We can tell you haven’t edited your book.

There are many out there now self-publishing. They’re decisions to head down this path have come about for a variety of reasons and there is nothing wrong with it. There have been many successful writers who have self-published, just as there has been many writers who have been traditionally published that bombed.

In some cases, writers elect to push for self-publishing because it’s the fastest way to get your book out there. For time-sensitive, non-fiction books, this is likely the path you’ll take. However, there is a HUGE difference between (1) producing a quality product that was self-published and (2) self-publishing because you want it out there.

In a previous post, I spoke about rushing the process. One flavor of the rush-the-process beast is the publish-without-editing variant.  

I’m self-publishing, but I can’t afford to get it edited right away. I think I’ll just publish it on Amazon. After a few reviews come in, I’ll take it down, then edit it.

This is a MASSIVE mistake for any writer to make. The last thing you want is for reviews to come in saying that the book wasn’t edited. Reviews stick like glue. Just because you have a new version listed doesn’t mean those reviews are going to disappear.

I do get it. Professional editing can be very expensive. For a good copy-editor, you can easily be staring at a bill that is over $1000, and that’s for a short manuscript. That number is scary, no matter how you look at it. If you’re going to invest that amount of money into something, you want to ensure that you’ll get something out of it. Even then, the costs may be out of one’s reach.

For those who can’t afford a professional editor, they need to employ other tricks, ones that take time. (Some tactics are listed here on this blog.) However, there are some who don’t even do that. They’re so fixated on getting that book published that they sometimes won’t even run a spellchecker. The book must be published.

Well, for all those out there who don’t have their books edited, guess what — WE CAN TELL.

Fiction and non-fiction works require different types of editing — I’ll be the first to admit this. Within fiction, and to a lesser extent things like memoirs, the grammatical rules can be bent to the point of near-breaking. Dialogue needs to be conversational and feel natural. The narrative needs to match the narrator’s voice. If you’re writing something in first person, then you can think of the writing as one big, long monologue; if the POV character swears a lot, then your narrative will be filled with colorful adjectives that would send the course-language sensors into overload.

For non-fiction, the leeway in the grammatical rules will be entirely dependent on the nature of the book itself. Things like textbooks and professional references need adhere to the strictest of grammatical rules. However, how-to books that follow the format of the For Dummies series can use a conversational tone, injecting humor along the way. Then there is the full spectrum in-between.

Let’s for a moment focus on fiction. How can we tell that you haven’t taken the time to actually edit your book? How can we tell that no one actually read the thing before you published? It comes down to believably, characters and the amount of unnecessary fluff.

All actions for your characters need to make sense, given the backstory that you’ve given them. Sorry, but having a highly trained special forces soldier wanting to enjoy the dirty-nasty with a reporter while they’re on the run from the Taliban? Umm… No. Not going to happen. The soldier and reporter constantly shouting at one another, then the reporter getting scared in the extreme and becoming submissive? That I can believe.

The correct amount of backstory and detailed descriptions is a question that has plagued writers for centuries. Even the most accomplished writers can sometimes get the mix wrong. What works for one person doesn’t necessarily work for another. The formula used in one manuscript definitely will be different for the next one. There is only one way to test if you have right balance: get another person to read it, a person you trust to be critical and not gush over your brilliance.

Readers are forgiving of the misplaced commas or the odd typo, but only if the story is so gripping that they’ve been sucked into that fictional world they’re reading about.

It’s the non-fiction books, excluding memoirs, where writers need to be the most diligent about editing. Frequently, these books will use a conversational tone, similar to that found on the writer’s blog (often on the same topic). This allows for a greater connection to the reader, but for the writer who doesn’t take the time to edit their books, this also shows up as shoddy work with little care for the reader experience.

I have no objections to the usage of conversational writing, but there is a HUGE difference between conversational and non-professional. Let me give you an example.

Note that these methods ain’t quick fixes, but will make a significant impact if you stick with it.

Believe it or not, the above sentence is a quote from a book on building websites and conversion rate analysis. It’s the third paragraph and appears on the first page of said book, which shall remain nameless. When I saw this sentence, I wanted to run screaming and return the book to the store immediately (but I didn’t because I bought the book for a reason). I know the word ain’t now appears in the Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary, but it is far from professional language.

In the same book, you’ll find this gem:

If you built your site yourself—and you’re not a designer—it sucks. Get a new one.

This statement is a bit on the nose considering that the said book is meant to be about how one might build a website.

Throughout the book were many other instances of inappropriate language. Had the book been actually edited, the statements like the ones above would have likely been rewritten. The book in question is wrought with many other issues too, which is why I’m not including the name of the book here — I refuse to endorse it.

For those who insist on publishing without employing a professional editor, here is a basic checklist of what editing you should do as a bare minimum. (Even if you are using a professional editor, you should still do these things.)

  • Run your entire manuscript through a spellchecker. This is software embedded in almost every word-processing program in existence. Even my blogging editor has a spellchecker available. There’s no excuse for not doing this.
  • Run your entire manuscript through a grammar checker. Not all grammar checkers are equal, so you will need to watch this like a hawk, but it will still pick up a large number of common punctuation and basic grammatical errors.
  • Have another person read through your manuscript. Ideally, you’ll enlist the opinions from multiple people at various stages of your manuscript’s development. (You can find more information about the stages of editing here.)
  • Read through your entire manuscript aloud. Force yourself to hear how some of your sentences sound. (See here for the benefits of reading your manuscript aloud.)
  • Read through your manuscript on multiple devices. If possible, print it out, but you may not want to print out a whole forest, so reading through your manuscript on a eBook reader could be the next best thing. If you’re publishing in electronic format, this is highly recommended anyway. Formatting can change in unexpected ways across different devices.

All of this takes time. Never underestimate the time editing takes, and never take editing for granted. You want to produce something that you can be proud of for years to come. Don’t rush the process, skipping vital editing steps. Readers WILL notice.

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© Copyright, Judy L Mohr 2017

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