanks for your great comment.

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