Thoughts on editing & the indie marketplace

This post isn’t a cohesive dissertation on the subject; it’s not meant to be. It’s just a series of thoughts I’ve had recently on the topic of editing in the selfpub/indie scene. It started with the Dear Author post “When I bought your book, I didn’t sign up to be your beta reader.

It continued during a discussion on Twitter between Marc Nash & Dan Holloway & myself about difficulties of indie reviewing.

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These are my thoughts; don’t blame anyone else. I’m not finished thinking them yet. 

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As a reader, I have an expectation that when an author enters a book in the public marketplace, as a product exchanged for actual money, that it’s finished to the best of the writer’s ability. This means I expect the book has been edited (and copy edited) to a professional standard.

I never (knowingly) buy work riddled with copy errors because the author can’t be bothered to check their own speling and, grammar, and make sure their using the write words in the write places.

I never (knowingly) buy premature drafts released because the author mistook customers for a pool of schmucks willing to pay for the privilege of performing editorial service.

If I pay for a book and discover that kind of (lack of) editing, I’m pissed.

Don’t sell me unfinished shit. There is no fucking excuse.

If you buy a book and it’s a disaster, return that shit

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“But traditionally published books have errors too!”

A disingenuous argument, and the people making it know that. There’s a difference between a couple errors, a typo, something that slipped through (or was introduced in the process), and work that hasn’t been edited. We’re not stupid; readers can tell the difference.

Sometimes I imagine that if some of these writers were denied word processors, their manuscripts would be written in crayon with backwards Rs.

Lets all stop pretending that bumbling, barely literate writing doesn’t matter. It’s dishonest.

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Indie reviews consistently comment on the quality of the copy editing. You know what “some grammar and spelling errors” means, in indie review parlance? It means, “This book is a hot mess and the writer didn’t fucking bother to proofread in the mad dash to upload their manuscript to Amazon and rake in the Kindle gold.”

When you see this in a review, just skip the book. If a writer can’t be bothered to proofread (the easy part), imagine how little attention they paid the rest of the editing.

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There’s a difference between honest mistakes that happen despite writerly diligence and those that are ignored because the writer is lazy fuck who says, “If my story is good enough, the writing doesn’t matter!”

(This may be true for some stories, but don’t assume yours is one of them.)

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Have you ever heard a painter say, “As long as my vision is good, it doesn’t matter how badly I paint it!”

Have you ever heard a musician say, “As long as my song is good, it doesn’t matter how badly I play it!”

Yeah, you haven’t heard that because those would be fucking stupid things to say.

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Every typo should embarrass the fuck out of you. Even if there’s nothing you can do and it’s not your fault. It should embarrass you whether you’re aspiring to art or just a commercial hack trying to make a buck. It should embarrass you whether you’re an indie, responsible for your own editing, or traditionally published with a team of people that should’ve caught that mistake.

It should embarrass you because language is your tool, whether you are producing art or product (or both) and to use language badly, carelessly, is to create inferior art, to offer an inferior product. Even if it’s someone else’s mistake, it still has your name on it.

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Indies don’t need writing collectives; we need editing collectives.

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Writing is a solitary activity, a thing that happens alone in a room. I think it has to happen this way, the really good writing, because we cannot tap into our deepest truest self and bring that to the surface in the presence of other people. Really, look it up. The physical presence of other people affects your brain.

Writers need feedback. Also clarity of vision and voice. 

The relationship between readers and authors has become so much closer in a way that was impossible pre-internet. Writing in public and editing by committee has become pervasive through online critique groups & insta-pub sites. The crowd is like an ocean and, if you let it, will wash away all the rough bits and jagged edges of your work until there is nothing left for the reader to hold on to.

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When I buy music, when I buy a piece of art (a keyword here is “buy” — you know, with my money), the musician doesn’t keep releasing “revisions” of the album based on listener feedback.

How pissed would you be if you bought a song and the musician revamped it based on criticism from the crowd and then reuploaded it, replacing the version you loved with something mediocre and adjusted to the bland, formulaic taste of the mob?

How irritated would you be if you bought a painting, and the artist came over in the middle of the night and swapped it with a “better” version?

So why do writers think this is ok?

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The only time it’s ever acceptable for a writer to replace a purchased ebook without the explicit consent of the reader-customer is for basic copy-editing & format corrections. Not for changed content, renaming characters, adjustments to the story according to the whims of the readership en masse.

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I know I don’t have comments. It’s because my blog is a place for me to express myself, not a place for dialog.

If you want to talk about this, write a post on the subject at your own blog; tweet me the URL @frankiesachs and I’ll drop by your place to see what you think & add a link below. (Or if you’re on Tumblr, just reblog & add your commentary and it will show up automatically in the notes.)