Tuesday, December 20, 2011

I'm sorry, Ms. Self-Published Author, But You Just Lost a Sale

I found a link to a book on a friend's Facebook page. Apparently, the book was written by a friend of his. Since I am all for supporting new authors, I figured I'd go take a look. I went to the Amazon page for the book and the title and blurb sounded interesting, so I clicked on the "Look Inside" link, which took me to a preview of the first 5 or 6 pages. And that's where the trouble began.

Let me start by saying I have no problem with self-publishing. In fact, I am considering going that route if I ever manage to get the novel I am working on in decent shape. It can be a good way to get a book out and into the hands (or ebook readers) of people faster than going a more traditional route. But there are some pitfalls and this particular book fell deeply into one of those pits. What was wrong? It needed a good editor.

The opening of the story was not bad. I was interested in the subject. But there were so many grammar and puntuation errors in those few pages that I found myself getting popped out of the story and wincing (and mentally correcting) every other sentence. Missed commas, commas where they didn't belong, choppy sentence structure, all of that and more. I have no idea if the rest of the story held up to the premise and I will never find out, because if those first pages are any indication, I would find it exceptionally hard to read, no matter how good the idea may have been.

It's too bad, really, because if the author had gotten a professional editor to work on the book, I probably would have bought it. Getting a pro to edit your book before you self-publish is one of the constant themes you see in books, articles and blogs relating to self-publishing. Sure, it is going to cost you some money up front, but isn't it worth it to ensure that people will buy the book? A good editor is going to do a lot for you in polishing your story, with both the mechanics of writing and style and content. We all like to think we are already good at all that stuff, but as the author, you miss stuff. Always. And your mom or your best friend aren't likely to be much better, unless they happen to be pros. An editor is trained to look beyond the surface story, and pull apart all the things that are wrong.

Not to say that you shouldn't let your mom or your best friend read your work. They are the ones that can tell you (assuming they will be honest with you), if the story works and keeps them interested as readers. But for the nitty-gritty, nuts and bolts editing, hire someone. I plan to. Because what your potential reader sees in those first few pages will convince them to buy or not to buy. And you want them to decide on buy. A book that comes across as poorly written from a mechanics point of view is just as bad as one that is poorly concieved.


Melisa Michaels said...

I couldn't agree more. I've turned away from so many interesting-sounding self-published books for just this reason. These days even the best of authors can't count on getting a contract with a publishing house where the editing will come free. Consequently an author who believes in her work should be willing to take on the whole job of publishing, not just the easy part. Be a pro. Hire a good copy editor. You'll be glad you did.

Mary Alice Kropp said...

Yeah, that's the thing. I don't personally know this author but I'm willing to believe she spent a lot of time and energy writing and rewriting the book. Why would you shoot its chances by not having a professional editor work on it?

Melisa Michaels said...

Nobody tells them it's needed. And most of them don't really know what editors and copy editors do, anyway. Plus most beginning writers are deeply offended if anyone, even a professional editor or copy editor, wants to change a single word they've written. Makes it hard to learn to do better.

Mary Alice Kropp said...

So I guess that makes me some sort of anomaly? I believe the blogs, etc when they say "you need to do this." And I don't have that much ego that I think every word is sacred and it could never be made better. What the heck is wrong with me? ;)

Melisa Michaels said...

I don't know, but I can tell you that if you can withstand copy editing without flinching, you're unusual. I was, too (I think after a few pro sales, anybody can withstand even really brutal editing; but that's another story).

But I've worked with so many beginning writers who become either enraged or tearful if you criticize their work, however constructively. And I've talked with other writers who've had the same experience. I understand the beginners' pain: it's their baby, they've poured their heart into it, and I'm telling them it's flawed. But none of us ever gets to where our work isn't flawed.

I hired a copy-editor for my only self-published book, and I was so glad I did. By correcting my errors and pointing out a serious omission, she made that one of my best books.