Monday, August 12, 2013

The Most Important Thing

by Maria V A Johnson

What is the most important thing you need to do before publishing a book? Well, obviously you need to write one. You can’t publish something that doesn’t exist after all. But then what? Is it finding an agent? Is it getting a publisher or choosing to self-publish? No. They are important things to do of course, but they are not the MOST important thing. So what is it? I hear you ask. It’s editing.

Now I’m sure that’s shocked a few of you. If you’ve thought enough about it to look online, you may even think it’s too expensive and want to do it yourself. I must admit that even the cheapest of editors out there can seem rather pricey, but it’s well worth the time and effort.

The thing to remember though, is that it is actually good value for money. £3000 for a 150,000 word manuscript might appear a lot, and it is, but it works out at 2p per word. A good, full edit (developmental, structural and copy/line editing) can take between 4 and 6 months to complete, and involve many rounds. The editor will need to go through the book several times to make sure they catch everything, and it’s very time consuming. £3000 isn’t a lot of money when you consider the editor’s outlay. Most people on low salaries (£12k pa) would expect to earn that much in 3 months or less, the editor is doing 4-6 months’ work for the same amount. It is a demanding job for little pay.

You wouldn’t need to cough up all the money up front though. Most editors will take a down-payment at the start and request the balance upon completion, giving you time to save. Some editors even offer payment plans to help you budget if funds are tight. Personally, I go one stage further. I know that some writers are unemployed, and so I offer a special discount to anyone that can prove they’re in receipt of benefits, as well as other money-saving offers.


I recently borrowed a kid’s book from the library to see if it was any good to buy for my niece and was appalled at the state of it. It was published by New Generation Publishing, a ‘UK based market-leading self-publishing company’ if you believe their website. They say they offer a full editing service to customers should they require it.

I think it safe to say, Nature Mage by Duncan Pile has never gone through that procedure. Maybe Mr Pile thought it didn’t need to, that it was perfect the way it was. But there is a problem. Most authors cannot see the mistakes in their own work. When they look at the page and read it through, they are reading it the way they envisioned it. Even authors who are professional editors, like me, can’t see the errors in their own work and need to hire someone else.

When I was reading through Nature Mage, I noticed a lot of problems. There were places where he had typed the wrong word by mistake, places where punctuation was missing – most noticeably at the end of paragraphs, and the vast majority of apostrophe’s were facing the wrong way! Needless to say, I will not be buying that book for my niece. The story was good, if you could look past the errors, but I don’t want her to learn sloppy grammar etc. I want her to learn properly.

That book could have been brilliant if it had been edited, but now it’s consigned to the scrap heap because an author couldn’t be objective and didn’t know the most important thing.

So, when you’re thinking about publishing your own book, make sure you get a professional editor first – it’s well worth the outlay to get a raw manuscript turned into an amazing novel.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Maria. This is Duncan Pile. I figured an honest, un-defensive reply might be useful for your readers. First of all, you have read an older version of the book, as it was first released by NGP. At the time of release, they didn't offer an editing service and so this option was not available to me. Secondly, I (along with most aspiring authors) did not have three grand spare for professional editing. I am sure you are right that it is not an unreasonable fee for the service (if that service is top draw), but that doesn't make it affordable.

    Although I've corrected some of the typos, there will no doubt be many more, an issue I address in subsequent books by using "crowd editing". I even have a forum on a website where readers can report typos they come across. The good thing about crowd editing is that it is free, and you have hundreds of pairs of eyes on your writing instead of one. It also enables greater interaction between the author and their readers.

    I do not believe the existing typos put many people off, and I certainly contest your assertion that my book is "consigned to the scrap heap". I don't like talking about figures, but for the sake of the discussion, I'll divulge that I've sold over 5000 books this year, over 500 of which sold in the last few weeks. I admit that's hardly a worldwide success, but those sales are 100% viral, and I have no marketing machine to support me. Personally, I think that's quite a nice scrap heap to be on.

    In short, I believe that in an ideal world, my books could be improved by the services of an editor like yourself, but I have demonstrated quite clearly that such services are not mandatory if an author wishes to try and reach a market. Most readers are much less attuned to formal perfection than an editor, whose eyes no doubt see error after error, and I have found that even the original form of Nature Mage, with all its backwards apostrophes, excited and enticed well over a thousand readers.

    I hope you read this post in the spirit it is intended - one of openness. Please be aware, I have not spell checked or re-read this post, so it may contain errors.