Tag Archives: book publishing

Do You Need an Editor? The *Definitive* Post

There’s a misconception I’d like to put to rest.

Freelance editors are not expendable. Freelance content editors are the unsung heroes of publishing.

Though it sounds like I’m tooting my own horn, I’m not. And this idea may not make me popular among my industry friends and colleagues. Yet as publishing continues to change, I see too many good writers, mid-listers and professional authors being sold a steaming heap of monkey giblets about how to sell more books. And I think it’s high time we jumped this collection of clunkers with confidence.

Wheeeeee!!! Craaaap!!!!

The unassailable history proves that word of mouth is what sells books over the long term. And despite publisher and traditional bookseller practices, long-term sales are what authors need in order to survive.

Check. (Thanks, Google.)

But what generates consistent and long-lasting word-of-mouth? Is it promotions, interviews, contests or other savvy marketing? Maybe killer content? Meaningful and enriching stories? Most professionals will mark “a good read at a good price” as the way to sell books best over the long-term–and little else besides.

Okay. So the question eventually comes down to: how do authors develop the most scintillating, wide-reaching material?

Now we’re ready, ladles and gent-lemons. The one way to writing good books (and my nomination for word of the year):


Show me a “professional” who doesn’t take many drafts to develop their material and I’ll show you an amateur who isn’t creating their most widely-accessible work. (Duck and cover, people! I warned you.) And even after initial rewriting, refinement always requires some outside help, objective opinion, and more specifically, experienced, balanced objective opinion(s).

So is it hyperbole to say that finding these helpers may mean the difference between success and failure for every author?

I do this for the money, prestige and power. Said no writer ever.
I do this for the money, prestige and power. Said no writer ever.

There are many stages in an author’s development, but freelance editing is one I see too often overlooked. In fact, questions and misunderstandings seem to be increasing.

What do they really do? Won’t they ruin my story? Wouldn’t they change my voice? Why would I want someone to mess with my vision and challenge what I’ve worked so hard on?

Real, valid concerns. Actually, if writers weren’t asking questions like this, I’d be worried. There are no guarantees editing will help you (and any editor who offers that is playing you). Step back and recall how many badly written books have made it to the bestseller list without any apparent assistance from an editor’s red pen. Do books really need editing to sell well?

Literary-snobs shut your eyes: “Not really.” (support) (proof)

So if quality control isn’t a valid reason, what’s the point of hiring an editor? And who needs editing beforehand anyway, especially if you’ll be going through the editing during the publication process?

Freelance editors are a dime a dozen and the wrong one could be disastrous. To top it off, they’re crazy expensive. Let’s just get straight-up honest, here:

Do you really need a freelance editor?

First, there are critique groups. Good writers all use them. Beta readers. They can be hugely helpful, harsh and honest, professional friends.

Agents. The good ones do still content-edit quite a bit besides crafting astounding, profitable ideas out of thin air. They are often the first and only line of defense and author advocate before the infamous …

In-house editors. Despite rumors to the contrary, they do still edit. And they do a bang-up job of it too, if not as singularly as editors who aren’t required to handle multiple concurrent book-production schedules, new acquisitions, pub-board presentations, sales conferences, departmental requests for early materials and publicity pieces, and the thousands of other insipid and infuriating things in-house editors are literally bombarded with every day. And if you’re independently published, you’ll have your…

Publishing package editors. And in some cases, they’ll actually fix some words you missed. Just don’t expect them to do much content shaping, let alone character or plot analysis or smoothing. But, then, sometimes you may even have your…

Ghostwriters. These are the most evolved industry folks around. No way any “word shenanigans” are getting past these bad boys and girls of publishing.

So freelance editors. What’s really left for them to do with all these competent folks around?

I can’t speak for all my freelance editor friends, of course. But as an independent business, my goal is not to achieve “high quality,” or improve the story, or even to fulfill the author’s hopes of a completed project. My one purpose is to sell books. To do this, the author must see how they’re authentically surprising and delighting readers. That isn’t crass or unbiblical, it’s simply ambitious: it’s how the most influential authors are publishing today.


I’m a seasoned editor and some say I’m rather good. So let me challenge you to consider who will help you gain the best perspective on your book. Is it:

Someone who knows you and may be tempted to put friendship first?

Someone with a lot of experience and even objectivity, but 25-100 clients they’re carrying simultaneously?

Someone you’ve been assigned and needs you “processed” as quickly as possible?

Or someone who is free to invest weeks of professional evaluation into suggesting improvements for readability and mass appeal?

Freelance editors exist because they love books. And yes, they love successful books, because time and again they find the core of their author’s message and bring it out more fully to compel readers to proselytize about their books.

A freelance editor is your greatest chance to extend your reach and expand your writing career. With the right freelance editor, you will find a fulfilling sense of empowerment from an insightful supporter who gets you and respects your process. And at the very least, you will find new angles and depths you missed in your own work, which, in the end, will provide more compelling angles to sell your work.


So before you decide your next step, do one thing: run a simple search for experienced freelance editors. Ask them your questions and take a look at how hard they are working to balance author’s visions with reader appeal. And consider carefully the true value of investing in this powerful tool of education and insight you’re endeavoring to begin.

Could you use an unbiased coach and personal trainer in your corner?

Maybe the question isn’t, “Do you need a freelance editor?” Maybe it’s time the savvy authors recognized the better question is,

“Do you want to sell books?”

How Authors Get Everything They Really Want: The Death of Traditional Publishing “Success”

What is “success” as an author?

This question has more answers than Carter has pills. (My grandpa liked to say this, which always made me feel badly for whoever Carter was. Who is Carter and why does he have so many pills?)

Ah, this is great. I'm munching some popcorn Charlotte, my 5 year old, just brought me from her mid-morning snack. She’s home today for teacher’s conferences, and this is way more information than you need, but I want to set this up first, to say how glorious it is working from home, and appreciate that beauty with me, but second, how instructive it is to have a kid around who comes downstairs with her big bowl and quietly sets it near you, careful not to interrupt the typing, and say, “You can have some of my snack, if you want.”

I mean, this isn’t the way I imagined it. I had no idea. But I take a handful and she smiles and tells me to get lots of work done and leaves.

And I will. With this popcorn, I will work like a factory-assembly-line maniac. Like Carter without his pills.

Now I don’t work for her affection. She gives it to me freely. I don’t do a thing. I could even deny my affection, work so I never see her and miss out completely on a relationship with her and she’d still bring me her own food to share.

Because this is how it is with love.

And this question of how we define success has so many different answers because so many people don't feel loved. Underneath what we say we believe, "success" always has to do with whatever we're seeking most. These are words I've treasured: When you first seek to give yourself to God's way, his higher purpose, you'll be given everything you desire.

I used to think this was a cheap trick because when you do this, your desires "magically" change—and how easy is it to give me what I want when he just changes what that is first? Come on! But there's a deeper principle at work that says when you seek the higher purpose beyond yourself, you get what you really wanted all along.

It’s not different from your original desires, it's just deeper, more real. And hense, more lasting when it's fulfilled. It's always better to give than receive. It’s always better to do for another what you’d want done for you.

And I believe it. But do I? Would I act differently if I really believed? Do I give my popcorn, or do I eat it myself? What’s success: having the biggest handful or giving the most away?

Affirmation and validation are big traps for authors. Most realize it’s a fool’s errand, but the exploiters still sell it: “Are you desperate to feel appreciated and worthy? Sign with PAI-YUP Publishing today!” So many authors say they know where ultimate love is, but they don’t seem convinced. If they felt it, they’d know, and they’d figure out it’s probably dumb to try and squeeze love out of a book contract. But they don’t want to look deeper.

That’s not me. I mean, I know you can’t derive your value from a car or a job or even others’ opinions.

But we all still do it. And we close our eyes, rationalize it and make it “all right.”

Why do so many books get printed? Why do so many people work so hard when the only pay off is more attention and more work? Ask anyone “important”: more importance = more problems.

I know what I want to say with my work, and it is a way to give back, but I think I need to look harder at how what I’m writing is directly pouring into who is receiving it. This is a critical step in the process for anyone looking to share a book of true lasting value. I need to spend some more time picturing those outstretched bowls and me pouring from mine that’s been so generously filled…

So what's "success" to you, that is, what do you think is most important? Are you writing to “give back” or is it more about what you want to say?

A Better Way to Sell Out

Writing makes me happy. NovellaBag

But I have something of a strained relationship with publishing. Being an introvert, I don’t want the spotlight, though being human, I do like being well-regarded. Publishing is legitimizing, but it’s also exposing, which depending on your personality can be invigorating or shall we say unpleasant, as in fly-unzipped-on-laundry-day awkward.

So if I’m going to do this—publish I mean—I want to know that what I’m showing off is something larger, or more substantial, than just me showing off.

Discounting the inevitable derision could present a challenge otherwise.

I want what I wrote while blissfully ignorant of any exposing to be unmistakably and unavoidably not simply mine.

The trouble is, overexposure has become the norm, if not the expectation for modern authors in our manic, addiction-inducing culture. And having conceived the work in such a sacred exchange, slapping on the sandwich board to hock it as so much product feels a little like spitting on your grandma. I’m not so much worried about the gut-wrenching agony of being imprisoned in the hype machine. It’s more the fear that I’d be forced to become my own stalker-murderer and suffocate myself with my promotional monogrammed book bag.

So I’ve been thinking this through because I could publish anonymously or with a pen name, which seems attractive until it comes to interviews and such. There are ways to avoid detection and “live off the grid” as it were with things like voice scramblers that writer of the Fourth Realm trilogy “John Twelve Hawks” used. But somehow rejecting publicity to such an extreme feels more like a publicity stunt…

No, I think if I’m going to do it, publish, I need a better reason to sell out than hoping to sell out.

“Unscrupulous people fake it a lot; honest people are sure of their steps. Nothing clever, nothing conceived, nothing contrived, can get the better of God.” (Prov. 21:29-30)

A little later, the sage says, “The payoff for meekness and Fear-of-God is plenty and honor and a satisfying life.” (22:4)

I don’t know if not putting a price on the product of our inspiration is necessary, but it’s certainly advantageous. Making writing your livelihood is a perilous prospect, though not unmanageable. In the end, “Do your best, prepare for the worst—then trust God to bring victory” (21, final verse). The nut to be cracked here seems to be in what you “prepare” for, whether to provide for your own needs or for others’.

So I’m still wrestling. But I’m also praying, believing there’s a right path for everyone moving forward with the call to get the WORD out.

The All-Time Top Reasons to Pursue Big Publishing, Part 1

So this is a quick, rather spurious post full of some rambling thoughts. But this is where my brain is and I'm hoping for some feedback from folks on this. It's an intriguing topic…

What are the arguments for pursuing traditional royalty-paying publishing? Some I know of are professional editing, design, & production. And these are usually great b/c corporate publishers tend to have some top-notch professionals. Of course, they're also overworked and understaffed these days, and they are working on dozens of books a year, so it's usually the most expensive projects that get the most attention. This holds all the way down the line too: sales and marketing, publicity and promotion. And with these, there's also the growing public disinterest in traditional advertising and selling methods. Big authors can do better on their own, why not small ones? Same principles for each.

Maybe a key is distribution. I know this can be a big one for mid-list authors who've maxed out what they can fulfill on their own. But with PDQ (check out Dan Poynter on this) and some great partnerships with self-publishers by the top distributors now, I'm not sure even this reason holds much anymore.

Advances can be nice, but they're really just loans and you pay them back out of your own royalties. And usually, you won't make it back as a new author, so you're out for any future deals. And if you do make it back, your royalty rate is lower than it would have been with a smaller or self publisher, so are you really better off with an advance? Most of the time, I'd have to say I've seen it being more of a liability to authors than a help.

Being on the shelves at B&N is a big draw. This is the cache reason. And I get it. It's not fun to have a book out no one can go and get at a bookstore. But just because it isn't stocked on the shelf doesn't mean they can't get it, and if people go in asking for your book, how many times do you think it takes for them to realize they may need to stock it? Maybe you can have friends in strategic places around the country help you out with this and save the hassle of hiring a publisher with a sales force.

What are some others I'm forgetting?