We’re visiting family this week and as things always do the conversation came around to books. My sister-in-law told us about a friend who had recently self published a novel. He chose not to use an editor. Since the book appeared on Amazon he’s gotten a lot of attention from reviewers, all of it negative. Some have focused on points of style that interfered with their reading experience others bemoaned errors that a good copy edit would have picked up and corrected.
The author, like many first time authors, failed to understand that self publishing is about access to publication which eliminates the need for a traditional publishing house, but it doesn’t eliminate all of the steps a publisher fulfilled in the process of producing a book. Quality books need quality editing, good design and an effective cover. Not many authors possess the skills to do all of these things themselves.
The author faces two choices: make the book a completely DIY project which exposes him to the criticism my sister-in-law’s friend encountered or get the help of competent professionals to make his book as good as it can be.
Most manuscripts benefit from developmental editing that focuses on telling the story well. As a rule, the manuscripts we see can use some judicious cutting to make sure the momentum of the narrative isn’t slowed by passages that wander from the story arc or repeat points that have already been made. Conversely, elements of the story may need more detail to show the reader exactly what the author wants him to see. Some people get assistance in making these kinds of decisions from a writers’ group or critique circle. That can work well if you’re in a good group. Where problems often arise is when authors have a friend who reads a lot and really knows grammar or was a former English teacher or has a child who was a journalism major in college and turns the manuscript over to them. Familiarity with books and a knowledge of grammar does not necessarily make one a good editor. You are best served, if you recognize that your book needs editing, to get a professional editor who has experience with the kind of writing you do to edit your book.
Producing a successful self published book like producing a successful traditionally published book is most likely to occur when the process is a team effort. What’s different is that the responsibility for assembling the team is the author’s. Achieving the success you seek is achieved by making sure you have the best teammates you can in creating your book. The cost of getting help to make sure your book looks professional is well worth it if it helps you avoid producing a book that reviewers trash and buyers reject.