The rise of electronic self-publishing has led many authors to circumvent the traditional “gatekeepers” of the publishing world. In some instances that means a wonderful book with a niche audience or a cross-genre appeal finds its way to an audience even though a large press can’t afford to take a risk on it. Sometimes a great author gets more control over his or her process. Other times it means something awful joins the abundance of books already on the market because the author used self-publishing as a last resort.
Edan Lepucki, a literary fiction writer, recently talked about the issue of last-resort publishing when she wrote an article entitled “Reasons Not to Self-Publish in 2011-2012: A List.” Her reason #5 was “I Value the Publishing Community.” She talks about how she values editorial input and the layers that get added to a novel when an editor works on it. She says:
I know you can hire experienced editors and copy-editors, but how is that role affected when the person paying is the writer himself? What if the hired editor told you not to publish? Would that even happen?
As far as Looseleaf is concerned, the answer to whether or not that would happen is sometimes. It depends on what I’ve been hired to do. If I’ve been hired to copyedit, then I will copyedit. The publishability of the manuscript is not the problem I’ve been hired to solve: I’ve been hired to address its coherency on a grammatical and syntactic level. I will do what I’ve been hired to do. Likewise, the copyeditors at your favorite publishing house probably don’t control what goes to press, just the grammatical state in which it goes to press.
Copyediting is not the only thing you can hire an editor to do, though. Looseleaf offers manuscript evaluations (as do many other editing companies), which are essentially an in-depth way of answering the publishability question. In an evaluation I look at plot, character, and overall coherency, which also means I put myself in the reader’s shoes and analyze whether or not the book in my hands adds anything to the market. In the editorial letter I send to the author afterwards, I include positives, negatives, and an overall judgement on the manuscript.
Lepucki asks how the editorial relationship is affected when the editor is an employee of the author. The truth is that the freelancer–author relationship is not the same as the in-house editor–author relationship. A freelancer does what he or she is hired to do. If you want honest editorial feedback, hire a freelancer to give it to you and you’ll get it.
But Lepucki asks a question I can’t answer: “What if the hired editor told you not to publish?” That is a question for the author, a question that applies to all self-publishing authors. If you’ve decided to publish something on your own and hire someone to offer his or her opinion on your decision, are you going to listen if you get told you’re wrong?
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