Even industry icons such as Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Thomas Wolfe had an editor: His name was Maxwell Perkins. He’s credited with being a significant influence in the success of The Great Gatsby.
by Cathi Stevenson
Part of the Build Your Book Series for indie authors / self-publishers
“Thou shalt commit adultery.” That “commandment” was printed in a Bible in 1631. The publishers, Robert Barker and Martin Lucas, were heavily fined and lost their printing license as a result. Still referred to as the Wicked Bible, the few copies that are still in existence are highly sought collector’s items.
In modern times we have only to look at the $2 million loss Rogers Communications Ltd. suffered due to a misplaced comma to appreciate an editor’s job. According to a Toronto Globe and Mail article, Rogers understood that it had a five-year agreement, renewable for successive five-year terms, to run cable lines across poles in the Maritimes. The agreement began in 2002. In 2005, Aliant Inc., that company that administers the poles (owned primarily by Fredericton-based utility NB Power), informed Rogers that the contract was being cancelled and the rates would be increasing to triple the current fee.
Rogers argued that this breached the agreement. In response, Aliant cited the English version of the contract, which said the agreement “shall continue in force for a period of five years from the date it is made, and thereafter for successive five-year terms, unless and until terminated by one year prior notice.” Aliant won.
Lack of editing is often cited as one the main reasons many publications will not review self-published books. On the Direct Contact PR site, Paul J. Krupin has collected a list of quotes from reviewers, who were asked if they review self-published books. While most weren’t completely against the idea, several did mention the editing issue.
Colleen Truelsen, former Editor of Valley Community Newspapers, Inc., in Sacramento says, self-published books are fine, “…but too many of them needed a good editor to catch grammar and misspellings. A book with even a few glaring inappropriate words makes me hesitate to tell our readers about it.”
Editing is also one of the reasons author Amanda Hocking accepted a traditional contract with St. Martin’s Press after becoming a millionaire self-publishing her own series of books.
In a March, 2011 blog post, she says, “Here are the two considerations I made in my decision (to accept a contract with St. Martin’s): what’s best for my career, and what’s best for my readers. (Notice I didn’t say what was best for my wallet).” She then lists the number two reason as “readers’ complaints about the editing of my books.” Hocking goes on to explain she did hire editors, but in spite of their improving the books and working hard, she was obviously choosing the wrong editors, because readers still complained about errors.
Surfing around the various writers’ and self-publishing forums on Linkedin.com, it appears many authors believe they can edit their own work, or that editors will try to change the integrity of their messages or the tone of their stories.
“Nothing could be further from the truth,” says Dick Margulis freelance editor and book designer. “A professional editor strives to preserve the author’s voice and to work with the author as a colleague, not to dictate fusty old grammatical rules that do nothing except get the author’s shorts in a bunch. But every writer needs another set of eyes on the text. It’s devilishly difficult to edit your own work and not miss things. I think the reason so many authors have bad experiences with editors is that the editors they think they can afford are not pros. Here’s a hint: a moonlighting or retired high school English teacher is usually not the best choice. Neither is your best friend’s father’s secretary, even if she’s an awfully good proofreader. Editing is a whole nuther ballgame from proofreading.”
And keep in mind that even industry icons such as Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Thomas Wolfe had an editor: His name was Maxwell Perkins. He’s credited with being a significant influence in the success of The Great Gatsby.