I’m about to conclude another year as a judge in the Writer’s Digest Self-Published Competition.
As in other years, the entries represent a range of what’s good and bad about self-published books. From each batch of 25 books, I must choose the top two to “bubble up” to the next round of judging. The choice is often difficult because I have too many that really are good. (Only one year was I overwhelmed with mediocrity and ultimately chose based on which two books had the fewest errors.) But, as always, I find myself thinking over and over: “Oh, this book could have been so good if only the author had hired an editor.”
I’ll back up a little. With self-published books, the author is paying to produce the book. So to produce a very clean, error-free book at the end, the author should have someone edit the book. But to hire someone means that the editor’s fee has to come out of the author’s own pocket.
Over the years, I have intuitively known that I cringe every time I see that the author has thanked someone for editing his or her book right up front in the acknowledgments, because I frequently turn the page and find a mistake right off the bat.
The clean, error-free books usually don’t have any editor acknowledged. This year I had an epiphany: that’s probably because the author hired an editor or proofreader and had to pay for the services. The author probably wasn’t feeling grateful but got a clean book out of the deal.
One year, an author thanked his mother for editing his book. I died a little inside. On the next page was the “forward” (which was spelled “foreward” on the cover of the book itself). It was a fantastic book! The mistakes killed me — it killed the book, too.
Another year, an author thanked his former English teacher for correcting the manuscript for him and gushed about what a great job she did. (I’ll save for another day my diatribe about the paradigm of “correcting” a manuscript and the implication that the author is wrong.) Sure enough, mistakes immediately followed.
English teachers are skilled in the “genre” of English classes. By chance, they might also know something about publishing. If you needed your taxes done, would you take all your receipts back to your old math teacher? He or she might, coincidentally, be an accountant — but that’s not what math teachers are trained to do.
The publishing world is different from the English classroom. For example, the “Bible” for the English teacher is the Modern Language Association’s MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers 7th Edition. Most publishers do not use MLA for their style guide; they’re more apt to use Chicago, Associated Press, Words Into Type or one particular to their industry.
The WD contest is not the only place I see this confusion over roles. In my own business, I often encounter clients or potential clients (or people I don’t want as clients) who say, “Oh, I don’t need your services. I’ll just ask my _________ to read my manuscript.” You can fill in that blank with the aforementioned English teacher or English grad student, secretary, wife or mother.
When I was studying for my master’s degree in English (with a concentration in editing and publishing), I learned that some studies have shown a connection between the association (in people’s minds) of women having neat handwriting and the assumption that therefore they make good writers. This assumption then, according to the research, has carried on throughout several decades. That is why we supposedly find more women in the writing professions.
It’s an interesting thought and I don’t know if I buy into it. I do know from practice, however, that whenever people say they don’t need me as an editor, it’s a woman’s name they offer up.
Some people's knowledge of today's publishing standards is as up to date as this typewriter.
Nevertheless, to these people I advise: before you hand her your manuscript to edit, ask her how many spaces she puts after a period. If she says “two,” tell her to go back to her typewriter. She’s not the editor for you.
And if she says “too” and signs it “love, Mom,” tell her you don’t want to add to her work load. Take her out to dinner instead.
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