An American Editor

April 11, 2011

On Words & eBooks: What Does It Take?

In past articles, I have spoken of the need for indie authors to use professional editors (see, e.g., On Words: Is the Correct Word Important?, Professional Editors: Publishers and Authors Need Them (Part 1), and Professional Editors: Publishers and Authors Need Them (Part 2)). Alas, there is always an excuse for not using them. A little more than a year ago, in On Words & eBooks: Give Me a Brake! I talked about the problems that readers often face when confronted with an unedited or nonprofessionally edited book. This topic has been repeatedly discussed in numerous blogs and on numerous forums — almost discussed to death.

Yet, here we go again.

A few days ago, I was looking at what new-release ebooks were available at Smashwords. I found a couple of doozies. Try this one, first: So Your Afraid of Dieing by LaVall McIvor, for which the author wants $4.99, and which the author describes as follows:

Everyone dies, what happens after we die. Is that the end of who and what we are? I have had two NDE’s and I can tell you there is more to ‘us’ than just the physical life we live on this world. I only lay out my experiences, what you believe to be true concerning an afterlife is up to you to decide.

Setting aside the “your” problem, does “dieing” mean dying as in death or dyeing as in coloring? OK, I get the gist and realize death is meant, but why should I have to guess or assume?

So I checked the sample to see if the title was an anomaly. Here is the first paragraph of the book:

Probably the single most commonality of all of us, is knowing that someday in the future this physical life will end. But what happens when we die, are we just consumed by the elements, is that the end of it? If you are a religious person, you have been ‘taught’ that if you live a good life doing no evil, you (your soul) will be rewarded with eternal life in ‘Heaven’. If you are an atheist, you may believe there is no ‘afterlife’, that when your body dies, that is the end of who and what you are. I was of the latter persuasion until I had two NDE’s (Near Death Experiences).

Then, as I was reeling from the title, the author’s description of the book, and the first paragraph, I came across A Crown of Thorns by Andrew Cook, for which the author wants $2. Cook describes his book as follows:

When the Spencer’s arrive at Millbridge, Virginia meets Rector Byrnes, beginning an emotionally charged and passionate relationship. Rev Byrnes is in a vulnerable position struggling with his wife’s inner demons, and his own loss of faith, and with no one to confide. Virginia is consumed with hatred towards God but they find comfort in each other’s weakness with dramatic consequences.

Tell me: Is the location Millbridge, Virginia or is it Virginia who arrives at Millbridge? No matter because within the first few paragraphs of the book, we find this:

The reason I am writing this is because I want to remember all my thoughts this morning, for it is remarkable to me that it should be this morning that I was again allowing myself the shameful thoughts of death, my own death in fact, while appreciating at the same time the pleasure and beauty of life. The green rolling hills that overlooked the cemetery and continued for miles, the bright blue sky as though painted that morning by an artist, devoid of cloud, the flowers dancing in the breeze celebrating the arrival of spring. It was a day to celebrate life, not to contemplate death. But perhaps I was not considering death in the physical sense. There are many types of death. This morning I once again felt as though my soul had died and I had paled once again into insignificance. If one died emotionally, what would be left? Without love people wither like flowers starved of water.

I am afraid to venture further into either book.

Tell me, what does it take to convince authors that there is a reason why professional editors exist and why they are hired to go over a manuscript before it is published? Would you willingly pay $4.99 or $2 for either ebook?

What these two ebooks vividly demonstrate is that the combination of the Internet Age and easy self-publishing — without any gatekeeping (i.e., vetting of the manuscript, which is the role agents and traditional publishers have played) — has turned everyone who wants to be an author into a published author. Yet too many of these wanna-be-published authors are unwilling to accept the responsibilities that accompany publishing, particularly the hiring of a professional editor.

Sadly, I expect both of these authors to sell copies of their ebooks. Even more sadly, I expect that those who buy their ebooks won’t (and don’t) recognize the grammar and spelling problems that are in the ebooks, nor that the ebooks have not been edited — professionally or otherwise — by someone with at least minimal competency.

Companies like Smashwords have done a great favor to both readers and wanna-be authors. They make distribution to the normal book-buying channels possible. Yet, at the same time, they fail both readers and wanna-be authors because they do no vetting of manuscripts at all. These distribution platforms do us no service when they reinforce illiteracy, which is the effect of making such drivel widely available.

I realize that we are early in the evolution of ebooks, but the time to address basic issues is now, not later when the problems become so entrenched that they are insurmountable. Although the distributors need to share in the blame for permitting this drivel to see daylight, those of us who are professional editors also have a responsibility to reach out and educate authors. In this endeavor, we are failing as evidenced by these two ebooks and by the overall decrease in grammar and spelling skills in younger generations (see The Missing Ingredient: Grammar Skills).

Professional editors need to better explain our role to authors before we have no role to play at all (see Symbiosis: The Authorial and Editorial Process).

9 Comments »

  1. Re “Professional editors need to better explain our role to authors before we have no role to play at all”:

    I would enjoy an open forum / dialogue / debate with other editors about how to actually go about doing this. It seems we have a “you can lead a horse to water…” situation brewing, in that we’re preaching to an audience that doesn’t want to hear.

    I see writers discussing editing on writing lists and am shocked by their antagonism toward editors, who they believe want to steal their work or money and rewrite their prose for their own glory. These folks do not listen or believe when I gently try to describe the benefits of editing. The other topic that always comes up is money-money-money. Wannabe writers, who need the most help, are generally unable or unwilling to pay for it.

    IMO, professional editors sometimes exacerbate the problem by being judgmental of their peers. For example, I have been put down several times because I have accepted low rates for editing jobs — several of which, as it happens, involved helping educate wannabe writers and addressing the very points presented in this posting. Professional editors can only remain professional if we earn enough money to put bread on the table. To do that, we must respect writers better than many of us do and be willing to meet them halfway, which includes rate adjustment where relevant.

    Today’s writers are not getting the education they need in school — or through any other venue — which leaves it up to editors to educate writers during the editing process, when they are least open to it. Publishers themselves, especially e-publishers and author-services companies, contribute to the downgrading of editorial importance by claiming to offer professional services but delivering it at an amateur level or not at all. Many wannabe writers still believe that their work will be edited, at no cost to them, by whatever publishing organization accepts their book. So when a pro comes around offering a real editing job at a few thousand dollars, while faux pros offer same work for a few hundred dollars (or nothing), why should the writers believe the real pro? They are not equipped to know the difference.

    It might be that editors will have to shift their careers into education in order to hang on to their careers as editors.

    Comment by Carolyn — April 11, 2011 @ 5:44 am | Reply

  2. When the Spencer’s WHAT arrive at Millbridge, Virginia? Let us not forget the possessive use of the apostrophe! So sad. Authors like this are just making it SO MUCH harder for well-written books to be found! ARGH!

    As for the first one, it’s so incoherent and rambling that no one can understand the content anyway.

    Thank goodness for sampling; hopefully that will stop people from wasting their hard-earned cash!

    Comment by Kris Tualla — April 11, 2011 @ 12:11 pm | Reply

  3. Was it not discussed that your use of the authors’ text from Smashwords may be copyright infringment? Were that my text, I would be looking into a complaint against you, Rich. You need to site that you were given permission, or prepare to be acused.

    Comment by Joel Kirkpatrick — April 11, 2011 @ 1:02 pm | Reply

    • No, I believe it falls under both the fair use exception and the book review exception. But should you want to sue, go ahead. The one thing my family doesn’t lack is lawyers :).

      Comment by americaneditor — April 11, 2011 @ 1:44 pm | Reply

  4. Yes, you may laugh at my spelling. So did I.

    Comment by Joel Kirkpatrick — April 11, 2011 @ 1:03 pm | Reply

  5. Carolyn touched on the problem in her comment, when she said “helping educate wannabe writers.” It’s all about education. Most (if not all) the authors of these books don’t realise that there is a problem with even the basics, let alone anything else.

    Over the years, I’ve learned so much from editors – a process that never stops. The biggest thing I’ve learned, though, is that professional writers require professional editors.

    Comment by Vicki — April 11, 2011 @ 5:53 pm | Reply

  6. I wonder if the problem isn’t elsewhere. I’ve seen several comments by Amanda Hocking on how hard a time she’s had in finding a good editor. She’s been through several, what she calls, hacks.

    Maybe the deluge of indie books have led to a massive under supply of professional editors. Which in turn means that the few good ones can get away with charging prices that are out of the league of most indie writers.

    How many indie books have you edited? How many professional editors do you know who’s ever edited an indie book?

    Comment by Johan — April 12, 2011 @ 7:43 am | Reply

    • I do not edit fiction, so the answer to your question as regards indie fiction is zero. However, I could easily have edited these books and improved them. Additionally, I do know a lot of editors who work directly with indie authors.

      There may well be an undersupply of competent professional editors. My own experience in hiring editors has been that there are a lot of incompetent editors and a much smaller pool of competent editors. The reason, I think, is that people who read a novel and catch a spelling error think that they could be an editor if they wanted. I also think that the education system has been neglecting the findamentals of grammar and writing for several decades.

      Comment by americaneditor — April 12, 2011 @ 9:20 am | Reply

  7. I don’t think we can demand that all ebooks be edited by a professional editor. If you are looking for ebooks on Smashwords, you have to expect that some will contain outrageous errors and be in need of serious help. Maybe Smashwords or similar sites can offer an editing service to authors (at a cost), and then give the book an “I’ve been edited”-type of seal so that readers can easily spot these books.

    Comment by Jenn — April 13, 2011 @ 12:52 pm | Reply


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