Before starting, I’d like the readers of this blog to understand that in no way am I trying to dissuade you from following your dream if you are working to publish a book. This article is meant to inform you of a very important aspect of writing only. Please be sure to read my final message after the five points below…
APPARENTLY, the rule of thumb for indie authors is that if your self-published book has a grammatical accuracy rating of 95% or better, you’re good. But I’ve been reading far too many books published by indie authors that are teeming with typos, sprayed with spelling errors, haunted by improper homonyms, guilty of grammatical mishaps, stained by bad sentence structure, putrid with improper punctuation, and riddled with redundancy (sort of like my use of alliteration here). As a former English teacher, each error on a page sticks out like a sore thumb to me, and it’s hard for me to ignore. I know I’m not the majority, but I’ve spent a good portion of my life trying to improve the professional writing abilities of middle and high school students, so when I read a book in which the author clearly hasn’t a solid grasp on the basic rules of structure, and chose not to have the book edited, I can’t help but think with paranoia that my students might be reading books like these and will wind up getting the misconception that this is proper English. So in my head, those authors are making my already impossible struggle to educate the younger generations all that much more difficult. I may no longer be teaching English, but I’m not yet far removed from that career, and it’s still something I value greatly.
When I first started out getting ready to publish my first novel, I was told by other local indie authors that having your book edited is an absolute must. So it surprised me when I first entered the world of self-publishing and found myself reading the works of many others who seemed to skip what I thought was an important process in publishing. Listen, I get it. Hiring an editor can be expensive, and we already have to pay for a lot of things, like cover design and promotion services. We’re making a bit of an investment into something that we may not see much of a return on. So I completely understand WHY it appears that many indie authors are skipping the editing process. Perhaps they feel that, “It’s not perfect, but it’s good enough.” And maybe they’re right: I’ve picked up several books that had many reviews, all 4’s and 5’s, yet when I read them, I found the writing style to lack skill and the edits to be horrendous.
So maybe it’s just me. But part of me suspects not all reviews are accurate either. There will be a blog about that particular topic another day. But for now, I’m going to plead to the ears of my fellow indie authors while playing advocate for the English language and stress the importance of fixing your errors. Now, I’m not talking about creative liberties either. Every trained creative writer knows that writing a novel is not the same as a business letter, and that there is leeway for bending the rules of grammar and structure for the sake of creating certain tones, moods, and effects. However, before you can bend the rules, you must first master them. Because trust me: there are enough readers out there who can tell the difference between the writing of an author taking creative liberties for effect, and the writing of an author who doesn’t know what he/she is doing.
Some of you have an incredibly solid grasp of the rules of grammar and structure and can proofread your own manuscript, though that isn’t recommended. Some of you need assistance. That’s okay. If you love to write and you have a story to tell, you shouldn’t refrain from doing so just because conventions aren’t your strongest aspect. But if that’s the case, get help in any way you can. I understand expenses and that sometimes things are tight. There are ways around this. But whatever you do, please, make sure your manuscript reaches that 95% accuracy, or gets as close to it as possible before you publish. If you’re serious about this endeavor and truly desire success as a self-published author, the following reasons might convince you that editing is for your own good:
- A Negative Review of Your Book that Notes Poor Writing Conventions Is the Equivalent of the Blue Screen of Death for Your Computer. Not going to sugar coat this: the review system is inaccurate. Many self published authors get friends and colleagues to read and review their books, despite Amazon’s attempts to prevent this. Indie authors also join groups or clubs in which they read and review each other’s books, and if they want a good review of their own book, so they’ll refrain from giving anything lower than a 4 usually. A lot of authors in these support groups, if they truly feel that a colleague’s book deserves a negative review, they’ll not post a review, but instead consult their colleague and let them know what they need to do to improve it. Not that there’s anything wrong with all of this (indie authors need all the support they can get in this world where hundreds of thousands to millions of books are being self published every year), but I think readers are catching on to this. They’re reading a book that they find to be sub-par and see that the book has all 4’s and 5’s, and they’re thinking, “How does this book have such high reviews when it’s mediocre at best?” They’re catching on. What does this mean? It means that readers are starting to scroll past those 4’s and 5’s and are looking for just one bad review to determine if they want to buy the book. A bad review that says, “I didn’t like the story,” is not so bad, as everyone is entitled to their opinions. But a bad review that says “Too many mistakes,” will stand out. I for one, if I notice a book is filled with errors, have learned to automatically shut that aspect out and rate the other qualities of the story. But I’ll tell you, if it’s the best story I’ve ever read, and its only issue is that it’s filled with too many conventional errors, no way I’m giving that book a 5. I’ll give it a 4, and I’ll write of all the wonderful things about it in my review, but I’ll also explain that I gave it a 4 instead of a 5 because of the need for edits.
- Your Book Will Have an Edge over Countless Others. As already stated: many hundreds of thousands of new books are self-published every year. And a good percentage of them are done so without proper editing. If you have the means to hire a professional editor for your manuscript, yours will stand out a one with a higher quality. True, this doesn’t help with the actual marketing so people will know your book even exists, but those who do discover it will automatically assume that any future books you publish will have that same quality of writing.
- Not Taking the Time to Fix Your Errors Insults Other Authors. Picture this: you spent a portion of your life that you can’t get back going through your book for the fifth or sixth time, looking for errors, and that’s after you’ve hired one or two other people with editing experience to go through it as well. It’s your first book, so you want it to be perfect. After you’ve come close to permanently damaging your eyesight over your computer screen, you finally publish your book for $0.99, being your first…and then you discover a few more errors that need fixing, so you go back and fix them and resubmit….whew! Then you join a book review page on Facebook where you can post an announcement for anyone in the group to purchase and review your book, but not until you’ve at least purchased and reviewed someone else’s first. So you download another member’s book for say, $4.99, and the book is utterly infested with errors and is in dire need of edits. No editor is mentioned in the Acknowledgements. Tell me, after all the hard work you’ve put into your own book, listing it for only $0.99, that you wouldn’t be a little irked by this other author’s book. This is what happened to me, and I’ve got to be honest, it bothered me. A good number of your readers may not care if you’ve got errors all over your book, but if a fellow author who’s gone through the trouble of editing their own book, or paid good money to have it edited, picks up and reads your book…well…go back and read Reason 1 again…
- Your Book Will Produce More Sales. One thing you’ll want to do when you put your book on Amazon is activate the “Look Inside” feature, so potential buyers can read the first several pages of the book to determine if it’s a story they’ll want to continue reading. Therefore, not only do you want to make the beginning of your story as intriguing and attention-grabbing as possible, but it’s also strongly advised that you’ve cleaned up your typos and conventional errors. If potential buyers spots such errors within the “Look Inside” section, it’s a sure bet they will assume the goes for the entire story, and will possibly decline to purchase, even if they find your first chapter(s) interesting. Whenever customers consider the purchase of any product, they want that peace of mind that they’ll get their money’s worth before they commit to the sale.
- It Shows You Take Pride in Your Work. Look, no one goes through all the trouble to write a novel and go through the grueling process of self-publishing without becoming attached to their work. That novel is your masterpiece, your project, your baby. Don’t take shortcuts with it. For a second, forget about the previous reasons. Forget about sales, competition, insulting other authors, or shortchanging buyers, and you’re still left with the biggest crime of not editing your book: the fact that you’re doing a huge disservice to yourself. The good homeowner doesn’t just mow the lawn when the grass is high. He edges, pulls the weeds from the garden beds, drops fire ant killer on the ant hills, and trims the bushes. If a realtor washes and waxes her car before showing property, but doesn’t take the time to vacuum her kids’ Animal Cracker crumbs off the seats or pick up the rogue napkins from the floor after getting drive-thru, she’s pretty much wasted the time she took to improve the quality of the car’s exterior. And no artist is going to have his painting displayed in a gallery if he’s rushed through the details and hasn’t spent hours on touch-ups. These professionals take pride in their work because they love their work. If you love to write, chances are you want to take that same pride in your story. Show it. Go the extra mile for the sake of your image. There’s no better meal I love more than my family’s spaghetti sauce and meatball recipe, passed down by my Italian ancestors on my mother’s side. The sauce takes nearly four hours to cook correctly, and the meatball preparation is a chore and a half. Sure, I could just grab the store-brand sauce and meatballs and get finished in twenty minutes. But there’s a satisfaction beyond compare when my dinner guests chow down hardcore on my homemade sauce and meatballs ravishingly, and exclaim through muffled mouths that those are the best meatballs and sauce they’ve ever had. But the greatest compliment, what really confirms that my cooking is a success, is when they ask for seconds, and they often do. If my meal was just okay, I’m sure they would still compliment it and say the food is great. But it ends there. The same goes for your novel. If you write a good story but it’s filled with errors, people may not point them out to your face, and if you ask for feedback, they might simply tell you that it’s a great story. But wouldn’t you rather hear them “ask for seconds?” As with my Italian recipe, the greatest compliment you as an author can get is a similar question: “When’s your next book coming out?”
Okay, so maybe you’re a great story teller and love to write, but you suck at editing, and your budget, as is the case with most starving artists, is too limited to spend hundreds of bucks on a professional editor. Don’t let my rant here discourage you. The last thing I want is for you to think, “Screw it. I can’t do this.” I don’t want to crush anyone’s dream here. So wait; don’t despair and throw in the towel yet. Back away from the ledge. Put the knife down. Take a few breaths, and listen: I’m not saying don’t publish your manuscript if you don’t have the means to edit. There ARE things you can do to improve the conventions of your book, or at least compensate for the errors. I’ve given the reasons WHY editing your manuscript is so important, so next, I’m going to explain HOW you can make that manuscript better, regardless of your skill level or budget…
… in my NEXT BLOG! Ha Ha! Hang tight for now and stay tuned for Part Two of this article, coming out later this week!