What publishing does very well is editorial. I’m not a great writer, but with a lot of polish and structuring, we’ve made a good product. My editor has been fantastic.
I found this interesting note in a piece on Futurebook. Porter Anderson was quoting a speech made by author George Berkowski in advance of the Futurebook conference. It got me thinking about the shaping role of editing, and some crucial differences between indie publishing and traditional.
A quick disclaimer before we proceed. This was not the point of Berkowski’s speech or Porter Anderson’s article. It is merely a sentence that simmered for me after I read it. Also, Berkowski is not talking about fiction, as this blog usually is. His book is How To Build A Billion-Dollar App. But a fiction manuscript is scourged and rebuilt just as thoroughly as non-fiction when it enters a publisher’s editorial department.
This is what I want to explore; how a submission can be greatly changed by editorial input. Improved, usually, but undeniably changed.
My point is the nature of that change.
When a publisher edits, they are focused on their market. That makes perfect sense, of course. Like any business, they aim to please their clientele. If your artistic vision is perfectly aligned with that, that’s terrific (though you still may have drastic rewrites ahead).
But if you’re not? Many a first-time author has been uncomfortable about editors who are dumbing them down, or imposing directions that strip away their originality. Generalising is risky, of course, as one person’s depth is another’s dense mess. But what is good for the publisher may not be good for your creative identity, your long-term brand or your book.
Dare to be different
When you self-publish, you choose the editor who most closely suits your style and vision. There’s a lot more room for you to be daring and different, if that’s what you want. An indie editor will discuss what you want the book to be. Or they can help you find it. They won’t try to force you in a direction. They will help you come into your own.
I have, in reporting on a client’s novel, suggested they are more naturally literary than, say, the thriller market they thought they were writing for; that they were forcing when they should follow their instincts. It goes the other way too. I’ve advised writers who thought they should write literary that their strengths are the gripping page-turner of world-burning mayhem. I’ve steered would-be historical novelists to write non-fiction, as their every fibre screamed against inventing people, scenes and dialogue.
Because I don’t have to please an imprint, I can consider what’s best for the writer. I can truly be the book’s advocate.
Don’t imagine, though, that this is an issue with every indie author. Many know exactly what they aim to write. But if they’re feeling their way, an indie editor will help them be more truly themselves. When such an author is accepted by a publishing house, the process will shape the book to fit the house’s requirements. An indie editor will help you work out what your own requirements are.
Second novels … and beyond
And what about subsequent novels? If you write a second novel that hits different notes from the first, a traditional publisher usually tries to make you change it. You might not have realised how that first novel sealed your doom.
Such feedback might be helpful, of course. On the other hand, many authors resent it. They’re only just discovering their potential. The indie world is full of first novelists who were dropped because they developed, matured or wanted to flex their art a different way. Certainly if I’d had a traditional publisher for My Memories of a Future Life, I would never have been allowed Lifeform Three as novel 2. I would have been told to write another contemporary odd literary book.
If you’re an indie author, your editor can help you embrace new directions. Or you are free to find a different editor.
I freely admit this post exposes my priorities. I am not the person to ask if you want to know about marketing or writing a commercial success. But I’ll certainly tell you the fundamentals of gripping readers and giving them a good ride, whatever you write. I’ll also say that success, both commercial and the deeper reward of satisfaction, comes from good craft and a thorough understanding of where you fit. If your heart truly beats for genre fiction, the devoted reader of that genre will sense it. They’ll also know if you’re painting by numbers. Your best chance of success is to find your groove, be true to yourself, whatever it is.
But this is another reason why indie publishing, at its most careful and respectful, is more likely to produce genuinely original books. Traditional publishing will edit a book for the good of a defined clientele. Sometimes everyone is happy, of course. But in a traditional publisher the priority is the company interest, not the author or the book. I’ve seen enough occasions when this created a ghastly compromise.
Indeed, readers are far more adventurous than publishers can accommodate. The reader couldn’t define for you what they want; they know it when a skilled author invents it. (And thus I refute the oft-repeated claim that indie authors are expert only in marketing, not in the art. But that’s a different brawlgame.)
It’s often said that successful marriage is one that makes you feel more yourself. A successful editor partnership will make your book more itself, not more like someone else.
Let’s re-visit the quote that began all this: ‘publishing is very good at editorial’. It may be, within limits. But I contend that indie authors whose values are originality and craft are doing it better.
Thanks for the pic Nick Holland
I have news! Lifeform Three is now on audiobook! It caused us many new challenges and I’ll be blogging about them soon. In the meantime, find it here….
And let’s discuss – what’s your experience of working with editors, whether independent or within a publishing house? Have you ever been made to fit a mould that you suspected wasn’t truly suitable for your book?
#1 by acflory on November 9, 2014 - 10:44 pm
Congratulations on the audio book. The more readers Lifeform 3 can reach the better. And congratulations too on articulating one of the fundamental differences between traditional and indie publishing. I am an Indie because my writing is my legacy, and I need to control my ‘product’, but I /read/ Indie almost exclusively because it’s fresh and new, and going in exciting, unexplored areas. When it comes to sci-fi, exciting and unexplored are critical to a good read.
And back to my author hat again, I have exactly the kind of editor your article talks about. Trust and respect are key. As they say in the classics – when you’re on a good thing, stick to it. 🙂
#2 by Roz Morris @Roz_Morris on November 10, 2014 - 9:04 am
Thanks, Andrea! For me, this is the great advantage of indie authorship, provided there are people who can help you keep your standards. You clearly have that, and well done for finding them.
#3 by acflory on November 10, 2014 - 8:44 pm
For me it was third time lucky so I know finding that great partnership isn’t easy. But I also know how valuable it is once you’ve found it.
#4 by Teddi Deppner on November 10, 2014 - 1:50 am
Really enjoy your approach, Roz. Thanks for exploring this a bit here. I found it helpful to hear an industry professional put it forward this way. A lot of what you said resonates with how I see it, and it’s affirming to hear it.
#5 by Roz Morris @Roz_Morris on November 10, 2014 - 9:04 am
Thanks, Teddi! I felt it was time this was said. Glad it resonated.
#6 by mrdisvan on November 10, 2014 - 9:51 am
Good post with a lot of excellent points. If an athletics coach discovered a young Mike Tyson, you’d hope he wouldn’t try to encourage him to give up boxing and play football instead just because there’s more money in it. Yet agents and editors do try to push authors to make their books more commercial. The irony is that the next huge commercial success is never predictable, except that it’s always a book that the author themselves truly believes in.
#7 by Roz Morris @Roz_Morris on November 10, 2014 - 10:37 am
Terrific example with Tyson, Disvan. And about the commercial successes, and stubbornness needed.
#8 by DRMarvello on November 11, 2014 - 3:48 pm
I’ve dabbled with writing fiction most of my life, but I never once considered taking the soul-crushing path of getting traditionally published. The more I learned about it, the less appealing it became.
I first got into the publishing business by self-publishing non-fiction in 2006 (during the Lightning Source/POD revolution). At that time, self-publishing fiction was still a non-starter. It wasn’t until the ebook revolution that I seriously started exploring the idea of publishing my own fiction. If not for digital publishing, I would never have published my fantasy trilogy. (Whether or not that is a good thing is a matter of opinion.)
I’m amazed at what a vibrant and powerful fiction market has emerged from digital publishing. I’m thankful for editors like you who help authors realize their own vision for their work. I mostly read indie works, and I’ve had the pleasure of reading many excellent stories that might have never been published in the past. Sure, there have been stinkers, but I’ve encountered plenty of those from the big publishing houses as well.
I’m just pleased that the barriers between the storytellers and their audience have been lowered, and that authors have the support they need to deliver the story they really want to tell.
#9 by Roz Morris @Roz_Morris on November 13, 2014 - 9:06 am
Well said, sir! I well remember those days when selfpublishing was a risky venture, and definitely with fiction as there was no easy way of demonstrating the quality if you didn’t have an imprint to vouch for you. It’s amazing how the world has opened up.
#10 by Sherrie Miranda on November 13, 2014 - 3:02 am
Reblogged this on sherriemiranda1 and commented:
Thanks! Very good point!
#11 by Roz Morris @Roz_Morris on November 16, 2014 - 9:55 am
#12 by Tahlia Newland on November 15, 2014 - 9:41 am
Helping authors to realise their vision is what I really like about editing for indies. Authors often say how surprised they are that my edits make their voice stronger, but for me that’s the whole point.
#13 by Roz Morris @Roz_Morris on November 16, 2014 - 9:56 am
Hi Tahlia – absolutely. And when I work with indies I rather like the freedom to do my best for the book and the writer.