I recently attended a meeting of the Bay Area Editors’ Forum (BAEF) at which members of The Road to Self-Publication: A Working Group—which includes authors and other professionals with an interest in self-publishing—met with BAEF member editors for a discussion on the role of editors in self-publishing.
The forum, held in San Francisco on April 18, was titled Editors and Self-Publishers: A Match Made in Heaven. It was designed as an information exchange that would cover topics such as how self-publishing authors find editors, how authors can determine what editing a manuscript needs, and how prices for editing services are set.
The discussion contrasted the editorial needs of self-publishing authors, including those who may wish to attempt traditional publishing first, with the needs of authors following the traditional publishing route via agents and publishing houses.
For example, agents may wish to put authors in touch with editors to polish manuscripts before sending them to potential publishers, yet these agents have often already vetted the manuscripts in question to ensure they don’t need restructuring. This means that the type of editing these authors need is generally in the realm of copyediting (line editing to proofreading).
On the other hand, the self-publishers’ needs covered everything from manuscript assessment and substantive editing to formatting for multiple print-on-demand and ebook service providers, ranging from Lulu and Smashwords to Amazon.com’s CreateSpace.
The attendees from the self-publishing working group were very interested in quality and in ensuring a high reputation for self-published works. To paraphrase one attendee, they generally wanted an editor to “make my book the best it can be.” However, while some authors had strong feelings about what they wanted from an editor, most expressed difficulty in determining which services would benefit their manuscript. They were emphatically looking for guidance from an editor.
Several self-publishers stressed the desirability of having a single editor who could perform all tasks needed in handling their manuscript from final draft to published book. Yet many editors specialize in only one or a few of the services needed. Hearing the message that jacks-of-all-trades would have a big advantage in this niche, some editors said they would rethink their skills or strategies, and others said they’d look into building networks so they could act increasingly as managing editors, subcontracting tasks like formatting or cover design as needed.
Another frustration, whether the author planned to self-publish or to first attempt the traditional route, was widely different price quotes to edit the same work, even taking into account differences in the services offered. Because editors bid on different bases (for example, by project, word, or hour), the authors reported difficulty comparing quotes. They emphasized that a fixed project price was far preferable to an hourly fee.
Many of the editors attending stressed the importance of communicating expectations, such as extent of editing and project scope. Several strongly recommended seeing the work and returning a sample edit to start a discussion before finalizing a quote or agreement for the work.
Only touched on was the difficulty that authors have locating suitably qualified editors. Complicating their search, those who find their way to sites like the BAEF’s (www.editorsforum.org) are often faced with an array of terms describing editing services (like developmental editing and light copyediting), most of which came across to the working group as being defined on a traditional publishing model.
The discussion with the working group prompted a reassessment of some features of the BAEF website, which is linked to a searchable database of affiliated editors. One proposal was to welcome requests for quotes without a commitment to hiring an editor, and another was to improve searchability in order to identify editors with particular skills (for example, formatting expertise) relevant to self-publishing.
A few observations with clear relevance for freelance developmental editors particularly struck me:
- The strong preference authors had for working with a single editor to complete all tasks needed for a publication-ready manuscript
- The preference authors had for project-based quotes
- The need for editor websites to be more author friendly
Might any of these observations affect how you work or market your services? Do you currently work with authors who are self-publishing, and in what capacity? What feedback have you gotten from past clients or authors inquiring about your services? I think this is a conversation editors are going to continue to have, both in person and online, and I’m curious what other editors’ experiences have been.