The New World of Publishing: Editing and Proofing

Just for fun and giggles and to help kill a few myths, I figured I would take a few areas of publishing and compare them across, from indie to traditional. The differences, the beliefs, how things are actually done.

I’ll do this with cover design, with blurb writing, and other areas that are common between the two forms of publishing. One area per short post.

But first off, let me talk about editing and proofing.

One of the great new myths is that traditionally-published books are cleaner and better proofed than indie-published books. Traditional publishers use this myth as a selling point to keep writers mailing them books.

Well, maybe it’s true, but not always.

Of course, this is impossible to actually get data on, since every book is different and goes through a different path to a unique publication. Most of the time you can’t take the same book and put it out traditionally and indie at the same time.

However, that said, a lot of us old traditional writers are indie publishing our backlist now. And that’s leading to some really eye-opening discoveries. We are finding tons and tons of problems in traditionally published books that were not in our original manuscripts. Problems introduced by the editing and proofreader of a traditional publishing house.

How are we discovering this? Simple, actually. We give our hired proofreader a copy of the original, traditionally-published book and an original electronic file. Then we tell the new proofreader to compare the electronic file to the published work and try to get the electronic manuscript as clean as possible.

Our proofreader is finding mistakes that got missed and mistakes that were added in. Thus our books being done indie are now far cleaner than the ones originally done traditional.

Kris talked about this when she talked about how there is no perfect book on her blog. You can find that great post here.

Now I’m sure almost every indie publisher already has a story about this sort of thing. But in the hopes of keeping this on topic, I’m going just go through how a manuscript gets proofed in the two paths to publication.

Traditional Publishing

Step One:

Your manuscript gets read by an editor. (Please do not say anything about agents in this. That topic is too ugly to handle here.)

Often this editor is young, just out of college, and filled with the myths of how there is a perfect book. (Again, read Kris’s post about perfection.) If you are lucky your manuscript finds a more experienced editor and the editor goes through trying to make your book a better book for what you wrote. Editors do find mistakes, but most of them are not good copyeditors.

Sometimes in this stage you get an editor who thinks they are a writer and tells you how to rewrite your book into something they think will sell better, or is more to how they would have written it if they had enough courage to be a writer. (There are tricks to getting around this type of editor. You learn them after getting stuck with a few of them.)

Step Two:

There will always be a rewrite.

Let me repeat that. No matter what you book is or how well-written or perfect, there will always be a rewrite that you must address in one fashion or another. Why? Contracts, that’s why. They give you money on signing and money on acceptance. They have to divide those payments apart for cash flow reasons. You know… business. So the editor MUST find something for you to do, even if she loves the book. In over 100 books I had less than five of them not go through a minor to completely-stupid rewrite.

Sometimes the editor found good stuff that needed fixing, sometimes the editor was just marking time until she could put in for the next check for her writer. Those marking-time rewrites cause more damage than good when the writer is too new to stand up to the editor.

Step Three:

When all that is done, your manuscript goes off to a copyeditor for a copyedit. If your advance is low, chances are they are testing out a new copyeditor that is cheap. If your advance is high, you might get a more experienced one.

The publisher will pay anywhere from $500 to $10,000 for the copyediting, again depending on your advance. I have heard of some charging a lot more, and it happens, but more times than not that’s a myth fed to beginning writers.

If your advance is low, you are rolling the dice on getting a decent copyeditor or not. If you get a copyeditor who wants to be a writer and has no respect for your writing, you will find yourself in a hell you can’t even begin to imagine.

If you get a good one, they will find all kinds of stuff and mistakes you swear you never knew were in there.

You must always spend the time, sometimes days, to check through the copyedited manuscript sent to you by the publisher.

Step Four:

In the old days there was another step when someone had to type in your manuscript with all the corrections included. Now that step is a person keying in the corrections, more than likely using the computer program of their choice.

Mistakes are added in here still, but not near as many as the old system. Now usually the writer gets a copyedited manuscript that they can accept or change the corrections. The hope is that the manuscript the writer did the accepting or changing got into the book and not another copy.

Indie Publishing

Let me say this right here, right up front. Every book and story published needs a good copyedit.

When I did the first Challenge Series of short stories, I put those stories up without a copyedit. I just had my first reader read them. Now I am going back and having them copyedited and finding all kinds of small mistakes. And a couple big ones. (grin)

With the Challenge Two series just starting, all the stories will be read by my first reader and also copyedited before I put them up and into book form.

So what is the process for indie publishing?

Step One:

You have a manuscript. Give it to a couple good first readers. Friends that you also read their work, or just friends that don’t write but love to read. Listen to them on the mistakes and then only fix what you want.

This step is how indie writers go around the editor part of traditional publishing. An editor is only a good reader. Two of your friends are often, combined, a great reader as well.

Can some books be better with some good professional level editing? Yup. But not all. Many a great book has been killed by bad editing.  And those you never hear about.

There are many great and experienced editors in traditional publishing who can help a book become better for the author, but at this point, with traditional publishing in the state it’s in, I’ll take my chances on a couple of friends reading the book.

Step Two:

Find a friend who loves to find nits in everything they read and give the book to them to read with the instructions to find everything. There’s usually one of those in every workshop that starts talking about a comma in the wrong spot on page forty-seven. You know the type.

Or hire a good freelance copyeditor.  The going rate is around $25.00 for a short story, $50.00 for longer stories, and around $5 per 1,000 words for longer novels. So the range is $500 to $1,000 for a long novel to get a good freelance copyeditor. Caution if the rates go too much higher.

By the way, most freelance copyeditors also work for traditional publishers. Traditional publishers NEVER have copyeditors on staff. It’s always farmed out just as indie publishers do.

Step Three:

You accept or reject the corrections from the copyeditor. If you add in mistakes in this step, you have no one to blame.

The big difference with indie publishing is that you are in control of the copyedit and with traditional publishing you are not.

So those are the editing and copyediting differences between the two routes.

Make your own choices.

It’s wonderful in this new world that we have the choices to make.

Back soon with a post that will shock you. How are cover blurbs and back cover copy done in traditional publishing? You really don’t want to know. But I’m going to tell you anyhow.

Have fun.


Copyright © 2012 Dean Wesley Smith

Cover art copyright Philcold/Dreamstime

This chapter is now part of my inventory in my Magic Bakery.  

I’m now getting back to writing fiction, so every word I write here takes time from that. And I have to justify this somehow in how I make a living.

So, if you feel this helped you in any way, toss a tip into the tip jar on the way out of the Magic Bakery.

If you can’t afford to donate, please feel free to pass this chapter along to others who might get some help from it.

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