How to Sabotage Your Writing Career in One Easy Step

editing_200x150It’s one o-clock in the morning. You have pushed through because you could see the end. Hundreds of hours of work are done and your book is really written. Congratulation you are now an author. All that is left is to watch the sales roll in.

Well, not exactly. There are still a few items to deal with. For example, you have to format the book into an appropriate form for the eBook retailers or print on demand shops. Oh! And there is that silly cover graphic that needs to be made. What about a forward or an epilogue? Do you need an acknowledgements section? Of course, there is the blurb or sales pitch for the back cover.

All of the above can take hours or days, and some talented or determined people manage to work through the various items on their own. Sales might not be fabulous, but a poor blurb, or a unexceptional cover design will not really kill your career.

There is a common mistake that screams, “Hey, this is just a want-to-be writer who isn’t serious.”

What is that mistake? I’ll get to it in a second. First take a step back and consider how many authors you have bought a second, third or fourth book from. Think about the authors who you just know that, if you see their name on a cover, you’re going to drop the cash to buy it and read it with joy. Now, what do they all have in common?

When you have a favorite author you stop looking at the covers, you might only read the blurb to find out if this new fabulous find is part of a series. The blurb and the cover are used to judge new authors that you are not familiar with to see if you’ll give them a shot.

What about authors you’ve decided never to read again. What was it that made you cringe to read the book?

I’ll bet you might not even know why you put some authors on that “never again” list. I know my list had a few I couldn’t identify the reason for until I started writing myself. I went back and analyzed my favorite vs. my “yuck no way” authors.

What was it? It was something I never even noticed, something I am personally horrible at getting right myself.

Okay, enough of the suspense. It was grammar. Yep, a number of authors on my never read again list were there because the first book I got with their name on the cover had some horrible grammar errors. Misused words, and just terrible flow. Good stories, interesting characters, but just unforgivable writing errors.

What is the one mistake that will sabotage your writing career? The answer is not bothering to have a real editor give your manuscript the complete treatment.

The moment I realized this, I knew I would never let that mistake happen. It isn’t easy finding a good editor. They are not exactly inexpensive either, most charging about one cent per word. If your book is one hundred thousand words, that is one thousand dollars in editing services. That is a lot of money to drop. Is it worth it? I’d argue yes. Every single book you sell might bring you a dollar in profit. However, more importantly you want that book to bring you at least one faithful reader. You want to earn the respect of someone so they will buy your next book, and the one after that.

The idiom “you only have one chance to make a good first impression” is true. As an author you will earn back at least ten dollars for every dollar you spend in editing. You will make a good impression, you will make future sales, you will get word of mouth recommendations leading to more of the same.

What if it is impossible for you to hire a professional editor? Well dig in, work hard, find someone qualified. There are librarians, there are high school writing teachers, there are college writing professors, and I know you have friends. Exploit your network of friends and find one or two people that qualify as real editors that will do it for you free.

Be aware of what makes a good editor. Editors do not just correct your typos. They look at the style, the flow, the character development, the tone, and the grammar based on the genre. They do so much more than proofread; you will have to rewrite parts, ditch some stuff, and expand other items based on their feedback.

Editorial passes are not just a one time through the wringer either. My first book had two different editors and went through four revisions before being called done. Even with that, there were still typos and some minor issues. My second book had three professional editors. I sent the book off to one, got it back, worked through the changes and then sent it to the next editor. The book went through each editor three times, which means I did nine revisions. It is almost as much effort as writing the thing. But, the final result shines so brightly I am proud to release it.

Be aware of what each editorial pass is about. Here is the breakdown.

First pass is called the beta read. In a beta read pass the editor is generally ignoring words, grammar and language. This pass is about characters, plot, and flow. The editor is looking for character mistakes, character believability, and plot progress.

Second pass is called a line-edit. In a line-edit pass the editor has the red pen out. All the grammar, word usages, typos, and language are under heavy scrutiny. This pass, the plot and characters are back burner items and it is all about sentence structure, dialogue handling, etc. (This is the pass I dread personally because I’m horribly vicious to the English language.)

Third pass is called a proof read. In a proof read pass, the manuscript is considered “done” and basically ready for print. Most editors can do a proof read in a couple of days. In this pass they are just speed reading the book end to end looking for simple typos. Red pen out, this is generally where some of the stuff you added gets marked up a little. This is also where I get a lot of comments like “had to stop here I was laughing too hard to keep going” and “this is really cute”.

Good editors are busy people. If you want to get onto their schedules you have to book in advance. I have gotten very lucky in finding my editors. I had to do a lot of searching to locate and vet them. You need to find some editors you feel are good for your books. This is not something to short change. Be tough when first meeting an editor. Ask questions like how many books in the [insert genre] realm do you work on? Can you give me references for books you have edited? Do I have to pay for each editorial pass or can we negotiate a one fee for beta+line-edit+proof read type service?

Whatever you do, don’t let your books go out unedited. This is something you can have total control over and there is no need to miss this step. I wish you all the best! Feel free to shoot me questions on Twitter or Facebook.

I wish you all the skill and luck in the world. If you’re another fantasy and/or sci-fi author I’d love to connect with you.

Leeland Artra is a ten month Amazon bestselling author with his debut fantasy/sci-fi trilogy that starts with the book Thread Slivers and is continued in Thread Strands. You can find all of Leeland’s work from his Amazon Author page.

Thread Strands CoverThread Slivers Book One CoverOriginally a guest post for fellow author Jennings Wright (original article at http://bit.ly/1gWyGIE)

  • Allen McKay

    This is really nice. I have been wondering what to do about editors for a while and now I will take your advice. I’m going to have to talk to my friends because I haven’t got the funds for my first book. But, as you say I won’t make this mistake.

    Thank you!!
    Allen

  • Leeland Artra

    Hey Allen,

    You’re very welcome. I’ll be glad to answer any questions. Just shoot me an email or ping me on Facebook.

    + Leeland

  • josh

    This was an awesome read. I love learning the approach and methods that different authors use in reaching their finished product.

    Your books are now on my Christmas list.

    Thanks,

    Josh

  • Kristie Kiessling

    Excellent advice, Leeland. I arrived here via a posting by Robin Lythgoe. She’s pointed me in this direction a few times this week. I’ve gleaned information here that will potentially change the way I approach writing. When you say, “…he final result shines so brightly I am proud to release it…” you touch on something so vitally important that we ignore to our doom. What author wants to apologize for the work they have put into the public eye? Yet, we ignore this vital step thinking we don’t need professional editors. I am guilty of this myself and can only hope it is not too late for me.

    With respect,
    Kris

  • Leeland Artra

    Thank you Josh. I hope you get your Christmas wishes. :^)

  • Leeland Artra

    Kris,

    I’m happy to have helped. If you have stuff already out there you can still update it and fix any problems with it. For example I just released an updated version of Thread Slivers that correct about one hundred minor typos. Even with all the editing work put in some stuff still slips by.

    The nice part is of the thousands of readers a few send me emails with helpful critiques and corrections. I let these build up till I have enough to justify the reformatting expenses. I don’t think there is a single first printing book I have read that didn’t have a few typos.

    It is never to late to make things right. You might even get a few readers who seeing your success might give you a second chance. So if your future books are better (and why shouldn’t they?) you can win over some of the early readers that weren’t happy with the early quality.

    + Leeland

  • Noel

    This post makes me wish I had listened to my English professor when she stopped me after class one day and told me to consider being an English major instead of pre-pharmacy. While I was flattered that she liked my essays well enough, I couldn’t think of a damn thing to do with an English degree. Teach? No, thank you. If I’d only known that I could read as of yet unpublished works and fix them. I would be much happier and have less useless student loans (I never got to pharmacy school. Chemistry is evil)

  • Leeland Artra

    Never too late Noel,

    I have a few beta readers who have started beefing up on the latest rules and started doing inexpensive editing. All it takes is to work at it. In fact both of my paid editors have bumped up their fees in the last few months. The higher rates hurt a bit, but I still know they are worth it.

  • James Kafka

    It’s a common mistake and one I am not very proud to say I made. I went into my first book like a bull in a china shop. I learned a few lessons and the second book was better, but not perfect. I sure wish I would have read an article like this one 4 years ago. good work sir.

  • Kristen Pham

    Those hopeful, early days of writing! Self-publishing looks so simple when you first start. But I completely agree, professional editing, formatting and cover are key to success. Thanks for sharing your tips!

  • Leeland Artra

    Thank you for reading it Kristen. :^)

  • Leeland Artra

    James, thanks for reading this. I have heard a number of indie authors say they publish first then use the money from the sales (if there are enough) to pay for editing. I think that is a really bad approach. Of course if you did publish without enough editing it is never to late to go back and address the older books. I’m thinking about having another editorial pass on the first one since it is actually one editor light compared to the second two books. So it might need a little more polish.

  • Effrosyni Moschoudi

    I am so pleased I stumbled upon this post – thank you Leeland! I have been wondering for a while what editing really involves and you have answered all the nagging questions I had about this issue. I am definitely hitting ‘follow’ on your blog as to make sure not to miss any future posts of similar interest and usefullness! You’re a star!

  • Jenni Clarke

    I would have loved to have an editor to polish my rough diamond of a story. I did ask around, but I was in a hurry, and didn’t find anyone to help in a big way.
    I totally agree and I am sad inside that I have done my story and characters justice. I do want an editor to take a look, but am scared about spending the money that I do not have.
    I will look into approaching universities – hadn’t thought of that before- thanks 🙂

  • Leeland Artra

    Thank you Effrosyni. I’m glad this helped. Feel free to ask if I don’t know the answer, I can usually provide some safe and authoritative places to find an answer.

  • Leeland Artra

    Jenni have you looked at the resources available on http://KBoards.com (link is external)? You can ask around in the Authors’ Cafe for some inexpensive help. There is also the Kboards yellow pages.

    Another great place to look is the World Literary Cafe author toolbox http://www.worldliterarycafe.com/content/author-resource-toolbox (link is external)

    If you are writing Fantasy or Sci-Fi that is under an R-Rated level (G to PG13) I can plug you into the the FSFNet group where there are some editors.

    The content or beta read editors I know are full price. But, I know some amazing proof reader editors that are affordable (Emerald Barnes http://facebook.com/emerald.barnes (link is external) comes to mind). You can always try to negotiate a lower rate for your first book (I DID). :^)

    + Leeland

  • Cecil

    I’m not sure exactly why but this site is loading incredibly slow for me.
    Is anyone else having this issue or is it a issue on my end?
    I’ll check back later and see if the problem still exists.

    • Sorry Cecil, there was some DB issues that were really bogging the site down. They are fixed now.