Saturday, January 1, 2011

E-BOOKS--The Need for Editing Before Publication

One of the few posts I've ever made on Facebook that caused such a furor of responses was about poorly edited e-books and what professional writers should do about the editing of their books before publishing them online at e-book sites like Kindle, Smashwords, Kodo, and B&N. 

I believe strongly in having your manuscript edited before e-book publication and also before sending works to an agent or editor for print publishing.  I'm fortunate at this point in my writing career to have spent most of a lifetime learning to edit myself--though this does not mean I don't also have a trusted colleague go over my work before publishing or submitting.  Not many of my novels, including my early ones, were edited by my print publishing houses to any noticeable degree.  I was always a good speller even before I used computers.  I spent years at a typewriter when I really did have to know how to spell since I had no electronic spellchecker.  I majored in English so I know all the rules for punctuation, run-on sentences, verb tenses, and all the rest of the skills a writer needs to turn out manuscripts that need very little editing.  These are technical skills, of course, and it takes many more years of experience to learn how to actually write fiction. 

Storytelling is an art, in either the long or short form.  I know it isn't fashionable these days to call a writer an artist or to talk about writing fiction as an art form, but I don't really care what other people say or proclaim about anything.  I know a writer is involved in making art with words and this makes him an artist and fiction artwork.  Although I've taught fiction writing online in paid courses students took from me on AOL, edited manuscripts and taught novel writing for Writer's Digest, and taught live courses in classrooms, I rarely found great writing from new writers.  But I did discover talented writers who, with work and practice, would eventually be publishable novelists. 

A professional writer, even a very good one with many skills, still needs editorial attention.  A new writer entering the e-book revolution and hoping to publish himself needs even more editorial supervision.  I fear many e-book self-publishers are not getting it and that is a shame.  It will mean those e-books will languish, the author will never get an audience or followers and fans, and the whole experiment of breaking through the glass ceiling in publishing will  have been for naught.  It will also mean the new author doesn't even know he has improvements to make in order to reach a professional stage of writing.

The first impulse a new author hoping to put up an e-book online is to have a friend or family member read his manuscript. What he really wants is praise.  It is natural to hope the work is good and a reader loves it.  It is good to respect friends and family, but a writer cannot rely on them to be critics and editors.  When people love you, they will be reluctant to criticize or correct, yet that is exactly what the manuscript needs.  Writers' groups, online and off, are terrific, but also unreliable when an author needs serious editorial feedback.  I belonged to a writers' group once in Houston, Texas and although about 60% of us eventually published novels with major NY publishers, meaning many of the members were talented writers, not much true editing could be done by one writer for another. 

What's a writer to do who wishes to publish his own e-book?  I think it comes down to two choices.  One is free and one is paid.  If the writer (no matter how professional, technically skilled, or multi-published) can get an established writer friend to read the work closely and make suggestions and corrections, that would be a most excellent choice.  But not many established or professional writers have the time from their own work to do this, so if you have such a friend the way I do, you are well blessed.  The paid solution is to hire someone to edit your manuscript before publication.There are freelance editors who can be hired. There are several editorial services online, too, some of which I am sure are very good.  I also offer my services for proofreading and editing, though I can't take many clients since editing, done right, is a time-consuming job, and I have a lot of my own work to do just like everyone else.

 Well, I can't afford that, you say.  Or how can I invest money in paying for editorial help when I might not make any money on the e-book?  My answer is  you can't afford not to seek professional help.  And how much money will you make on a book that is a disaster editorially because you didn't want to invest in it?

But something has to be done to save new, unpublished writers from putting e-books online for sale without having any kind of vetting at all.  If a person truly wants to create art, which is what the novel and the short story is, then he has to approach all aspects of its creation with responsibility and professionalism.  The e-book is a grand opportunity for struggling writers of talent.  I expect we readers will benefit greatly from this e-book revolution.  But now that there are no more gatekeepers as there was when writers had to actually interest an agent and an editor at a print publishing house, there is much more responsibility on the author's shoulders to make sure his offering is worthy of publication.  Even if editors won't or can't tell a writer his book is no good or not worth pursuing, editors can at least make sure the manuscript is technically correct and the author thinks about making some changes that will improve the work. 

We may all believe we can write books because we were all taught in school how to write sentences and papers.  But we were all taught how to apply a Band-Aid to a cut and how to remove a thorn,  and that does not make us doctors and surgeons.  We all may know our legal rights as citizens, but that does not make us attorneys.  Writing novels and stories, especially in this day when anyone can create an e-book, means we must make sure we are offering a work that is at least as good technically and creatively as what a print publisher would publish.  And that takes more than the author's eyes and judgment, it takes unbiased editorial attention.
  This is all we need ask of ourselves and our fellow artists.  It is not much.  But it is imperative.

No comments:

Post a Comment