I am currently deep in revisions of the book that will be my next release (A Matter of Character). But even I cannot ignore the firestorm that has been stirred up with the announcement of Harlequin Horizons, soon to have a name change because of the firestorm, I believe.
If you've been living in a bubble or on a south seas island without Internet service, here it is in a nutshell: Both Thomas Nelson, using their Westbow imprint, and now Harlequin, calling it Harlequin Horizons, have opted to begin offering self-publishing to would-be authors for a fee. Other people have explained these services and the problem with them better than I have time to do so I will send you to those pages:
- Writer Beware Blog (Harlequin Horizons: Another Major Publisher Adds A Self-Publishing Division)
- Ashley Grayson Literary Agency Blog (Harlequin Horizons, a mug’s game)
Self-publishing has its place. If you want to write a personal memoir for your family members, this is a good way to go. If you want to write a book that will be of interest to a very unique and small target group, this can be the way to go. If some previously published books that are out of print to which you now have the rights back and you want to be able to sell the occasional copy to a fan, self-publishing might fill the bill. But for fiction, this is almost never the way to go. Sure, people can point to The Shack and say, "Look what they did." Yeah, and why does that book stand out? Because it was such a miracle. What other self-published novel can you point to that did the same? (A self-published book is considered a bestseller with 500 copies sold? Ye-gads!)
But all the above isn't the real reason for this post. There is one specific reason why self-publishing (fiction or non-fiction) isn't the best route that I want to discuss: the editor or rather the lack thereof. I know how desperately an author needs a good editor. I know because I didn't have one for too many years. My experience came not from self-publishing but from being with a small independent house. However, the end result was the same. My books suffered.
I sold my first book in 1982 to that small independent publisher for a whopping $1000 advance and 4% royalties (still better than paying to self-publish!). I wrote that book longhand on legal pads, then typed it (with an onion skin carbon copy) on the office IBM Selectric. Man, does that age me or what! I made certain that the manuscript was as good and clean as I could possibly make it. By the time I sold my third book to that same publisher, I was using a computer so fixing typos and revising my manuscript was a whole lot easier. But the revising and polishing were done on my own.
The way the publishing cycle worked with that publisher went like this: I mailed them the hard copy of my manuscript. Approximately nine to ten months later, I would get the printed galley of my book to proof. A couple of months later, I would be holding the book in my hands. That was it.
Just before my fifth novel was released, I attended my first RWA conference. I remember hearing writers talking about "my revision letter" or "completing my line edits." After a couple of days, I turned to a friend and said, "I think I'm being cheated." I was right. I was being cheated. And so were my readers. I was giving those readers the best I had to offer without editorial guidance, not the best my stories could ultimately be.
Beginning with my seventh novel, I did get an editor who would call me and ask for plot changes, but still the only time I saw the manuscript after turning it in was at the galley stage.
My new agent sold my eleventh novel to a different publisher, a large house that was a major player in the romance mass market world. And I just about died when I received from the editor a 7 page, single spaced revision letter, along with my manuscript covered in blue pencil marks and comments. Yes, I had known I was being cheated because I wasn't being edited, but that first real experience about gave me a heart attack. And not only did I get that manuscript back for revisions, I saw it again for line edits, then copy edits, and finally page proofs/galleys. That well-edited book went on to become my first RITA finalist novel.
Over the years, I've worked with a total of 11 publishers and 22 editors. Many of those editors are worth their weight in gold (cliche!). Seriously, I've been blessed to work with the best of the best, and my books are so much better because of them. Some book revisions and edits have been light, some have been massive, but the editors always see things a book needs that I've missed simply because I'm too close to the story.
I often tell people that all of my mistakes are in print. Yes, it gets a laugh, but I'm serious. I wish I could take those early books back. I wish they didn't still exist in used book stores and libraries. While I would get rid of or replace all of the books that I wrote in the ABA if I could because of story content, I am especially sensitive about those early, unedited books.
Writers need editors. We need to be forced to dig deeper, to write cleaner and truer, to be sharpened and challenged. We need a fresh eye looking at what we've managed to get on paper over months and months of writing. When we start a book, the idea is fresh and exciting and enticing. But it rarely lives up to what we first envisioned. A great editor can help get us closer to the vision than we can manage on our own.
There are very few writers who could afford to pay for the kind of editing service one finds through a traditional publishing house who is partnering with the author to put out a top notch product. And many couldn't understand all that they are missing without the full editing process.
God forbid the only fiction that will one day be available to consumers should be unedited works of the quality of my early efforts. Readers deserve better.