The one in a hundred figure would include works from all authors, not just newbies, and would include both fiction and non-fiction. So the situation is far worse than I'd thought. Glenda Larke has pointed out that figures she read some years ago from one big publishing house indicated that two books are published from every 5,000 fiction manuscripts received from new writers, and that would include those sent by agents.
Seeing these odds (and they are getting worse, not better!) more and more discouraged writers are turning to self publishing or vanity publishing just to get their books out there. Many of these writers think their work does not need editing.
They are wrong. All books need editing.
The manuscript pictured at right (courtesy of Wikipedia Commons) is the original proof copy of À la recherche du temps perdu (known in English as In Search of Lost Time or Remembrance of Things Past) by Marcel Proust. Although this one is a galley proof, with Proust’s own notes on it, it looks pretty much as any manuscript looks after an editor has worked on it. Friends who are published by major houses have sometimes shown me their manuscripts when they come back from the first edit, and truly, that is how they look. And they will usually be accompanied by a dozen or more pages of notes.
Now, if your favourite author gets his or her manuscripts back looking like that, what do you think yours would look like if an editor had a go at it?
Robert Sprackland PhD, a colleague over at Linked In (you can find Robert at http://www.linkedin.com/pub/robert-sprackland-ph-d/7/25b/2a1) paraphrases Benjamin Franklin (himself an author of note) who once said, "A man who represents himself in a court of law has a fool for a lawyer and an idiot for a client." Robert suggests that Franklin’s words could be paraphrased as, "An author who does the final editing has a fool for an editor and an idiot for an author."
And he’s not wrong. Books need editors as crops need rain.
We grow too close to our own manuscripts to see their faults, and even though most writers – and published authors, too – have reading circles or critiquing groups, an editor brings a fresh pair of eyes to the work. A pair of eyes, moreover, that has seen many manuscripts and is familiar with current usage and style. It’s not just vocabulary, grammar, syntax and spelling, although their importance should not be under-estimated. Many agents and publishers simply won’t consider a manuscript that does not come up to scratch in all those areas. But editing is also about structure, about seeing where the high and low points of the plot occur and suggesting changes if they are in the wrong places. It’s about understanding point-of-view and character development. It’s about knowing where to prune and where to delve into the details.
Authors who are published by the major houses may moan and groan about the extra workload, but when a manuscript comes back from editing there’s nothing for it save knuckling down to make the necessary changes, which occasionally amount to major rewrites. Yet when the final edit is done, the author is almost always delighted with the result – and filled with gratitude for the editor.
A book that is published commercially will always be a joint effort, involving the author and at least one, and more often two, editors. That’s because the final copy edit is normally done by an editor who specialises in finessing the details. The copyeditor provides another fresh pair of eyes, because after several months of working with the author on a manuscript, the first editor may well have grown just as blind to its faults as the creator! And errors do creep in as changes are made during the first and second edits.
I have seen quite a few self-published books that were not edited, and I’ve also seen many that were supposed to have been edited and weren’t. Sadly, these have usually been subjected to the not-so-tender mercies of a vanity publisher.
Vanity publishing is certainly one way to get your book out there, especially if you only intend to share it with family and friends. You will need quite a few dollars in the bank, for the services of vanity presses are not cheap and they will charge you extra for editing. For a few hundred dollars, your manuscript will get at least a bit of attention – but usually not enough. I have seen some vanity-published books that the authors had paid good money to have edited come back from “editing” at a standard no higher than a serious author’s first draft, and oftentimes worse.
Your work deserves kinder treatment.
Personally, I think that rather than going to a vanity press, you are better served by learning how to be a real self publisher, which means registering a business name and then engaging your own editor, layout person and printing house, and paying them individually. If you shop around, it may be no more expensive than the average vanity press. You can find the names of experienced, trustworthy people through your state’s Society of Editors. Some editors are willing to act as Project Managers, finding graphic artists and printers for you and overseeing their work. Get quotes from several different people, and compare their offerings closely. The cheapest is not always the best, but nor is the dearest. Be prepared to learn as you go by listening to other people who have gone down this path before you.
It may be a long, slow, challenging job (allow at least six months, and a year is better) and it may be expensive, but you will have a better book at the end of it – and the satisfaction of knowing you did your very best to present your book as professionally as possible. Surely your precious manuscript deserves no less?
~~~~# Society of Editors NSW
Links to Societies of Editors within Australia:
# Society of Editors ACT
# Society of Editors ACT
# Society of Editors QLD
# Society of Editors SA
# Society of Editors TAS
# Society of Editors VIC
# Society of Editors WA