Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Indie Life: Quality control

Welcome to Indie Life -- the second Wednesday of the month! Time to talk about the realities of self-publishing in the middle of the ongoing sea change that ebooks have wrought.

Editors, line editors, and proofreaders
Do I need to hire an editor? It's a common question. Sticker shock is a contributing factor -- trust me, I don't have that kind of money burning a hole in my pocket either.

I know my grammar isn't perfect. Typos sneak through. I live on a budget, but I scrape together the money and hire an editor/line editor and a proofreader for each part of Disciple. Why?

How many chances do you get to make a first impression?

Consider the truth behind the accusations leveled at self-published books: poorly written, badly punctuated, terrible grammar. I've looked at plenty of book samples and chucked them for those reasons. Those writers won't get a second chance to make a first impression.

People treat me in proportion to how I present myself, I've found. There's a huge backstory about being shy vs. projecting confidence there, but I'll skip it for now. Short version is: I present myself as a professional artist so that I will be treated as such. That requires maintaining a standard of quality for everything attached to my name. Maybe I come across as a hard-ass when it comes to standards, but I'm the only one who can make me stick to those quality standards.

So how do you maintain high standards on a limited budget? Good beta readers and choosing your freelance editor carefully.

Beta readers
I'm sure we all agree about the importance of beta readers and the revision process. What makes a good beta for a given author is as unique and personal a question as "what's a good writing process?" -- IMO, it falls under the same trusting-the-universe umbrella as where I get my story ideas in the first place.

How do you know beta feedback is good? Because it feels like a hammer hitting a nail right on the head. You know that their suggestions will make the story better, even if it's a difficult thing that requires murdering some darlings.

How do you know if it will make the story better? That's part of the learning-to-write process. Keep reading well-written stories to see how it's done (and poorly written stories to see how it's not done) and keep writing so you get the hang of how you're going to do it.

When is a story ready for a professional editor?
That's something each writer has to gauge by how their betas' feedback changes over the course of drafting their novel. By which I mean fresh betas reading later revisions, compared to what other betas said about earlier drafts. I wrote a post about that, and how I decided I was ready to publish Disciple over at Unicorn Bell, last year.

Choosing an editor
Choose with care. Read books they've edited, or books they've written if they write, and critique them as you would any writer you're studying. Check their references.

If they offer a sample edit, take advantage of that -- especially if you're looking for a line editor. It's on you to know grammar's rules and how to bend them, but do their edits make sense? Are they making your story clearer while maintaining your style and voice?

In short: work with somebody whose work you respect. For me, that's Debra Doyle.

Is it worth the money? 
Yes. What you're buying is objectivity and experience. As hard as I can be on my own writing, deep down I still love it. As insightful as my beta readers are, we're all at a similar experience level, writing-wise. IMO, if I want to maintain a high quality standard in my self-published stories, I need to find the money for my freelance editor.


Crystal Collier said...

Amen to that. I'm working with my first professional editor right now, and I did a TON of research before jumping. The thing that won me was someone who was as excited about my story as I am, someone who has a deep desire to make it its very best, and who has a wonderful professional resume. Truth, I think the editor who works well for one writer will not work well for another. I sampled one who suggested my prose was flowery (Well duh, its historical fantasy) and advised turning my work a literary angle. *scratching head* There is no "one-size-fits-all."

L. Blankenship said...

I absolutely agree that an editor needs to be a good fit with your style and genre -- all the more reason to do your homework on them!

Catherine Stine said...

At this point I hire both a copyeditor, for punctuation and grammar, and a substantive editor for plot holes and inconsistencies--worth every dime. That said, I try to find reasonably priced people!

Pk Hrezo said...

Awesome advice!We cannot sacrifice any of the above in order to put out a quality product. I'm the same way with covers. I've seen so many poorly done covers and I cringe.
I love your suggestion on confidence. It really does make the difference. We have to own our art if we wanna be considered artists. :)

Liz said...

Yes, an editor is essential. I hope to hire one once I get to that point with my writing.

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