It’s Always Something*

I got an inquiry through my website a while back from a writer who said he’d self-published but it had “become apparent” he needed an editor. (The e-book had been available on Amazon for about two years.) The absolute first question that crossed my mind was, Why are you only just now thinking about editing?

That’s interesting, don’t you think?

A lot of writers are doing the self-publishing thing very successfully. Many of these are actually “hybrid authors”—folks who have publishing deals and also self-publish. Some of them started self-publishing first and their success led to a traditional publishing deal (Hugh Howey, for example, or Brunonia Barry), while others, having achieved success with a publisher, have decided to self-publish some of their output (a novella, perhaps, or something in a different genre).

There’s a lot of discussion about how to do this, and why. What I find interesting (well, okay, annoying … no, foolish) is there are still folks, like the gentleman who contacted me, who think publishing before editing is a legitimate career move.

Author Chuck Wendig recently got emotions running high with his comments about this very subject at his blog Terrible Minds. Self-publishing isn’t a hobby, he said in a post titled “Self-Publishing Is Not the Minor Leagues”:

(Oh, and it damn sure isn’t a place to improve your craft. That’s called “writing.” Writing is how you improve your craft—by doing a whole lot of it, by reading, by having your work read by friends and family and by other writers and by editors. Publishing is not where you improve your craft. You don’t learn to pilot an airplane by taking a job with U.S. Airways. A job as an executive chef is not analogous to a cooking class. You wouldn’t expect that of other careers, so why are we okay with it when it comes to author-publishers?)

In this post, Wendig takes to task those writers who would have readers be the deciders. The gatekeepers. (And, maybe, the editors. As if.) He believes the book should be worthy of readers before it’s put on the shelf (or the e-shelf). I agree with him, and have written about this topic more than once. Readers should not be expected to help you find out what’s wrong with your book.

Astonishingly, Wendig got some angry pushback. You can read what one writer said in his post “Readers Are Not Good Gatekeepers,” to which Wendig responded,

We can iterate our writing. In public! We can find an audience there.

You have permission to suck.

For free.

Free, there, is key.

Because the moment you go somewhere—Amazon, Smashwords, B&N, wherever—and you start charging money, that changes the equation. By a strict reading, that’s no longer Hobbytown, Jake. You’ve entered pro grade territory. You’re asking readers to take a chance on your work for one buck, three bucks, five bucks, etc. You’re not hosting a party. You’re running a lemonade stand.

So stop pissing in the lemonade and asking people to give you cash to drink it.

This makes me want to stand up and cheer, kids. Don’t publish first and edit … sometime in the future, if at all. (I know how these things go—you get busy, you forget.)

More importantly, ignorance of the process is no longer an excuse. The Internet exists. And there are plenty of for-real experts out there who are explicating both the traditional and self-publishing processes (Joanna Penn, Rachelle Gardner, Jane Friedman … to name only three). So don’t tell me you didn’t know.

Yes, it’s a lot of work, what you have to do between typing The End and clicking Publish. It’s expensive too. And as Mike Shatzkin says in a related article, “Advising a writer to self-publish without considering these things is like telling somebody who’s a good cook that they might as well just open a restaurant.”

Experienced authors wouldn’t dream of skipping the editorial process. So—and there’s no gentle way to say this—if you bypass editing and go straight to publication, you look like an amateur. And the only people who might reliably be expected to pay for the work of amateurs are, you know, mommies and daddies.

Chuck Wendig says,

It’s not an uncommon attitude amongst author-publishers, and what it tells me is, you care about yourself as a writer but not your readers.

It tells me that you’re comfortable asking readers to pay you so that you can get better.

It tells me you have no interest in being your own gatekeeper — and, very plainly spoken, it literally says you’re not going to give this your best effort and investment.

Yes, that’s it. That’s it exactly. If you bypass editing and go straight to publication, you are not putting your best foot forward. So … just don’t.

You’re probably too young to know of Gilda Radner, but she was really something.

 

Tweet: Your book should be worthy of readers before it’s put on the shelf.
Tweet: Again: the difference between amateurs and professionals. Be a pro!
Tweet: If you bypass editing & go straight to publication, you look like an amateur.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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3 Comments

  1. Kirsten says:

    Just thought I’d stop by to let you know how much I appreciate all your enlightening and entertaining posts! (I read each and every one. :) )
    As I try to figure out what to do with these stories of mine, it’s great to have someone like you, whose writing I enjoy and guidance I trust, popping into my Inbox every so often. :)

  2. […] books have been on the market for some time. (Take a look at this post by Jamie Chavez: ‘It’s Always Something‘.) For all the reasons above, and more: Be professional. Give your readers what they deserve. […]

  3. Hi Jamie. Yes, I’ve come across this a lot, too. Your post inspired me to tackle this issue on my own blog: http://playle-editorial-services.com/shouldnt-see-if-it-sells-before-hiring-an-editor/

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  1. […] books have been on the market for some time. (Take a look at this post by Jamie Chavez: ‘It’s Always Something‘.) For all the reasons above, and more: Be professional. Give your readers what they deserve. […]