I was prompted to write this post by two things:
One: the reason I quit Kindleboards was because so many indies think that editing = quality, and they cover their ears and scream when you want to talk about actual craft. And Two: I read a series of rants by various more traditionally oriented writers saying, basically, "you indie writers need to get editors!" And even they were talking about typos and usage, and not about craft.
But my thinking has evolved since I first drafted out this post. Here is the introduction to what I was going to say:
I still believe this is true. I haven't changed my mind on it. So why don't I care to say that any more? Because I was caught in the same trap as those who annoy me.
First, I want to make two things very clear:
1.) A good editor, like a good housekeeper, is prized above rubies, chocolate AND bacon.
2.) Every writer -- I'm talking 100 percent of writers -- started life as a mewling, puking baby who not only had zero words in his or her vocabulary, but also no sense at all of dramatic structure, characterization, or even the ability to recognize what a book is.
And guess what?
Item #1 is not the solution to Item #2.
In traditional publishing, you can, with some assurance, tell people what they need. There are so many hoops to jump through, that the arguable issues of higher literature don't matter. Every writer -- from pulp to literary -- has to jump through those hoops, so you can safely yell at them for doing a bad job at it.
And I am as stuck in that mindset as anybody. The original thesis of this post was going to be "... and if you want to really learn to jump through those hoops as an indie, you don't need an editor, you need a teacher."
And that's still true, but as the old joke about the lost helicopter goes, it isn't relevant.
So do indie writers need editors?
The problem lies with the word "need." And (given that) the answer is, always was, always will be for all writers, and cannot be anything else:
That's a no-brainer. Of course we don't need no stinkin' editors. We don't need no stinkin' apples either. We may like them, we may find them beneficial and tasty and all that, but we don't need them.
We think we need them (editors, not apples) because in traditional publishing the editor is critical to the process. The editor is responsible to the publisher and to the booksellers. And the writer needs publishers and booksellers, so they need an editor. QED. But in that system, the writer doesn't have any responsibility, except meeting the contract terms and expectations of the editor.
(But but but, a writer always has a responsibility to write a great story! On a moral level, before the judgment of the Gods, maybe. But in traditional publishing, the writer's responsibility is only to meet the needs of the editor.)
With Great Responsibility Comes Great Freedom
In self-publishing, the writer is the one with the responsibility. It's a responsibility greater than any editor ever had, because it's total responsibility. Even if you hire an editor, you're the editor's boss. The buck stops with you, end of story.
This is terrifying for many people. I can understand why it leads to so much screaming about the need for a safety net. After all, if an editor fails, it not only threatens her welfare, but also that of a whole lot of people down the line. But the consequences of failure for a self-published author these days can be next to nothing. You don't need a safety net. You can fall, and fall and fall, and still be okay.
The great freedom that total responsibility gives you means that you can go after any market you want. Not just markets which will be profitable for your boss, or those which please the booksellers. You can even build your own.
Earlier I posted three essays to set up context for this post:
The point of my first context post (Editorial Standards, eHow and Pulp Fiction) was to point out that different markets have different standards. Electronic publishing has just expanded the market exponentially. What we consider "publishing" today is a tiny fragment of the number of markets and forms that are already in play. And new forms and ideas are cropping up all the time.
The two later posts about the slush pile were to illustrate that good writing isn't about good spelling, and good spelling is certainly not about great writing.
"But but but, are you actually advocating bad spelling?"
A week ago I would have replied, "Of course not!" But now... I can only say:
Advocating is a strong word, but, um, yeah. I am. Sorta.
What I'm advocating for is learning the standards appropriate to your venue, and excelling that them.
For instance: Some top notch New York writers I follow on Twitter have taken to using all those texting shortcuts that we decry as a sign of the downfall of literacy -- because they have something important to say with only 140 characters. And I've read long, funny essays written entirely in LOLcat-speak.
"Oh, but those are sophisticated writers who know how to write correctly, so they get a pass!"
No, they're smart writers who know how to use the tools they have to communicate the effect they want.
Back in the 70's and 80's breast feeding became all the rage among the upper classes, and someone did a cultural study among the doctors who were pushing it. What they found was that the very same doctors who advised modern, rich white women to breast feed, turned around and advised non-white immigrants NOT to breast feed.
Because those ignorant immigrants didn't know how to raise a baby the right way, and must be trained out of their raw and uncivilized habits first. Breast feeding is only for the most sophisticated of mothers.
You don't need to be able to spell correctly before you can write something funny in LOLcat-speak. You just have to understand how LOLcats think.
Like it or not, the wall has come down between LOLcats, online chat, blogging, fan fiction, and you. You can't go around telling others the right answer any more. You can only look for the right answer for you. So....
Do you need an editor?
That's up to you.
If you lack time and have money, absolutely -- hire someone to take over the annoying proofing jobs.
If you are an unskilled writer, however, an editor won't fix your lack of skill. And if you're not ready for it, neither will a teacher or a critique group. What you need is experience.
Get writing, make mistakes. Make intentional mistakes. Learn from them. You need to get those million words under your belt. (They don't all need to be fiction.) And if hiring an editor helps you get on with writing those words, that's fine too.
1.) Kittehs doant needz no steenky editurz.
2.) And writers need to stop having kittens at the prospect of all those unskilled writers out there who don't listen to them. (Because they don't have to listen, so they're not gonna.)
Thus ends the rant I hope to put behind me....
Next week I want to get on with this concept of Artisan Writers. The idea of a writing movement focused on craftsmanship really jazzes me. I might go back to posting 5-6 days a week. I might write and post a Manifesto.
Stay tuned, and see you in the funny papers.