Wednesday, April 24, 2013

In Favor of Editors

My book club chose our latest novel because: (1) the author is an acquaintance of one of our members and (2) the Amazon rating is 4.5 stars, based on about 150 reviews.

While the book was fast-paced and the character development was wonderful, the plot had a few gaping holes, which really bothered us.  Several unanswered questions and less-than-believable twists in the plot left me wondering, “Who published this?”

Aha...  Self-published.

This is the author’s fourth novel, but the first that is self-published.  Others were handled by the small imprint of a major house.

It may change, but self-publishing still carries an arguably justified stigma of questionable quality.  On average, traditional publishing has set high standards through their editorial review and input.  Selecting work that upholds those standards is a major part of publisher’s added value in the book industry.  While still enjoyable, the novel my book club read could have been much better with the input of a truly critical and constructive reader, a start-to-finish professional editor.  (How the Amazon rating reached 4.5/5, I’m not sure… a combination of loyal fans, friends, and less discerning readers?)

While I don’t know why this particular book went the self-publishing route, self-publishing is becoming more tempting and more common. The pay structure seems better (authors can collect 70% of sales vs. 25% of digital sales or 7 to 12% of list price) and authors have more control.  

Well-known authors and even literary agencies are turning to it.  The NY Times recently ran a front-page article:  Authors Turn to A New Publisher They Trust: Themselves (April 17, 2013).  As a service to its authors, ICM Partners has announced that it will ‘self-publish’ some of its clients, including best-selling author David Mamet (Glengarry Glen Ross), who says it’s because “nobody ever does the marketing they promise.”

Is self-publishing heading towards 'agent-publishing'?  Many agents are former editors. They may attempt to fill the mid-market space with a higher average. Whether they can successfully distribute and sell books, or make authors ‘discoverable’ remains to be seen.  (Using Pulitzer-prize winning authors helps.)

Not one member of my group realized our selection was self-published.  This points to a challenge for publishing houses:  how to use their brand name to appeal to readers.   Like Ferragamo shoes, or Ruth’s Chris steakhouse, in an increasingly crowded marketplace, buyers yearn for a mark of quality.  Think Community College vs. Harvard; Uncle Vinny's Deli vs. Nobu.  Coming soon:  big cover logos on books from big publishers. 

If publishing companies rise to the challenge, maybe next time my book club will ask "Who published it?" before selecting the next book to read.  


  1. A lesson learned and to use a cliche, a post to warm the hearts of editors.

  2. I think the only thing we know right now, is the publishing industry is in flux -- and that's rather exciting. And even though we are the writers, not the business people, it's still important to pay attention to the changes that happen. It will be very interesting to see how the self-publishing trend plays out.

  3. Hmmm...I think self-publishing has come a long way. Truth is, it's hard to do it right. It takes a team to get a book 'out there' and I think that's where many people who think it's the easy way to publish find out the hard way - that it's not so easy. You essentially need to be editor, cover designer, copy editor, and your own marketing/publicity...and I'm sure I'm leaving some 'hat' out of it. It can be done successfully but it requires more work that just throwing a book together.

    I recently 'attended' a webinar by Emma Dryden and it was really eye-opening. There are a LOT of editors who are leaving traditional publishing because they can't take on projects they love - less and less of their time is about editing, and more of it is about number crunching and producing bestsellers. So there are a lot of skilled freelance editors out there who are willing to work with authors who want to self-pub. Does every self-pubbed author go that route? No, but a savvy one would hire an editor to help them.

    Bottom line is, I think it's becoming more viable to self-publish but a writer who goes that route really needs to do their homework if they want to put out the best product possible.

    Awesome post, Julie!!

  4. From what you are saying about the publishing industry, self-publishing may lose its stigma as editors/agents go off on their own. From my own experience as a newspaper editor, every time I got a call or email from someone self-publishing, I would cringe. Invariably, there was a correlation between bad writing and pushy publicity hunting. Writers who thought somehow that their very ordinary story was unique, or who wanted to leave a legacy for their family and felt that typing it up for their children wasn't good enough.

    We never get money for author visits at my school, but occasionally get offers for a free one from self-published authors. One we had was okay. She did a great program, and while her book wasn't a standout, it looked very professional. The kids liked it and the book. The other offer we got for a visit was from an author who had self-published a picture book series. I was asked to arrange a visit. The books were AWFUL. Luckily the visit did not pan out. I was so relieved I would not have to present her. There is nothing worse as a children's librarian than have to promote a book one knows is awful.

    On the one hand, it's true that publishing houses are going for the fast money-makers and consolidating at an alarming rate. On the other hand, in a world where the Internet makes even the mediocre writers feel like superstars, a "real" publisher still sifts out the better stuff. I guess.

    I am not surprised that the book club could not tell the book was self-published. Ten years ago you could look at the cover and it was apparent--now the design is more sophisticated.