This is a guest post by Richard White
In all the time I’ve been a reader – which is as long as I can remember – I’ve always looked up to publishing companies. In my mind, these companies knew all there was to know about the English language – how to use punctuation, correct spelling, grammar, structure, and so on. When I graduated university, I undertook an internship in a publishing company to learn the ropes and better my own understanding, which I hoped to bring to the table in my job as a freelance writer and editor. My internship strengthened my respect of publishing companies, especially as it removed the glamorous sheen and showed me the day-to-day hard work that is involved when getting a book to market.
Times have changed a lot in recent years, though, and thanks to eReaders like the Kindle everyone thinks they’re an author and a publisher. This is fine to a degree; by taking control of our own work we can ensure it gets out there for people to read. The flipside of this is that people can jump into it headfirst and put out books that should frankly be considered a first draft.
I recently finished reading a book, the title of which I will keep to myself, in which the low level of quality detracted from the stellar content within. I learned years ago that every published book has flaws, such as the odd grammar error, spelling mistake or formatting issue. Sadly, the book in question took it to another level, filled with spelling mistakes, continuity problems (having one spelling on one page, and a different spelling on the next), spaces before commas, misspelt names, and so on. From start to finish it was an amateur production.
As an editor myself, I’m aware that I spot more mistakes in books than the average reader. That’s not a problem; in fact, it’s the sole reason editors exist in the first place. But this book was so littered with problems that I genuinely think it would ruin – to some extent at least – the reading experience for the majority of its readers.
This brings me back to my first point about publishing companies. This book was not released by Harper Collins or Random House; rather, it was published by a company I had never heard of. The book’s notes state that the author of the book started the company. Full credit goes to this author for not just releasing his book on the Kindle but being ambitious enough to start a publishing house. However, he hit a common and major trap: skimping on the editorial process. Nothing screams ‘unprofessional’ more than poor editing, and it’s an issue plagued most by independent authors and small publishing companies. Why? Largely because of cost restraints; I’ve lost track of the number of writers who have asked me for a quote to edit their manuscript and then told me they can’t afford a very modest and fair cost. So instead, many of these people turn to very cheap – and inexperienced – editors, or just do it themselves. The upshot of this is a clear decline in quality of published works, which really doesn’t help the reputation of independent authors whatsoever.
Small publishing companies are increasingly common nowadays too, with more and more people being inspired enough to try to change the industry. Great, I’m all for that. But the first and most important lesson for anyone involved in literature – authors or publishers –is not to overlook the editor. The editor is the person (or people) who will take your manuscript from a first draft to a professional standard fit for public consumption. While the question is often ‘can I afford an editor?’ the answer is ‘you can’t afford not to have an editor’. If you cut the initial cost of hiring an editor, you run the very real risk of alienating readers. No one wants to part with their hard-earned cash for something that is amateur. It will leave a bad taste in their mouth, and they may not buy your future offerings. A good reputation takes a long time to build, but not nearly as long as reversing a bad one.
About this post’s author:
I am a (ghost)writer, editor and proofreader. I have been published in the Guardian, appeared on television and radio, including BBC 2’s Jeremy Vine show. I am the author of Smoke Screens: The Truth About Tobacco, available on Amazon, and am currently ghostwriting two books, one fiction and one non-fiction. My website is www.wordedit.org and I am on Twitter as @richwhite08