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Editing and Proofing – Traditional Publishing vs. Indie Publishing

10 July 2012

From Dean Wesley Smith:

Just for fun and giggles and to help kill a few myths, I figured I would take a few areas of publishing and compare them across, from indie to traditional. The differences, the beliefs, how things are actually done.

. . . .

One of the great new myths is that traditionally-published books are cleaner and better proofed than indie-published books. Traditional publishers use this myth as a selling point to keep writers mailing them books.

. . . .

[A] lot of us old traditional writers are indie publishing our backlist now. And that’s leading to some really eye-opening discoveries. We are finding tons and tons of problems in traditionally published books that were not in our original manuscripts. Problems introduced by the editing and proofreader of a traditional publishing house.

. . . .

Traditional Publishing

Step One:

Your manuscript gets read by an editor. (Please do not say anything about agents in this. That topic is too ugly to handle here.)

Often this editor is young, just out of college, and filled with the myths of how there is a perfect book. (Again, read Kris’s post about perfection.) If you are lucky your manuscript finds a more experienced editor and the editor goes through trying to make your book a better book for what you wrote. Editors do find mistakes, but most of them are not good copyeditors.

Sometimes in this stage you get an editor who thinks they are a writer and tells you how to rewrite your book into something they think will sell better, or is more to how they would have written it if they had enough courage to be a writer. (There are tricks to getting around this type of editor. You learn them after getting stuck with a few of them.)

How are we discovering this? Simple, actually. We give our hired proofreader a copy of the original, traditionally-published book and an original electronic file. Then we tell the new proofreader to compare the electronic file to the published work and try to get the electronic manuscript as clean as possible.

Our proofreader is finding mistakes that got missed and mistakes that were added in. Thus our books being done indie are now far cleaner than the ones originally done traditional.

. . . .

No matter what your book is or how well-written or perfect, there will always be a rewrite that you must address in one fashion or another. Why? Contracts, that’s why. They give you money on signing and money on acceptance. They have to divide those payments apart for cash flow reasons. You know… business. So the editor MUST find something for you to do, even if she loves the book. In over 100 books I had less than five of them not go through a minor to completely-stupid rewrite.

Sometimes the editor found good stuff that needed fixing, sometimes the editor was just marking time until she could put in for the next check for her writer. Those marking-time rewrites cause more damage than good when the writer is too new to stand up to the editor.

. . . .

When all that is done, your manuscript goes off to a proofreader for a copyedit. If your advance is low, chances are they are testing out a new proofreader that is cheap. If your advance is high, you might get a more experienced one.

. . . .

If your advance is low, you are rolling the dice on getting a decent copyeditor or not. If you get a copyeditor who wants to be a writer and has no respect for your writing, you will find yourself in a hell you can’t even begin to imagine.

If you get a good one, they will find all kinds of stuff and mistakes you swear you never knew were in there.

You must always spend the time, sometimes days, to check through the copyedited manuscript sent to you by the publisher.

. . . .

So what is the process for indie publishing?

Step One:

You have a manuscript. Give it to a couple good first readers. Friends that you also read their work, or just friends that don’t write but love to read. Listen to them on the mistakes and then only fix what you want.

This step is how indie writers go around the editor part of traditional publishing. An editor is only a good reader. Two of your friends are often, combined, a great reader as well.

Link to the rest at Dean Wesley Smith

Dean Wesley Smith, Editing, Self-Publishing

17 Comments to “Editing and Proofing – Traditional Publishing vs. Indie Publishing”

  1. There will be more than a few editors will be none too pleased to read this post. lol I agree with you, by the way. I think everything having to do with the old guard is going through a dramatic shift. Those who cling to the old model, including some editors, will be disappointed when their number gets called.

  2. I am glad that other people, far more important than I, recognize how bad many traditionally published books really are when it comes to editing. And it’s getting worse. Newer books seem to have more errors and oversights.

    I blame shrinking budgets for that. I may be wrong, but it seems logical.

    Dozens of people read my books before they are released. My editor and I make a yet another final pass after their comments. Then, we release electonically first and, invariably, someone finds something. I wonder if that is the case for traditionally published books?

    Even after ALL of that, a kind blogger/reviewer will find something and be generous enough to email a list of those discoveries. The Comma Queen (editor) has to take medication before digging into the book another time. WE CHANGE THEM AGAIN for the electronic version.

    That is one of the beautiful things about being in control of the process.

    Still, since I am an indie, my books are “trash.” People know that without even reading them because there is no Big Six imprint. No wonder my editor needs her meds, that is as much of a slam on her as it is on me (and you…).

    I have a dream that some day, books will be judged on their own merits individually with no regard to who (whom? Dangit, I need her help here) the publisher might be. Until then, I’ll keep turning out my trash and let readers judge.

    Help me and your fellow indies by getting an editor. Paste that person’s name prominently so the world knows we are trying. We can help kill the stereotype, too.


    • Splitter,

      Do you think it would help to list the names of your whole editorial team? More than one editor to show that you’re really trying?

      Or could it backfire? “Look at what all those so-called ‘editors’ missed!”

      Stylesheets vary. Not all readers use the same one.


      • James,

        It might help, but I think you need to focus on one editor for the cover and credits on Amazon. My editor is listed right by my name on Amazon: “By C.S. Splitter and Tricia Kristufek.” Even my cover artist gets billing on the second book. I do a list of contributors on the acknowledgments page and it is growing.

        On my blog, I list all members of my team. Yes, I pimp out their work, too. My editor now has a small stable of authors, my cover artist has done other work, and my PR person has other authors. I am no longer the center of their universe . (Fine, I was never the center of their universe, I was their crash dummy lol)

        Does it help sales? I dunno. The numbers this month are pathetisad (my own word). But, I DO think it is important for readers to see that there is a team behind a book. Even if it does not help sales, it shows that yet another indie/self pubber is TRYING to break the stereotype. Plus, it is only right to give them credit personally.

        Just my opinion of course. As you said, different readers want or respond to different things. They might see all those names and decide that the story was a group effort and since “anything by committee” invariably goes wrong, they decide to pass.


      • There is no winning with the people determined to find errors in Indie work. Even those who are “indie friendly” find what they expect. They’ll often ding you for British English (and are often wrong in both cases), or things like that.

        IMHO, it’s really a big mistake to do anything to draw attention to editing. All it does is wave a big red flag that says “I’M SELF-PUBLISHED!”

        The whole point of good editing is to be invisible. Pros don’t put a “Good Editing Seal of Approval” on their work.

        I DO think it’s a good idea to thank your editor, or anyone else who helped you in the creation of your book.

      • It’s not uncommon in traditionally published books to thank your editor in the acknowledgements.

    • Reading some traditionally published books recently, and finding loads of errors, has made me wonder what the editor got paid for.

  3. Any advice on finding a proofreader for fetish erotica? I had to put up my first short story without one.

  4. With all due respect to editors, there’s another factor at work here:

    Why don’t writers just learn their craft? You know, stuff like spelling and grammar and story structure? I’d pay double to any editor who simply sent a manuscript back to a writer and said, “Get back to me when you’ve learned to do it right.”

    • BINGO!

      • I hear you – I don’t understand why any writer WOULDN’T want to learn their craft.

        My drafts are fairly clean but I’m always learning something new.

    • Yes, writers should learn their craft.

      How hard is it to purchase a copyediting book and follow the steps? I also used style sheets for editing non-fiction during my work days, so adapted them for my fiction.

      The best course I took (in price and knowledge) was Holly Lisle’s How to Revise your Novel, which I believe will soon be available to purchase as ebook lessons, on structure, plot, characters, timeline, etc.

      I also found Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King, locating repeat words, POV, etc. a really good guide to follow.

      Then use first readers to catch any missed problems.

      After all the above pass throughs on my novels, I let the computer read each scene and I follow the text. That catches lots of simple errors.

      Think of the money saved by undertaking these steps, leaving all sales as profit to the author.

  5. Excellent post. I like the assumption that indie publishing doesn’t skip the editing step, they’ve just found a new way to do it.

  6. “Sometimes in this stage you get an editor who thinks they are a writer and tells you how to rewrite your book into something they think will sell better, or is more to how they would have written it if they had enough courage to be a writer.”

    This is key, I believe. I’ve run into lots of editors who would rather be writers, but since they haven’t got the time, they’ll tweak yours into something they prefer. My answer has always been, “If that’s the story YOU want, then why don’t YOU go write it?” (Yes, I’m very popular.)

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