Why the picture of cookies and what do they have to do with editing? Bear with me. We’ll get to that in a moment.
I wish I could say that the story is the only thing that matters in a novel. Unfortunately, that’s a bit idealistic. It probably should be the case as the medium’s ultimate goal is to transport the reader to another realm and entertain them in the process, but many readers will stop reading, regardless of how good your tale may be, if they happen to notice a single spelling or grammatical mistake. For some, anything that pulls them from your world and back to reality is enough for them to close the book and move onto something else. I wish I could say that they don’t have other options, but saying competition is fierce in selling books would be an understatement. Hell, I could go on Amazon right now and fill my Kindle with free ones.
Readers are accustomed to polished works where teams of experts have poured over every detail- from plot holes to commas. Even the most successful authors, those with millions of dollars, years of experience, and degrees in English or Creative Writing, are supported by a gaggle of editors. This group of eagle-eyed and laser-focused grammarphiles will place a book on an autopsy table and dissect it like a murder victim. They will take everything out, make their measurements, and examine each piece with a microscope. They will then fix the issues with a mortician’s care before placing everything back with a perfect and snug fit before presenting it to an eager audience.
For an Indie author, this makes things incredibly difficult. There are many reasons that some choose to go rouge instead of querying, getting an agent, and signing contracts with a publishing house, i.e. traditional publishing. For me, all that nonsense adds distance to the art and takes away control. But, there are drawbacks to being an Indie author, and one of the biggest is that we don’t have teams of experts nurturing our work. Often, it’s just us, the lowly author, that has spent months trying to find all the issues- reading the book dozens of times in the process. We’ll get a novel to a point where we think it’s ready, and with shaking hands, push the publish button, unveiling our creation to the word. Then, by day’s end, someone will find a typo in the first chapter. It’s incredibly embarrassing when the situation is handled gently by those that care, but it is rarely so discreet. Some people love to point out moments when they feel more intelligent than someone else, even more so if they can scream it loud and clear for all to hear, and being on the other end of that hurts (more like soul-crushing).
Most non-writers don’t understand how easy it is to miss the little things. For an author, it’s tough to separate from the prose and stop getting pulled into the world that you’ve created. Not to mention, for most authors, we write because we love a good story, not because we love the nuts and bolts of writing. I, for one, hate line editing. The best point for me in the process is not finishing a book. It’s the first read-through and story edit that I fancy. But, by the tenth read-through, when I’m knee-deep in the nitty-gritty of grammar and syntax, it’s a struggle to keep going, and there lies the tragedy. An Indie author will spend months falling in love with a story and its characters but grow sick of their work by the time they press publish, only to receive bad reviews because of a few typos. It will take me years before I can stomach reading over Island of Stone or Slaying of the Bull again, and that’s a shame (I’m not yet there for Dawn of the Lightbearer– I really like that story, which is good as the tale will continue). You inevitably question why you went through all the effort in the first place until the next story idea pops into your head, and it all begins again.
In response to this quandary, the first thing a reader may say is, “Why don’t you just hire an editor?” Oh, if they only knew how much I wish I could afford such a thing. It would give me months of time to focus on my true passions and save me many a sleepless night worrying that I put its when it should have been it’s. But, editing is expensive, and rightly so. Think about it. Would you want to spend hours with a red pen in hand reading slush you don’t want to read without reasonable compensation? There are many types of editing, but the average cost is about $3 a page for proofreading (finding minor errors), $5 for copy editing (a deeper dive into the grammatical manual), and $7 a page for developmental editing (proofreading, copy editing, and story work like finding plot holes). My latest book, the Dawn of the Lightbearer, is 458 pages long. So that would cost me $1,374-$3,206 to have the book professionally edited. If you make $2 in royalties for a book (roughly what it comes out to for a $2.99 ebook with 70% royalties on Amazon), that means I would have to sell 687 to 1,603 books to break even. I wish I were selling that many books! It might not sound like much, but think of that many people in a room. That’s the equivalent to the number of passengers on two to four 747 jets (366 per plane).
To date, my first two books have made about $500 after being on Amazon for more than a year (most pick up a copy when it’s free and then don’t read it). When I’m writing, I try to spend about 4 hours a day working (on top of a full-time job). Dawn of the Lightbearer was my fastest written book, but it still took me six months to write from start to publish. That’s 720 hours, but it probably was closer to 1,000. I hope it will make as much as the other two combined, which comes out to a whopping 50 cents an hour. I’m not complaining. Having just a single jet load of my readers out there is exciting, but I am not yet at the point where I can justify the cost of an editor. Sinking two grand in upfront costs into a book that could realistically make nothing, especially if you are on a limited budget and need to consider other expenses like marketing, is hard to stomach. I don’t want to come across as whiny, but I do want to convey the realities of why some authors can’t justify having their book edited by a professional.
For most authors, writing is a passion. If they make no money at all, they will still write because they have a story that needs to get out on the page. However, expecting a new author to dump loads of cash just to make the grammarphiles happy is just not going to happen. So, where does that leave us? Well, I can promise you that 90% of Indie authors have done their absolute best to get you the choicest work they could produce. Sure, it’s not perfect, but it probably took more individual effort than a New York Times bestseller supported by the fiction machines. It will also be more faithful to the author’s vision and certainly more innovative than the mass-produced. Some will fail in this endeavor, but they certainly don’t deserve scorn for trying.
I know, as a reader, it can feel frustrating to find mistakes. You paid good money for the product and you want it to be perfect. It all comes down to this- which cookie would you prefer? The one that comes from a mass-produced package of perfectly shaped cold cookies, or the warm, oddly shaped one that was home-baked with love? Yes, I know, some people hate walnuts in their cookies or prefer crispy to moist. You can’t please everyone. Some depend on the security of their cookies always tasting exactly the same. They have a knackering for Oreos and will turn-up their nose to even Hydrox, not to mention your home-baked crap no matter how good it smells. I don’t know. Perhaps I’m biased, but a world like that seems awfully boring to me.