November 18, 2011

Re: editors and editing

Is there a new trend in self-publishing?

When I started posting links of interest to freelance developmental editors to The Editor’s POV in April, my general sense was that editors and editing were rarely, very rarely, mentioned in the prolific online conversation about publishing and self-publishing.

I think this environment is starting to change.

On October 28, Jane Friedman, who firmly believes that “you do not need a publisher,” wrote a post on Writer Unboxed that shifts the conversation to focus on the reasons writers do need professional assistance to publish books:

  • “There are some things you can figure out on your own. There are other things you want to be taught by an experienced professional, to shorten the learning curve. And finally there are those things that you may never be great at, and that you hire help for. Part of a successful career is understanding the difference between these things, based on your aptitude, time, and resources.”

One of Jane Friedman’s key points, I think, is that editors help authors push themselves to higher quality, and that quality matters.

  • “When you look at peak-performing experts, you’ll often see that they have either coaches, involved mentors, or a pack of growth-oriented friends that help them excel. … Past the ‘competent’ stage of skill acquisition, it gets increasingly harder to both observe what you’re doing and find quick and easy answers as to how to improve. … You need feedback from outsiders to uncover more opportunities for improvement.”

On November 7, Bob Mayer of Who Dares Wins Publishing acknowledged this:

Here's his current take:

  • "The key for a writer is to sort through all the facts, opinions and flat out lies being thrown about, figure out their own situation, decide where they want to be as an author in the future, and the smartly and courageously choose their own path."

When I was at Northwest Bookfest in September, I chatted with a woman who tried to convince me that editing could be seen as marketing, because it made the product better. I still can’t wrap my mind entirely around that idea—but it starts to seem a bit more plausible when you hear a reader talk about the downside of e-publishing:

  • “for now there are enough products being published traditionally to supply most of us readers with enough decent-quality content to keep us supplied with all the books we can read. So I don’t need to go looking through thousands of Smashwords books for the handful of gems I am sure are there. Will I miss out on some good books? Yes, but I already can’t read all the books I want to read so I can live with that.”

In the same post, from the Reactions to Reading blog, this reader and book reviewer acknowledges outright the value added by editors and other publishing professionals:

  • "Virtually none of [the self-published books have] even had the treatment that traditional publishing would provide. It is this treatment which transforms a manuscript into a book and it is this treatment that all books, regardless of the way they are born, should go through before they are presented to the reading public. The treatment includes professional editing (objectively helping to shape the prose and flow of the book), proofreading, continuity/conflict checking, permission checking when quotations or song lyrics have been used, cover design, and providing a readable and eye-pleasing page layout. As far as I am concerned without such treatment a manuscript is still a manuscript."

Just hearing someone say this—with the words "professional editing" included—makes me happy.

And for a final taste of what I’m thinking may be a coming-of-age for self-publishing:

  • an entertaining rant (warning: includes strong language) about what I’m thinking of as a coming-of-age for self-publishing
  • and an ode to the collaborative process: “A manuscript doesn’t become less the author’s work because of editing, but it may become more of the author’s vision as a result of editing.”

—Kyra Freestar


  1. Fascinating links--and heartening for editors and writers (like myself, who keep resisting the lure of self-publishing at all costs) alike! Thanks very much for the post!

  2. Glad you liked the post, Cara! We're heartened to see more conversation online about the author-editor relationship as well.