Tag Archives: publishing books

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?”

Progressive Publishing Program, Part 1: Finish Your Book (for Free) with a Writing Coach

Some offers are just hard to believe, aren't they? 

The day I came up with the idea for a "progressive publishing program," I didn't believe it either.   Images-3

But here's a confession: I’ve always been something of a skeptic. As a small(er) babbler, I remember seeing the commercial for the Tootsie Roll pop and I determined to prove them wrong. I stuck with that thing until I licked the stick clean. I probably have some undiagnosed OCD, and coupled with a near-religious devotion to Sesame Street and Mr. Rogers during my newly-verbal years, my ability to persevere through difficult tasks that I enjoyed was virtually assured.

Of course, my mom would tell you, I was one headstrong little snot. I stomped my defiant foot into the deep shag carpet more than once. And as corporal punishment was something of a Christian duty in the 70s, I learned to withstand much pain. 

At school, I followed my own beat stubbornly, even learning to use my spankings to make my punishers cry. But something stuck. I learned self-discipline. And today I use it every day, to edit, write, and not coincidentally, to help authors edit and write.

Research shows that for those who want to write a book, finishing is the #1 barrier. Estimates put it that over 80% of American adults want to write a book, but it turns out life can get in the way. And I could use competition, the TV-addicted childhood, California slacker thing, or my Gen X label as excuses.

Or I could write myself a different story. Images-1

There are plenty of stories for all of us to choose from. But eventually we all need to recognize it's our choice to chose the one most worth fighting for.

Commitment isn’t all we need. But it's like, 9/10s. It may be true that obsessing gets you nothing but ulcers, but devotion is the main defense against the enemy of all great books, this enticing fruit of distraction. Greedy salesmen and barking self-publishers purport to want to help you, but do they care how good your book is? What's in it for them to help you not just publish, but sell well? The vision you initially had for your book when you imagined it finished, is that what you have? Or are you in danger of straying from your path? Opportunists have sprouted up everywhere, even in Christian corners, to prey on your flagging devotion. And they're very convincing.

"Congratulations! You finished writing! Now it's time to publish! Trust us, we're professionals."

Maybe you've noticed the decline in book quality. Or typos. Or simply what Stephen King calls "fast-food books" that bypass anything nourishing and go straight to the bowels. I think they're going straight to authors' heads, making their brains fat and slow, convincing them they can publish bestsellers as quickly and easily as, well, passing some fast food.

My theory, and it's just a theory, is that the major problem is undisciplined authors. They may not tell the lies, but they give them power by believing them. And they sell out their vision before a better book is given a chance to be born. Either too distracted, untrained, or afriad of never reaching the shelves, the majority miss their chance of connecting and selling well.

A glut of entitled sell-outs is dragging down the art and literature of publishing.

And why? Because they believe the hype. A brainless machine can publish your book. The real value is in the wisdom to know what's required to publish a best-seller. Are best-selling books always great books? No. And no one can predict success. But there are common characteristics in the authors who write well and sell well. The easiest way to make money in publishing is in selling false hope. And it costs far less to give people what they want than to commit to high quality work (what they really want, trust me).

If you've got a different kind of story, maybe it needs to be published as a great book. Maybe you are one who should choose a better way.

ImagesYou can do that and make a stand. But you'll also need others around you who believe in that goal really, really stubbornly.

Look at how best-selling authors do it. My newsflash for you after having worked with many successful authors over the past decade is that the good ones committed to the idea that valuable work costs much. They sacrificed for it. They sought out professionals to ensure the highest quality and before they published, they decided they really, really wanted to learn to write and edit well. They learned to tell a story. Armed with this, they managed to wait, to learn to edit, to research the market and others' books, and put themselves through the paces to pull together a refined vision, instead of selling it for scrap.

Choosing a different story than the self-publishers' hype is a new first step to becoming a great author. And only those with the determination to finish well will ever sell a great book.

Stay tuned…part 2 tomorrow.

(Oh, and in case you're wondering how many licks it really takes, I'll tell you over in the forum at the new site…)

Becoming an Introvert-Extrovert Author, Part II

Thanks for coming back. Last time I left off asking if we should be better introvert-extrovert authors, balanced between the extremes.

I thought some more over the weekend about classic books that survive as good reads. I still think most seem to be by introverted authors. Have times changed? I think so. There are probably some exceptional extroverted "classic authors," but maybe they're rare simply because just like today, extroverts by nature would rather be out having fun than sit in the house alone reading and writing books. I don’t doubt this could offend someone, but with the possible exception of Ernest Hemmingway (who arguably was a pretty well balanced introvert-extrovert), I can’t think of any who fit the classic extrovert author category.

Is this a new thought? I don't know, but it was for me recently. And how with all the books in that classic cannon, are some of them not by extroverts? Please share some if you have any.

But my bigger point is, today more than ever we need well-balanced introvert-extrovert authors, those rare people who can be 50/50. And I’m trying not to be stereotypical or protect my identity as an introvert (thanks Jon Acuff). Secure introvert-extroverts who can compete as wordsmiths and promoters are pretty rare, but they are the truly successful authors these days. There is a time for listening and a time for speaking. And no matter how good I am at one side of the game, I still have to join the other game, at some point. Even with books, loud still wins over quiet, hard over soft, big personality over reserved. Some people are born this way, others need to learn to appreciate the other side.

Not surprisingly, well-known, successful authors are able to be more extroverted, and whether that translates into being more dominant in the public sphere is a matter of perspective. What’s attractive in an author isn’t necessarily the same as what’s attractive in other famous folks. But media and publishing, tends to favor the extroverts, which feels so unfair to introverts who see this side of the business as invasive. It’s easy to begin feeling packaged, processed and reduced by marketing and the sales necessities that require evangelizing about books as competitive products.

There’s food for thought on how writers might be better developed today by Bill James at Slate. “I believe that there is a Shakespeare in Topeka today, that there is a Ben Jonson, that there is a Marlowe and a Bacon, most likely, but that we are unlikely ever to know who these people are because our society does not encourage excellence in lit­erature.”

Couple that with Ray Bradbury’s thoughts on his deeper motivation for writing: Looking over his life, he said his most important decision came when he was 9. “I was collecting Buck Rogers comic strips, 1929, when my 5th grade classmates made fun of me. I tore up the strips. A week later, broke into tears. Why was I crying? I wondered. Who died? Me, was the answer. I have torn up the future. What to do about it? Start collecting Buck Rogers again. Fall in love with the future! I did just that. And after that never listened to one damn fool idiot classmate who doubted me! What did I learn? To be myself and never let others, prejudiced, interfere with my life. Kids, do the same. Be your own self. Love what YOU love.”

Bradbury who wrote Farenheit 451 and sold over 100 million copies of his books, and said every writer has to write 1 million crappy words before he’s any good, said that the most important decision of his life was to reject what some extrovert said to him. How do I know it was an extrovert? I don’t. But because introverts don’t often assert dominance, it seems likely. I’m afraid far too many extroverts can’t understand this real social difficulty, and introverts can relate all too well. The good news is, even our deepest wounds can be gifts and we can use them to craft great work.

And if we can accept these disparate pieces of ourselves, and the different people in our lives, maybe we can become better balanced as authors of substance and successful.

I’ll talk more about the assumptions in being “successful” authors in a future post…

Putting God first in acquisitions

"It was a deep, emotional, personal thing. I wanted to give my life to him any way I could. I’d been discussing all that with him for weeks in church. I said, ‘Thy will be done,’ but I also have people dependent on me, so how can I do this? It came to me: Just do it." –Anne Rice in The Denver Post

If, as I stated last time, the Great Publishing Dichotomy—these opposite poles of literary vs. commercial, highbrow vs. popular—is a phantom, you can publish great books that sell by just doing it. Believe that God’s rewards follow those who step out in faith, and don’t fear the consequences.

I admire Anne Rice and her recent conversion back to Catholicism. And I see a parallel between her publishing reversal and the difficulty facing other professional Christian acquisitions editors. On her conversion:

"Q: Did you worry that writing from a Christian worldview would impact your career?

"A: I thought it would destroy it, but that didn’t matter. I went back to the church in 1998, and it wasn’t till 2002 that I really was talking to the Lord in church and decided to write only for him.

Surely she had some indication (Mel Gibson) it would all be okay, but all that aside, such a shocking 180 is indeed a dramatic opportunity for us to ask some of our favorite big questions: Can you publish what you want or do you need to serve the audience? Can you do both? But most importantly, can you publish what God wants?

Because you see, after you ask that question, it isn’t so much about making money / being successful / being relevant / upholding standards of quality / furthering your career or the company, but rather, Are any of these other concerns even relevant?

I’ve been wanting to jump on this topic ever since Professor Bertrand dedicated some high-level thought to publishing strategies in his creative application of the Windows/Apple turf war on "future vs. past tense" publishing. And then Dick Staub reminded me of our constantly shrinking “middlebrow” culture in America, reemphasizing Lewis’ statement that unless you can convert an idea into popular vernacular you either don’t understand it or don’t believe it. While this makes an equally strong case for the power of translating the gospel into story I won’t go so far as to excuse the vaccuous, reductionist theology that’s becoming more popular by the day. There is still a standard of accuracy and truth to be upheld, as another of this week’s bestsellers, Mere Christianity, points out.

But over the next couple weeks, I’m hoping to continue the Thanksgiving spirit as we look at some examples of how others target, choose, and evaluate books. All labels aside, each of us is accountable for our choices of which books to write, buy, or recommend. What are our criteria? If literary vs. commercial is thrown out the window, what are the standards of measurement?

This could be a tough topc to cover. There’s a lot of ground. I want to give my perspective on this side of the acquisitions desk, but there’s room for broader discussion, like how we choose which stories to write down, which books to pick up over others, which ideas to give weight and which to ignore. We have choices to make and it isn’t easy. In fact, we all know it’s getting harder every day.

Anyway, there’s probably ample chance I’ll fall down and hurt myself on this one, so I hope you’ll continue on with me and post so thoughts as we go. Let’s get some noodling going on.