The Internet has done a lot to revolutionize the way publishing happens. It’s hard to believe twenty or thirty years ago, it was almost impossible to become a published author. Unless you could land a book contract, you’d have to shell out of your own pocket for “vanity publishing.” Printed books were your only option, and since printing works in bulk, the more books you ordered, the cheaper the unit price. Of course, the final bill would end up higher: Printing routinely costs $10,000 or more, even for publishers today.
So unless you had a spare $10,000 or $20,000 kicking around, you either had to sell the house or hang your hopes on landing that book contract.
Today, the landscape is vastly different. Self-publishing has become something of a norm. Almost anyone can do it. The costs are minimal: You can upload a Word document to Amazon for free and begin selling books in 72 hours or less.
The ease of publishing, of course, has created an explosion in the market of self-published books. It’s led to plenty of discussion about gatekeeping and the merit of works being published.
The Professional Editor as Part of the Publishing Process
Today, you can simply type up your book in a Word document, head over to Amazon, upload it to their KDP program, and voila. You’re a published author. The costs involved were minimal: You needed access to Word, a computer and keyboard, and an Internet connection. Chances are you’re paying for those things already.
That’s not how traditional publishing works. In the past, even vanity publishing had to adhere a little more strictly to the “traditional process.” Usually, you begin with the author typing or writing up the manuscript. Then a professional editor works on it. Then it’s typeset and turned into page proofs. Next, it’s proofread and corrected. Then, finally, it’s printed, bound, and shipped to wherever it’s going.
Authors working under the vanity publishing model could technically skip the editing and proofreading stages if they so desired. They still had to have the manuscript transformed into a proof before it could be printed. Printing and binding and shipping also had to occur. In those days, there was nothing but a print book.
Now, with the advent of eBooks and print-on-demand technology, you can technically skip all those stages. All you need to do is convert the document to eBook and PDF, then upload to the Internet.
The Question of Quality
The ease and speed with which something can be published has changed publishing forever. As with everything, there are both benefits and disadvantages to this change. The good news is it makes publishing much more accessible. People who would have been shuttered out by the establishment (and still are) can get their books to press, even if they didn’t have the means to before. Authors can connect directly with readers who want to read their work!
The downside, of course, is the ease has removed many of the quality-control mechanisms on the publishing process and led to an explosion of self-published works. The already-crowded book market now brims with a sea of dreck. Some self-published works have merit. Others … not so much.
Readers have always been notoriously tricky to win over. Even what seems like the most surefire bestseller can flop fantastically on a publisher. It can be difficult to predict trends in what readers want to read, what they’ll spend their hard-earned money on.
The advent of easy self-publishing has only made readers more wary and conservative about where they spend their dollars. If it was difficult to convince them to part with their money beforehand, it’s even more difficult now.
Convincing Readers of Value
Obviously, one of the ways to convince a reader to buy your book is to convince them of the value of the book. A nice cover, good writing, and interesting cover copy (coupled with an attractive price-point) will get some readers to buy your book.
Let’s put it this way: You can do all the marketing in the world for a book you spent zero dollars on producing. Eventually, however, the word is going to get out that your book is terrible. Readers will avoid it. They’ll tell other readers. They may even begin to avoid anything associated with you.
It’s much better to put time and effort into producing a quality product. Book marketing is still a mystery to virtually everyone in the book industry. I sat in classes on marketing for books, listening to marketing professionals working for book publishers. “What sells books?” they asked. “Do reviews sell books? Do awards sell books? What about ads or booktrailers?”
The answer was a resounding “no.” The only thing we know reliably sells books is word-of-mouth. To generate word-of-mouth marketing, you need to have a book worth talking about.
Not All Publicity Is Good Publicity
Listen to PR people and some of them might toss out the old adage “any publicity is good publicity.” This isn’t true, although there are some cases where negative attention does indeed increase visibility. However, it can be difficult to wash a black mark off: Take a look at Rebecca Black’s “Friday.” The song and video went viral for all the wrong reasons. The video became a sensation and Black herself was mocked and ridiculed for it.
Rebecca Black still produces music. The girl can actually sing. But very few people know that, and very few people would be apt to listen to something with her name attached to it. She may someday overcome the stigma “Friday” attached to her, but for now, this “awful” song is the thing that everyone attaches to her as her artistic legacy.
The lesson in this is always put your best product forward. Rebecca Black may actually be a good singer and one with artistic merit (indeed, look at her 10th anniversary remix of the notorious song). But do you really want your book to go viral for all the wrong reasons?
Probably not—so not all publicity is good publicity. Negative publicity also doesn’t necessarily generate sales, which means you’ve taken a second blow to your writing career. It’s one thing to become a laughingstock if everyone buys your book and you make a million dollars (who’s laughing now?). It’s another matter to become a laughingstock and make no money doing it.
A Professional Editor Helps You Put Your Best Work Forward
So how do you ensure you’re putting your best work forward? The answer is you go back to the traditional publishing process. While you may have all sorts of reasons for not wanting to work with a professional editor—they’re scary, your work is your work and no one should touch it, they’re “gatekeepers,” they cost too much money—teaming up with a professional editor is actually one of the smartest things you can do.
Why? Simply put, they help you make sure you’re putting your best product forward! A professional editor’s job is to help you make the book the very best it can be. While that looks different for each and every book, it should always be any editor’s goal.
In a sea of poor quality self-published books, in a crowded market where readers don’t want to part with their hard-earned money, working with a professional editor is a smart move for any author.