Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Guest Post: Zoe Winters on Editors

If you spend any time around the publishing interwebs, my guest poster today probably won't be a stranger. Zoe Winters can be seen popping up everywhere, advancing the cause of self-publishing, writing the world's longest comments, and promoting her Blood Lust series of novellas (she just released an omnibus version with all three novellas combined into one e-book ... and she's having a promotion this week so go buy it). I asked Zoe if she'd be kind enough to stop by and post her thoughts about where and how editors fit into the self-publishing process and how she personally handles the issue. Then I made her promise not to say anything bad about editors because I have thin skin. Just kidding. So without further ado:

Jon asked me to come by and talk about my views with regards to editing as an indie author. Oh, yeah, hi, I'm Zoe Winters, and I'm an indie author. I don't think there is a support group or anything for that, but there probably should be.

One of the biggest stigmas against self-publishing has to do with the general quality level of the work being put out. No book is perfect. Even NY published books have editing problems. In my reading, I've caught more NY pubbed book errors than I used to. I'm not sure if this is a lessening of the general quality, rush jobs at the publisher, or the fact that I'm so much more tuned in to the issues of editing now.

I suspect it's the latter. It's sort of how when you get a blue car, suddenly every car on the road seems to be blue.

Because of the stigma, if you decide to self-publish, or "go indie" as we super-cool-awesome people like to call it, the most important thing you have to worry about is not living up to the stereotype. Your book needs to have a professional or professional-level cover, and most importantly, good editing.

That cover thing can make or break you, but if readers get past the cover and see problems in the first few pages, all you did was put lipstick on a pig.

Indie authors generally are on shoestring budgets, and most can't afford to hire super-expensive editors. That doesn't mean you can't have a well-edited book. For myself, my editing process for a book is as follows:

After the rough draft, I do as much as I reasonably can do on my own. I use techniques from books such as "Self-Editing for Fiction Writers". I pull out my little "Elements of Style" and "Eats, Shoots, and Leaves" (which is seriously the funniest book on punctuation ever). I use an editing software called "Editor" that is produced by Serenity Software and catches all kinds of things beyond your basic grammar and spell-checker in Word.

I have critique partners who help during the developmental stages. Susan Bischoff and Kait Nolan. They're both indies (I think I corrupted them), and very talented writers whose work I admire. Kait also does professional editing at her job. Susan and Kait help me work out any story issue that's not about "how I say it" but "what happens". (I do that before the nitty gritty stuff with the editing software).

Once everything is as clean as I can make it, I bring in crit partners and beta readers. Then when I've gotten back and applied all reasonable feedback (there is always that one wacky request from someone that I just can't follow, that is more about how "they" would tell the story, than an actual empirical problem), then I send it back to Kait for a line edit. I pay her for this service.

And that's the process. The result is not a perfect manuscript, but a professional one that can, in my opinion, stand next to books published by other publishers.

The biggest challenge with editing (and actually cover art, too), is that you have to have an eye/feel for what's right and what isn't. You can hire a "professional" editor or cover artist and they just not be any good if you can't tell quality editing or cover art from crap. Plenty of people charge for their services in both of these areas, who quite frankly, should not be charging.

When I work with a critique partner, or beta reader, or editor, I have to be able to surround myself with people who can actually write and/or edit, who are literate, who understand grammar and punctuation and sentence and story structure. It's not just "quantity" as in... many eyeballs looking at it, but the quality of those eyeballs. There are people like my CP's/editor who I fundamentally trust. I take about 95% of their suggestions. And what I don't take isn't grammar or punctuation related.

Sometimes I'm wrong about advice I don't take. And I have to take responsibility for that. In Mated, the third novella in Blood Lust, there was one line in the first chapter that turned out to be a pretty local colloquialism. I thought it was a normal thing to say, but Kait caught it and said something about it. That was in my 5% of ignore. And I was wrong. Because I got feedback from a few early readers. If more than two people say something it definitely gets edited no matter how much I like it. One confusing colloquial line is not the hill I want to die on. I edited it after that, and thankfully we hadn't gone to print yet, so it wasn't a costly error.

For other betas sometimes I take less than 95% of the feedback. It just really depends. Usually when I don't take a lot of advice it's because the beta is trying to "rewrite my voice." It's not issues with something being wrong, or unclear, or in the case of story: illogical or poorly paced, but... just not how they personally would write it. And it's a problem you can run into with people who haven't done a lot of beta work before, or people who have but haven't had anyone pull them aside to mention the issue.

When in doubt, I run the advice by my primary CPs. This is important because you can end up with an overall weaker book than when you started if you don't choose your council wisely.

Anyway, for what it's worth, those are my thoughts on editing. I think it's very important for indie authors, and no matter what your budget is... barter, trade, sell your soul... get your editing taken care of. The last thing you want to do is reinforce the stereotype of what it means to be self-published.

To me, being self-published is honorable and a point of pride. That's because I work very hard to produce the best possible book, and I don't take shortcuts. There is no shortcut to awesome.

Also, this week I'm running a promotion for my latest release, Blood Lust, and I'm giving away a free Kindle (maybe two).


Zoe Winters said...

Thanks for having me, Jon. And yes, I do write the world's longest blog comments. Some of them approach the spork-your-eyeballs length of this guest post!

Kay Tee said...

Thanks for explaining your process, Zoe. It was really helpful. I hope it will encourage all indie authors to take a professional approach to the editing of their books.

I'm heading for the indie route too, and I have found the AutoCrit Editing Wizard to be really helpful. It finds a ton of things that I (and my critique partners) have missed. It's a bit different from the Editor software you mention -- more targeted to fiction writing problems.

Hope this helps someone improve their novel :-)

Zoe Winters said...

Hey Kay Tee, thanks!

And I'll be sure to check out the AutoCrit Editing Wizard. That sounds really interesting!

Jon VanZile said...


You're welcome and thanks for coming by!

I'm also intrigued by this AutoCrit Editing Wizard, or any editing software for that matter. Outside of spell check, I'm naturally leery of software that claims to do jobs that are best suited for humans. It's like automatic indexing software—I've tried using it in the past, a loooong time ago, but it never produced actually useful indexes.

And p.s., please keep the sporks away from my eyeballs. I've only got two.

Jude Hardin said...

Don't faint now, Zoe, but I'm actually considering self-publishing a middle-grade novel I wrote a few years ago. After some extensive editing, of course. :)

Best of luck with the promo.

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