Selling Yourself Short

The other day, I got into a discussion with someone about why authors might skip the editing process before publishing. Now, I didn’t know this guy, and I’m sure he’s a perfectly great guy. I don’t hold anything against him. We had a lively debate on the topic.

In my own experience, I’ve picked up a few ebooks on free days that I’ve put down just as quickly when I discovered that they were filled with basic errors. I’ll be honest… I edit for a living. That means I spend my life reading unedited writing, so I’m extremely choosy about what I read during my limited time for leisure reading. The occasional editorial flub is no big deal, it happens in every book, even those put out by the Big Six publishers. But I can tell the difference between the occasional editorial flub and an unedited manuscript. Remember Elaine from Seinfeld testing her dates to see if they were sponge-worthy? Well, unedited books are not time-worthy.

Anyway, back to my discussion. My worthy opponent brought up cost. He said editing costs a minimum of $1500. I know writers are notoriously poor. I’m an editor and I’m notoriously poor. I get it. Money can be hard to come by. There’s a reason they say it doesn’t grow on trees, because if it did, we’d all be horticulturalists. As I told him, not all of us editors charge an arm and a leg. Some of us softies even offer payment plans and bend over backwards to work within budgets. Why? Because we all have families to support. You gotta feed your kids, I gotta feed mine (and boy, it seems they eat more every year, doesn’t it?). I can’t speak for every editor out there, but this is why I work with several clients at one time… to keep my prices as low as I can. My rent won’t get any lower, but hey, I can spread my costs out to make it easier on my clients, right? So, authors… you may think we charge a lot at first glance, but we’re also having to use our fees to not only run our business, but to pay all those pesky bills that you have to pay at your house. It seems as soon as one month starts, it’s over and the cycle begins all over again. I’m sure you feel the same way. So, I do what I can to keep it reasonable, including a big discount for payment in full upfront. If you can afford it, you don’t have to worry about making payments, I don’t have to worry about sending reminders, you save money, it’s all good.

He suggested that most people don’t press the quality issue when I suggested that you can’t redo a first impression, and maybe that’s true. But they won’t buy book two, either. Putting out a second poorly done book won’t help you sell more books. While some may ask the seller for a refund, others won’t. When authors are signing petitions to convince Amazon not to refund ebooks after seven days (and part of me doesn’t blame them… you can read any ebook in seven days and return it, quality or not) the issue over quality becomes clouded. Was the book returned because the final quality was not up to par or because the reader knew they could get their money back, no questions asked?

Now, Amazon does have certain standards in place, but many of them don’t kick in unless complaints are made by readers. How many readers know how to make these complaints? How many readers actually write reviews? There’s the rub. Without the extra layer of an editor, how do these errors get expunged from the book?

To take it a step further, how do you know you have a competent editor? If you don’t know other authors who can recommend one for you, how do you know you don’t have one who isn’t an author just like yourself who decided they’d hang out an editorial shingle to earn a few bucks?

These are good questions. First, ask your author friends. They may have worked with an editor they liked. Second, (blatant self-promotion) you could hire me. :) Third, you can go to an editorial association like the Editorial Freelancers Association and peruse their members. If you go that route, make sure and look for editors who work on fiction. Fiction and non-fiction are two different animals, and not every editor is familiar with both. Not every good editor is a member of associations like this (not all of us can afford it yet), but you can bet that you can avoid the bad ones by going there.

If you’re not sure about an editor, look at their client testimonials. Ask them if they’re willing to edit a few pages for free as a sample of their work. When you send a sample, pick a few of your worst pages so you can make a fair assessment. If you’re testing more than one editor, send them the same pages so you can compare. Cheaper isn’t always the best choice, just like the most expensive isn’t always the best choice.

So, don’t sell yourself short. Put out the best book you can. Don’t skimp on the editing. You want a book as close to error-free as you can make it. You want your story as tight as it can be. You want it to be a pleasure to read, not something someone puts down after a few paragraphs.

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