by Hannah Earthman, editor
Thanks to the ability to sell your book on Amazon’s virtual bookshelves, you can—with a professionally designed cover, viable reviews, and a crafty name for your indie publishing outfit—make your work appear the equal of titles from Random House and HarperCollins. With services such as Kindle Unlimited bringing self-published works increasingly to the attention of book browsers, more readers than ever before are primed to give your relatively unknown title a chance, making this a true heyday for grassroots, indie, self-fueled publishing by The Little Guy.
However, the benefits to the self-published author of this more equalized exposure can be lost in a heartbeat (or a virtual-page turn) if the editing steps inherent in traditional publication have been sidelined. Having edited, copyedited, and proofread for various major traditional publishers, I have consistently seen three main needs that a publisher-backed edit catches—and that self-published authors often neglect.
If you’ve decided to power-of-one publish your own book but want to make sure it doesn’t miss out on the benefits of a shiny, NYC-publisher edit, make sure you have seen to the following needs before your book hits Amazon’s shelves:
- Free of Common Grammatical Errors, Misspellings, and Typos
Nothing is more likely to get your book booted out of someone’s Kindle-for-PC library than grammatical mistakes. If a reader opens your book and sees, within the first few pages, apostrophes used to make should-be-plural words possessive, inconsistent capitalization, misspellings, dangling modifiers or other factors leading to awkward sentence structure, etc., you are unlikely to get a second chance. End of story (literally).
At that point, not only is that book likely to be digitally reshelved but also you will be known as a writer who let something with apparent flaws “go to market.” Whether or not you agree with the logic, people assume that sloppiness or inattention in one area denotes a pattern; if you haven’t edited for grammar and proofread to catch the typos, many readers will assume you also have not properly attended to deeper structural matters of the story. And they will not waste their time.
- Not Offensive (Well, Where You Don’t *Aim* to Offend)
In the age of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Reddit, etc., etc., etc., outrage spreads like wildfire. Never has it been so apparent that there’s truth in the statement “You can’t make all the people happy all the time.” Neither is it your job to. Sometimes casting a wide net becomes stretching that net so far that any fish you’ve already targeted just swim right through the loose mesh. This is not about pandering to the greatest number of readers imaginable, and it’s not about cowering in fear of the Internet being mean to you. Getting up in arms is some people’s favorite sport. Fahgettaboudem.
This is about catching phrases and idioms that are likely to come across with an unintended hostility or divisiveness and can easily be reworded in a way that preserves the integrity of your intended message without the risk of alienating (reasonable) readers.
Given that writing begins deep in the trenches of your personal experiences, this is a remarkably easy issue to overlook, and it’s a critical aspect of professional/publishing-house editing. Catching these instances and replacing them with natural rephrasing that respects the original meaning makes the difference between keeping the reading experience running smoothly and prompting in your reader a thought such as “Woah, buddy” or “That’s just uncalled for” or even “Yikes, I wonder if the author grasps just how bad this sounds.”
And if your readers do land on that last reaction, understand that their confidence in you as a writer is danger of sinking fast. Your readers are basically entrusting you to direct their attention for the period of time they’re reading; if you come across as unaware or needlessly insensitive, you are likely to also come across as an unworthy captain.
- Clear in Meaning (Even to Readers Who Don’t Already Love You)
The simple truth of the matter is we all have niche ways of phrasing things that make sense to us and, at least after a little indoctrination, to our loved ones and frequent email/messenger/chat partners. Every once in a while, we all get wooed by the perfume of our own flowery poeticism. And we’ve all probably asked a spouse or best friend or parent, “Does this make sense to you?” and been pleased when that person said, “Of course!” because, hell, they love us and, let’s be honest, know how easy it is to poke the bear.
The upshot of that is that your book is likely to end up with at least a few instances of pretty (in an abstract-painting sort of way) phrasing that is nonetheless prone to make the average reader—who’s never met you and doesn’t understand that you consider idiom inversion a form of subtle genius—to think, “Whaaat?”
Traditionally published books are often clearer than self-published ones because a professional editor has raked through every paragraph, every sentence, and every turn of phrase to ensure clarity. If your self-published book contains too many descriptions that make readers think, “I bet that sounded good in so-and-so’s head but . . .” you will come across as unprofessional and, again, unaware.
Whether you plan to self-publish, and want yours to stand out amid a sea of books with beautiful cover art, or you’re seeking traditional publication and hope yours stands out from the dishearteningly named “slush pile” in an acquisition editor’s or agent’s inbox, you need to make sure the work you’ve poured your heart and soul into is dressed for success. On the line is not only a given reader’s engagement in your current book but also your reputation and selling power for future titles. An experienced book editor can ensure that your book is grammatically sound, free of unintentionally alienating phrases, and clear and coherent.
Hannah Earthman puts her word industry knowledge to work for writers like you. Contact her to edit your book today.