Saturday, November 19, 2011

Why Readers May Not Want Self-Published Writers To Get Editors

In all the posts I did this past week about editing and self-publishing, and those I did in the week before, I didn't write about one very very important consideration:

The Reader.

Frankly I thought this issue was obvious and clear, but it seems writers are a little too self-involved to see it.

Too often the advice an unskilled writer gets goes like this:

"Get an editor to fix your mistakes! Oh, and polish up those first chapters in particular, because readers use samples to judge whether to buy a book or not."

Do you see the problem here?

Readers do. You hear it from them all the time.

"But I tried using samples to sort out the bad from the good, and it didn't work. The sample would be really polished and professional, but the book just fell apart in the middle and I couldn't even get to the end."

The more we use editing as a short cut, or as a marketing tool, the less effective it will be. Readers will be forced to find other ways to find good books. The power of the sample will be dead.

Remember folks, beginning writers don't know what it takes to write well.  They need to learn to write first.  They need to learn to do their own editing.  And then, if they choose, they'll know if they need an editor or not.


stu said...

Isn't that an argument for using good editing throughout the book, rather than just in one spot? Also, it seems to be an argument for using editing appropriately, as a supplement to the best piece a writer can produce, rather than one for avoiding editors.

The Daring Novelist said...

Actually no -- I only mentioned the "polishing up the beginning" because it's such an obvious illustration of the wrong attitude.

But the problem is not just with shining the toes of the shoes and leaving the heels rough.

All the readers I've talked to who have been burned by good samples tell the same story -- the whole work is often polished. Any set of pages may look professional. But the plot goes nowhere, the characters have no arc or an unbelievable arc. Apparent suspense that doesn't actually lead anywhere. Or the attitude is just plain immature, and just plain boring because of it.

I've certainly seen this as a script reader -- perfection in form but no craft, no vision, no real voice except the standard one.

The key to what I'm taking about lies in the last line: we've GOT to either let young writers know they've got to learn craft, or we've got to get our of their way and let them learn it for themselves.

Once upon a time, a polished style told you a writer had paid his or her dues. A reader could count on a writer with a certain level of more important skills by how polished a sample was -- even if that sample came from the middle.

We are rapidly reading the point where a well-edited book will no longer be the sign of a well-written book.

The Daring Novelist said...

I just realized that Stu said "...rather than avoiding editors."

I'm not saying you should avoid editors. I'm saying that we, as a group, should stop recommending them to unskilled writers as a way to make up for their lack of skill.

Krista D. Ball said...

The problem is the "jackpot" mentality right now. It's a gold rush. It's a race. Put your stuff up on Amazon and let others be the judge of it. etc etc etc

Yet, there are a lot of people who are not ready to be publishing full stop in any way, yet are refusing to work on their craft. Yes, get an editor is good for helping, true, but some people aren't even at the editor stage. They are at the beta reader and critique group stage. Some are still at the "write a lot of stuff that will never see the light of day" stage. Yet, sadly, we are seeing those stories *for sale.*

I'm tired of paying to be some author's beta reader and gatekeeper.

The Daring Novelist said...


That is all true... but that's not a problem.

If their work is not artificially polished to fool the reader into thinking it's better than it is, more power to them.

There is no reason for them not to be publishing now. That is the best way you could possibly learn -- perform before an audience. That's what puts them into the right mindset to learn.

AND...some of them are writing crap for an audience which likes crap.

Writing fiction is now like blogging, like it or not. They'll either learn with experience, or they'll find a niche that suits them, or they'll fade away.

We're in a whole different world now. Professional publishing itself is just a niche compared to the full world opened up to writers.

The Daring Novelist said...

I forgot to address this:

"I'm tired of paying to be some author's beta reader and gatekeeper."

That's exactly why it is very very bad for readers for us more experienced writers to go around telling newbies to get an editor.

But in the end, you don't need to be their beta reader. You have likely been burned more than most because you are a writer -- so you hang with wannabe writers, and that means you are exposed to more titles from people who haven't developed skills yet.

But it's not that hard to avoid them if you stop paying attention to their promo. Go back to word of mouth. If someone recommends something you don't like, stop listening to their recommendations.

That's the gist of what I'm complaining about above: if unskilled writers are covering their lack of skill with editing, we're going to have to use different filters -- which will make it all that much harder for them to be "discovered."

ModWitch said...

"We are rapidly reading the point where a well-edited book will no longer be the sign of a well-written book."

I agree this is coming - but I'm not sure the answer is to discourage editing. To me, editing is a form of respect for readers, and one I can easily provide as I go about the much more difficult business of honing my craft.

Will editing just polish some turds? Sure. But I hope that by editing my good story with some still rough edges, I make it a gentler ride for my reader.

And that would be the reasoning that still has me on the "everybody should have an editor" bandwagon - but I'm listening. You make some thought-provoking points :).

The Daring Novelist said...

I didn't say you shouldn't edit.

And (other than this side issue about readers) I didn't say that you shouldn't use an editor. I specifically said the opposite.

What I said was that we writers should STOP NOW with all the unsolicited advice that the solution to poor writing is to get an editor. It's doing more harm than good, in the long run.

ModWitch said...

Maybe that's the difference, then. I don't recommend that everyone use an editor (which I do often), to solve poor writing. I say it out of respect for readers. If the story is bad, then all the editing in the world won't fix it. But if the story is good, then make it as easy as possible for readers to access it.

My sense of the "use an editor" comments on KB is that we are discouraging reader abuse-by-typo. Yes, we could do a lot more to discourage reader abuse-by-awful-writing, but that's more challenging for a lot of reasons. One of them is that we keep losing our wise, experienced writers ;-). Another is that it's harder to know what to suggest to fix poor storytelling, especially when you're in the newbie trenches yourself.

I have a son with autism. Far too many therapies want to teach him table manners. I want to teach him to enjoy family bonding over food. The first is easy, and there's a clear path to follow. The second is much trickier. Often, when I bitch and moan about "table manners" therapy, what I really wish is that we valued relationships more, and the way food can contribute to them.

Does that get me closer to understanding what you're trying to say?

The Daring Novelist said...

That's a really GREAT example.

Yes, a lot of what we do these days we do because it's easy.

The key, imho, is not to avoid editors. It's to open up the culture, stop with the peer pressure and fear of criticism, and really look at things on an individual basis.

When the student is ready the teacher appears.

Which means there is no point in trying to teach somebody something until they are ready.... and when they are ready, you can't stop 'em.

ModWitch said...

That's what I keep telling all the people who think my son will still have crappy table manners at 18 :D. If he does, I have bigger things to worry about than his table manners.