Why I’m Not Hiring Any Editors Before I Publish (Yet)

A writer friend asked whether I’d hired any editors, especially a development editor and/or a copy editor, before I blithely hit PUBLISH on my new comedy mystery series. She hangs out with writers who are “wholly beholden to traditional methods, and feel that putting a book out without a pass from their agent, their agent again, an editor, another editor, etc., is like going to a conference without pants.”

(I just had to quote that in full.) 

Short answer: Minimum Viable Product. Meaning, no. I didn’t.

Long answer: Almost every successful indie author I have ever read on this topic implores you to hire editors before you inflict your book on the world, a world which is already suffering severe sepsis from the accumulated toxins of the indie first-draft dreck which has drowned all of Amazon in a malarial typo-tropey-Times-New-Roman swamp.

So, you should go listen to them. Hire the editors.

Shouldn’t you?

Why You Should (Not) Listen to Me on This

At this point (2017 October), the first book in my new series has sold precisely zero copies. True, it only launched last week, but still, this tells you that I have not yet purged all my magical thinking, and I was hoping that if I matched the genre’s expectations and ran a promo or two, I could skip the whole ARCs/first-day reviews/launch-week-ad campaign thing, and the Amazon Magic would Just Happen.

(UPDATE: No, I just checked! First copy has BEEN SOLD! For real!!! Never mind, my procrastination is totally vindicated.)

Anyway, I’m working on reviews and ads now, for sure. But seriously, I have zero authority on this subject. You’re only reading this because you know me, or because I’ve managed to be mildly amusing, or because you’re hoping I can give you permission to squirm out of this editor thing.

And I’m only blogging about it because I realized that by the time I finished answering my friend, I might as well leverage it into an expert tumble around the Procrastination Monster to kick off this long-planned blog.

That said…

My Conditional Permission

Still here? Okay, you have my permission to skip the editorsif

  • Your funds are tight, and you’d have to choose between the editors and, say, an awesome cover. (More on this in a sec.)
  • You’ve ever been paid to proofread someone else’s manuscript (modest cough).
  • Okay, maybe that’s not required, but how about: You have a history of submitting manuscripts for beta reads and critiques, and your friends don’t usually send back many proofreading corrections.
  • Probably because you have a step in your process where you actually proofread it yourself. (I guess not everyone does this?)
  • But wait, so you’re confident in your proofreading, but what about the developmental editor? In other words, what about the actual help making the book good?

That part is trickier.

Beta Readers, Yes. Developmental Editors? Well…

Good beta readers are invaluable. Their reads are test runs of your story. There’s no other way to know for sure whether your words will actually trigger anything remotely like what you intended in another human mind.

But beta readers usually can’t help you fix anything that’s broken. For that, you hire a developmental editor. Right?

I feel this advice is problematic.

Mainly because I feel that anyone who can actually fix stories well is either 1) too busy pumping out their own bestsellers or 2) would charge the cost of a newish Volkswagen.

For example, the amazing editor Shawn Coyne specifically says in the introduction (I think) to his amazing Story Grid that he wrote the book and did the podcast precisely because the people who need him most could never afford him. In fact, he even posted most of the book for free on the blog, too, as even the hardback would be beyond the average means of the struggling writer. Coyne is one righteous dude.

They Can’t All Be Too Expensive

Now I’m not saying that I couldn’t learn anything from anyone below the caliber of a Shawn Coyne, but still.

For instance, there are hordes of laid-off New York editors hanging out their shingle to transform your book. (At least, that’s what I heard a few years back.) How good are they? Well, um, we do know they got laid off…

Okay, okay, don’t stone me, people, I KNOW IT’S NOT THEIR FAULT AND THE INDUSTRY IS IMPLODING, I’m just saying … the only way you could really know an editor’s quality would be to find someone who had already done great work on successful books, right? And how would you find these marvelous people?

I’m pretty sure a bad or mediocre editor would do more harm than good.

(Alternatively, since agents seem to love asking for rewrites, you could always try submitting to a bunch and getting all the editorial advice you could ever need, free. :P)

All snark aside, many authors will share the name of their editor in the Acknowledgments. So if you love a book, sure, check the whether it lists the editor. Maybe even email the author first, to check that they’re still friends.

Truth is, I would love to find that jewel of an editor who’d be worth every penny. I just think I’m going to need a lot more pennies first. Which brings me back to…

Release Your Minimum Viable Product. Now.

For me, the whole indie mindset is about sharing the best work you can, with the limited time and resources you have, now.

Getting it out there. Long before it’s perfect.

Because we no longer live in a world where that missing comma on page 10 is going to be replicated and frozen in ten thousand printed books that can never be healed. If my first readers discover some horror of a typo … well … I fix it. Upload the new file. Done.

If you start reading entrepreneurs, you’ll see how they insist over and over again on releasing the “minimum viable product”. The thing just has to work, well enough to create value for total strangers. They expect to get feedback and improve future releases.

Does this mean I expect to keep re-releasing the same book, over and over? No, that would be insane. Instead, as Chris Fox says in, um, one of his awesome books, I hope to learn from each book I write and make the next one better.

I hope to accept the paradox that hundreds, thousands, maybe millions of people might eventually enjoy a book even though I could have made it even better.

Even though, yes, if I’d had the money, the right developmental editor could have maybe make it shine a little brighter.

But right now, I need that money for an awesome cover. And ad campaigns. And finding the right kind of readers I can ask for reviews. I’m already tapped out. Maybe in another series or two.

Before You Decide…

If you still think you really maybe cannot produce a novel that anyone anywhere will pay money for without hiring a developmental editor first … well …

I don’t know. Maybe you can’t yet. I have no idea, I haven’t read your stuff.

(Note: this does not go for my friend, who, as you can tell even from her casual comment in a private chatroom, is already an exquisite writer. You, my dear friend, should just fricking go for it already.)

But all you other readers I don’t know yet, both of you, before you go pitch your laptop over a bridge and fire up a Netflix binge (on, um, your other laptop), could you please just go read the first free pages of what’s currently selling like crazy in your subgenre?

That is, after you leave a comment about the twenty-eight typos I’m sure are in this article. That comes first. Of course.

But seriously, go do it. No matter how frothing-at-the-mouth your inner critic may be, there is no way you’ll get through the first ten or twenty samples without knowing, deep in your gut, whether you could squeeze in here.

Bonus exercise: Go buy KDSpy and see how much money those books are making.

And then remind yourself … they’re not making that money on the commas or lack thereof. Those authors have chosen to suffer the indignities of mastering mailing lists, and ad campaigns, and asking for reviews, and all the other nasty slimy life-saving disciplines that have nothing whatsoever to do with writing … except actually getting their books into the hands of real readers.

And then remind me too. 😛