Publishing has changed so radically in the last 15 years.
Of course, this isn’t a news flash, right?
But funny enough, so many new writers have trouble discerning the differences between traditional and self-publishing. Especially when so many “hybrid” houses (read: vanity presses masquerading as traditional ones) have blossomed globally.
Traditional publishing has become more and more difficult to break into. True, of course. So is it better to self-publish a book?
Signing with a well-respected house is still the gold standard. But often, that takes a very long time, or just isn’t in the cards. So writers opt for the self-publishing route instead.
Fast, easy, presto! You’re an author.
By far the biggest issue I see these days with self-published books is new writers spending gobs of money on the cover art, the promotion, the paid reviews, all the PR that goes into successfully launching a book, and skimping on or neglecting entirely the editing.
You know—the part that once got you in the door to a major publisher.
And funny thing: this will cut your legs out from under your book in the exact manner it once turned off agents and publishers.
Because in essence, of course, this is still a words-on-the-page business. If all those words don’t combine into a satisfying read, then all that money you spent on the trappings and promo was in essence, flushed down the toilet.
So while it’s a lot easier to self-publish (planets easier, actually), why do you need an editor?
֎ Writing well, ending up with a successful, satisfying book, is still at its essence about learning your craft.
There’s a ton that goes into becoming a real novelist, or author of narrative nonfiction. A ton. I speak at a lot of writing conferences, and often begin with: “Writing well really IS rocket science.” Mastering this craft is like earning a post-graduate degree, and then some.
In the days of yore, writers spent years, decades even, learning how to write well. Before querying that first agent. And it paid off—in spades. By the time their debut books were published, they were already masters.
Even in today’s world of self-publishing, this model still holds true.
You can learn the craft in any number of ways. Classes, workshops, even degrees. But nothing teaches you better, deeper, more pervasively than working one-on-one with a great editor, on your very manuscript.
֎ Your characters may be perfectly clear in your head, but often, this doesn’t translate to the page.
And while friends, relatives, readers may be able to say they didn’t “connect” with your characters, or the people didn’t jump off the page, they can’t tell you why, or what to do about it.
Which is unfortunate, as characters drive your plot.
That’s where a great editor comes in. That’s what a great editor does—shows you explicitly where, why, when, how to fix the issues, to go deeper, to cause your people to become so real your reader mourns being away from them in the end.
֎ The plot still has to comprise all of the elements of great fiction (and narrative nonfiction follows this same path).
You still have to have the Arc of the Storyline. This is a well-set pattern, and before you think, well, that’s why I’m going to self-publish—so I can do it my way! Know the pitfalls of this. The story arc makes or breaks your book. And it’s well-defined because it works! From ancient myths to the latest Grisham, the plot structure is the same.
You still have to have plot points—major and minor ones. These move your story along, keep it from dragging, or meandering off to Manila . . .
A great editor will show you where you’re falling down, how and where to fix it, and help with ideas to get you from the beginning, through the middle, and to the end.
֎ Your prose still has to sing.
This has to do with voice. And yes, while voice is absolutely unique to you, that takes years to hone.
It’s a combination of style, syntax, nuances that aren’t easy to see from the outside looking in.
Working with a great editor will show you how to unbury the gems from all the dust under which they’re buried. Will teach you the elements of how to string together words in a way that doesn’t change your voice, but helps you make it better. Will teach you the tools that you’ll have forever, as you find and polish and continually improve that voice.
֎ In the end, it’s all about the book.
Even in today’s self-publishing world, where anybody can publish anything and in a nano-second, this is, again, a words-on-the-page endeavor.
No matter how much money you spend on all the promo, no matter how many blog tours you go on, all the time you spend on social media, all the copies you sell, if the book isn’t any good, readers won’t buy the next one.
Which is the point of this endeavor!
And working with a great editor will help you make sure that what you put out—the first time—is worthy and wonderful and will leave your readers begging for the next.
So is working with an editor, even if you intend to self-publish, mandatory?
Only if you want to publish a book that will last, will sell, and will set you up as in a career as an author.