With the rise of self-publishing, more and more authors are able to bypass traditional avenues and get their books directly to their readers. Instead of finding an agent, who finds a publisher, who either takes care of the editing in-house or contracts it out to companies like TEC, self-published authors can oversee the entire process themselves.
Numerous success stories — Amanda Hocking, for example, who made millions from her self-published teen paranormal romances and was subsequently acquired by a traditional publisher — mean that self-publishing has lost much of its stigma. Still, the process requires an incredible amount of devotion on the part of the author. If you are self-publishing, nobody is keeping you on track, checking your work for consistency, or helping you market your book to get it on the shelves or into e-readers.
When I’m not working at TEC, I work part-time at a bookstore, where in addition to the vast pallets of books we receive from Random House, HarperCollins, and other major publishers, we also stock a small number of self-published titles. These are contracted between self-published authors and individual bookstores as on-consignment books — if the store doesn’t sell the book, the author is going to get it back. The self-published books in stock are almost exclusively by local authors, as few authors are able to devote the time and resources needed to travel around the country promoting their work.
Why Editors Are Needed
After shelving thousands upon thousands of books, I’ve developed a knack for spotting the self-published tomes. Sometimes this has to do with the feel of the paper, the design of the cover, or a particularly esoteric (or controversial) topic. More often than not, though, it has to do with the obvious lack of editing.
Without naming names, there are a couple of examples I can mention: the book of poetry by a woman who described herself as the mother of a doctor, rife with misspellings from the first page; and the political diatribe disguised as commentary, so obviously racist that it never would have made it through a traditional publisher. Often these books make an attempt to disguise their origins. In the case of the political diatribe, for example, the author set up his own press in order to make it look more legitimate.
With the increase in digital book sales, self-publishing online has grown exponentially, but here the problem becomes even worse: without the traditional gatekeepers of agents and publishers and editors, the marketplace becomes flooded with low-quality books for $2.99. For the reader who wants a quick, enjoyable, and well-written novel on her Kobo, confronting the volume of questionable works can quickly become overwhelming.
Quality work is always worth doing. No matter how devoted one might be to self-editing his or her self-published work, a trained editor will always catch mistakes that have been missed, perhaps simply because as an author you’ve stared at a sentence with an error for so long that it begins to make sense.
Many different factors must come together to ensure a successful self-published book, and good editing is one of the most crucial of these. In a world saturated with texts, self-published authors should want their books to stand out as well-written and non-offensive. They should want their books to be edited to be clear and sharp; edited until they sparkle.