An American Editor

May 9, 2012

Should Editors Certify That an eBook has Been Edited?

I’ve been toying with this idea for some time now. I haven’t gotten very far with it because of resistance from editorial colleagues, but I’m wondering if professional editors should certify that a book has been professionally edited as a way to assure the author’s customers that the book was edited?

I know it is impossible to certify an ebook as error-free, especially as editorial decisions are rarely black or white, instead often being shades of gray. Besides, it is the rare book — e or p — that I have bought or read that doesn’t have at least a few errors. The idea is to minimize the number of indisputable errors and to help move a manuscript from the kitchen sink to a more sharply focused story. More importantly, the idea is to encourage authors to make use of professional editors by giving them something of tangible value, something they can use to help sell their ebooks.

There are some gaping problems with the implementation of such an idea. For example, what good is the certification if there is no “penalty” for not meeting the standard? What standards does an editor need to meet to grant the certification? Who will decide whether certification is appropriate? What happens if the author makes changes on his or her own after the ebook has been certified? Who will promote the value of the certification to the reading public? Can the author demand that an ebook be certified if the author rejects the editor’s suggestions? What fee schedule is reasonable for a certification process? And the list goes on…

In reality, few of the problems cannot be overcome, except that manuscripts are not like manufactured goods that are churned out by the thousands in identical form so that there is a single standard that is easily defined. Certification of ebooks requires more individualization than do mass-produced goods.

Yet I suspect that reasonable criteria can be established if what is sought is a uniform standard. I am not, however, convinced that a uniform standard that a manuscript must meet is required; rather, I think the standard needs to be more focused on what constitutes professional editing (as opposed to editing by anyone who claims to be an editor) and what certification means, as well as how the standards are enforced.

This raises the bottom-line problem of identifying a professional editor. I’ve discussed this before and, although I can say that a professional editor has certain characteristics, I cannot say that a lack of one or more of these characteristics makes for a nonprofessional editor. Our industry is too hazy for such clarity — at least as currently configured.

What is needed is a national standards organization for editors. I know I’ve suggested this before, too. Unfortunately, such an organization is unlikely to come about; too few independent editors would be willing to create such an organization and abide by its standards.

So, instead, why can’t individual editors offer their own certification? It is an author’s responsibility to find a professional editor and have their work edited. There is little reason why such an editor couldn’t issue a “seal of good editing” to an ebook that indicates to the consumer that the proffered ebook has been professionally edited so the reader will find few of the errors that plague too many ebooks, such as you’re for your, where for were, and a character with blue eyes and blond hair on page 10 but green eyes and light brown hair on page 55.

Ultimately, the question for the consumer is, “How can I be certain that the ebook really was professionally edited?” The answer is another question: What does the editor “pay” to the consumer should the consumer find a goodly number of these errors? (Which raises another issue: How many errors are acceptable?) Should it be a refund of the purchase price? Twice the purchase price? Some other multiple of the purchase price? Something else?

A lot of matters would have to be addressed when setting up a certification scheme, but it seems to me that it may well be worthwhile for editors, authors, and consumers. For editors, it could be a way to stand out from the crowd and gain more business. For authors, it could be a marketing tool that sets their ebooks apart from the crowd of ebooks. For consumers, it would provide a method for weeding out some ebooks.

Cost is a difficult issue, but one that needs tackling upfront. In exchange for the certification, the editor should be paid a premium fee for the editing work. Yet authors have no assurance that certification will boost sales sufficiently to justify paying a premium, let alone hiring an editor to begin with.

Unfortunately, each day sees hundreds more ebooks become available, all fighting to capture the imagination of the same limited audience. In the absence of quality assurances, how does one ebook get distinguished from the myriad other available ebooks such that it entices consumers to give it a second look? Price is one answer, but price alone has not proven to be a sufficient answer.

Perhaps the combination of price and quality assurance will do the trick. It certainly can’t hurt to try.

13 Comments »

  1. First a certification of editors is needed. An ebook can then be certified by a certified editor. Format like PDF to ensure that it was edited on a certain date and no additional changes after before being made available. If not PDF, then any changes after the edit date was done not by the editor. Of course, there are other issues to tackle as listed…..

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    Comment by marie — May 9, 2012 @ 4:34 am | Reply

  2. I would be willing to apply for national certification if such a thing existed, and keep trying if I failed in order to make the grade — and believe that anything different would either not succeed or open a Pandora’s box of problems. For sure, the idea of an individual certification, “a ‘seal of good editing’ to an ebook that indicates to the consumer that the proffered ebook has been professionally edited so the reader will find few of the errors that plague too many ebooks,” to be like wearing a “Kick Me” sign on your back! I’m human and I make errors. Every job. The last thing I want or need is an author with an attitude hunting down those errors and blowing them out of proportion and slandering my name and all the possible outcomes that such a statement would invite.

    A better idea, IMO, is to simply offer credits, just like the movies do. Have a page that includes author, editor(s), book designer, compositor, agent, printer, proofreader — all the entities involved in creating a book. That way, if some aspect of the book is obviously good or bad, the reader knows who to look for or avoid in future books. It also gives people the option of withholding their name should they feel uncomfortable advertising their participation in a crappy book.

    This idea could create as many snarkfests as any of the other ones, but it takes the focus off editors, who, I feel, should not be held responsible for the ultimate quality of a book. As we have discussed here and in many other forums, an editor — especially a freelance editor — must work in cooperation with the author, who is the paying party and has ultimate control of the content. Nobody pays me enough to voluntarily put my head on the block and be ethically or legally liable for mistakes or incompleteness, be they mine or anyone else’s. By contract (written or implied) I must allow every book I touch to go to press regardless of what I think about it. And I don’t have the security of corporate editorial employees should a project go badly; I’m not going to make my working reality any more insecure than it already is!

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    Comment by Carolyn — May 9, 2012 @ 6:28 am | Reply

    • The problem with a credits list is that there is no way to know if the credited people are qualified (is the credited editor a professional editor or the neighbor’s 12-year-old) or exist. In addition, there is nothing to give assurance to the reader. I’ve read a number of allegedly edited ebooks, where the editor was named (and sometimes was listed as the author’s spouse) and the editing might well not have been done, certainly not professionally.

      I agree that there are a number of problems that need to be solved, but perhaps this is an idea whose time has come.

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      Comment by americaneditor — May 9, 2012 @ 6:53 am | Reply

  3. Shouldn’t it be the author who certifies to a reader/consumer that the book has been edited professionally? and
    isn’t part of the problem the fact that many authors have no idea what a “professional editor” is — and that almost anyone can hang out a shingle claiming to be a professional editor?

    A credits list is a good idea, but it does have limits. As Rich says, it wouldn’t tell the reader if the person identified as the editor is any good or who actually did what, and it wouldn’t take into account the clients who make changes after a work is edited — to the extent that many editors ask not to have their names on the works.

    The idea of a credits list reminds me of a current e-mail discussion list conversation where a colleague’s client wants to call the person who typed the ms. a “pre editor” and the colleague the editor. The colleague doesn’t know what this pre-editor (I’m adding the hyphen, since the term looks even more ridiculous without it) actually did – just typed the material as the author said and scribbled it, or did a lot more than that, which is quite possible – and found the title odd, as did others participating in the discussion. Can you imagine the confusion of the reader in trying to figure out who did what, and whom to contact to edit the reader’s about-to-be Great American Novel?

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    Comment by Ruth E. Thaler-Carter — May 9, 2012 @ 9:09 am | Reply

    • The problem with the author doing the certifying is at least twofold: (1) as you note, many authors cannot identify a professional from a nonprofessional editor, and (2) an author could make the certification even if the manuscript was never seen by any independent editor, just by the author alone. The idea of certification is to assure the reader that an independent professional has gone over the manuscript. It is likely that because of the question of “professional”, a standards organization that issues a seal of certification will be needed. In the absence of that, however, it is possible for a group of editors to self-certify.

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      Comment by americaneditor — May 9, 2012 @ 9:21 am | Reply

  4. As a reader, I would certainly be more willing to buy a self-published book if there was some sort of “I’ve been professionally edited” tag attached to it. As an editor, though, I do think it would be a pretty complicated system to set up. But it’s definitely an idea worth exploring.

    Have there been attempts to create a national standards organization for editing in the US?

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    Comment by emilyalbarillo — May 9, 2012 @ 6:43 pm | Reply

    • There have been no attempts that I am aware of to create a national standards organization in the United States. Most of the U.S. editors I have discussed the idea with have been resistant.

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      Comment by americaneditor — May 10, 2012 @ 6:23 am | Reply

  5. As an Australian accredited editor (yes, accredited), I find this post and the comments interesting. They imply, quite clearly, that there exists no accreditation or certification scheme for editors in the U.S. Until about five years ago, this was also the case in Australia. However, thanks to an enormous amount of work by the Institute of Professional Editors (IPEd), Australia now has a rigorous accreditation scheme for editors. Accreditation is not easy to achieve. Many don’t bother — perhaps because they are not confident they will achieve the status of accreditation, perhaps because they feel they have no need for accreditation, or perhaps because they can’t afford it (there are fees associated). However, in Australia, an ebook author can feel confident that when they commission an IPEd-accredited editor they will receive a professional edit. For those interested in IPEd and its accreditation process, visit the IPEd website, and click on “Accreditation” in the menu on the left: http://iped-editors.org/

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    Comment by Wendy Monaghan — May 10, 2012 @ 4:53 am | Reply

    • Thanks, Wendy, for the information and the link. The standards are very interesting and both broad and comprehensive. I was unaware of the Institute. I do know that there are several countires with national organizations that do offer accreditation, and in the U.S. the Council of Science Editors offers a specialty accreditation, but a more general accreditation system is lacking.

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      Comment by americaneditor — May 10, 2012 @ 6:26 am | Reply

      • my main concern with Wendy Monaghan\’s point is that while having the IPEd is great – who knows about it? I\’m Australian and I didn\’t even know who the IPE were and its an Australian organisation. As far as I can tell the IPE accreditation exists for the purposes of customers (i.e writers and authors) knowing that when they want to purchase the services of an editor, if they go with an IPE member they\’ll have a professional job performed. This means nothing for the actual customer buying the ebook because as far as they are concerned: 1. who the hell is the IPE anyway -, they\’ve never heard of it. 2. Is the IPE logo on the cover of the book? If not, how are they supposed to know the IPE has had anything to do with the book?
        For accrediation to mean anything to the actual readers and cosumers of ebooks we need to nkow who the accrediting bodies and what their standards are and we need be able to easily see which books have been edited by members of said bodies. Otherwise, from the consumer\’s perspective – accreditation is meaningless. Sure, might be great for the author who is purchasing the services, but thats a different kettle of fish.

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        Comment by Simon Dewar (@herodfel) — August 29, 2012 @ 12:44 am | Reply

  6. […] Adin, Rich, An American Editor: Should Editors Certify That an eBook has Been Edited?, viewed 21 October 2013, https://americaneditor.wordpress.com/2012/05/09/should-editors-certify-that-an-ebook-has-been-edited/ […]

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    Pingback by Reference list | The Book in Society — October 28, 2013 @ 7:58 am | Reply

  7. I have edited fiction manuscripts that I am proud to be associated with. I list them with the covers on my website. I have also edited manuscripts that – no matter the depth of editing – are still substandard writing. For instance, I was handed 120,000 words of bad writing. I cut 35,000 words and suggested another several thousand be removed from the manuscript. The 85,000 words I handed off to the author were a vast improvement. It is difficult to rework such a manuscript while retaining the author’s voice. I was in a workshop a month later with this author, who clearly decided – from his conversation with others – not to remove particular elements I believed essential to improving his manuscript. I do not want my name associated with that manuscript. It will not be displayed on my website. I certainly would not certify manuscripts as edited as, once it leaves my hands, I have no control over what the author does or does not do in terms of additions or deletions.

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    Comment by Darlene Elizabeth Williams — April 9, 2014 @ 12:20 pm | Reply

  8. I agree with Darlene. I am the Owner/Editor at Last Stop Editing. I wouldn’t want to certify a book as having been edited by me because the client can accept/reject any changes that they want, and then they can also make further changes that we never see. I imagine all editors have had clients who added errors after the job was finished. It is probably a common problem.

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    Comment by M. L. Davis — September 23, 2015 @ 9:47 am | Reply


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