So, you can’t afford an editor.
Solutions for the self-publishing debut.
Writers are full of advice, and my favorite part about this craft is that advice that’s rubbish to you is gold to someone else.
“Pants your novels, you’ll have stronger characters.”
“Plot your novels, your twists will be surprising but inevitable.”
“If you have writer’s block, don’t push it. You don’t want to risk burn out.”
“Write even when you don’t want to. You don’t want to break the habit.”
But while writing advice often comes with a disclaimer, “what works for me may not work for you,” it’s rare that publishing advice is so nuanced. A sentiment I’ve seen from multiple people on various platforms is:
“No offense, but if you can’t afford an editor you can’t afford to publish.”
Maybe they like sharing this bit of wisdom because they’re writers and the parallel structure is too much to resist, but more than likely it’s because they believe it. While it’s okay to have that belief, we’ve all read something that needed a good editor’s help, the hard-line approach in preaching this belief is damaging.
At worst, the lack of nuance and alternative solutions is discouraging the voices we claim that we want to hear from the most.
For a 70,000-word book, your editing costs could be:
Developmental editing: $.08 per word, or $5,600 total
Basic copyediting: $.018 per word, or $1,260 total
Proofreading: $.0113, or $791 total
For a two-income household, or a single adult living without dependents, a $1,260 “investment” may be realistically achievable. But what about the single working parent? The millennial struggling with debt? Or the retiree on a fixed income? Not to mention the racial wealth gap that makes it even more difficult for some writers to pursue a career in this field, self-published or traditionally published.
Even if money for an editor is secured the author isn’t likely to break out with their first book.
In some cases, the first book doesn’t break even until the next book, or the third book comes out. And in the case of self published authors that want to try to gain traction by rapidly releasing multiple books in a short time frame, that $1,260 investment turns into a $3,780 gamble. All the while, self doubt and the pressure of “investing” so much money starts to set in and take its toll.
This may be a bleak hypothetical, but this writing business is a business. And 80% of small businesses fail in the first 18 months. It breaks my heart to think that solid, well meaning advice like “hire and editor” could be the nail in the coffin for a self publishing entrepreneur’s business model.
If we really want to hear from disenfranchised voices, we have to start offering solutions instead of “no offense” blanket statements. Because while some writers can afford to invest in their dreams by hiring professional editors, other writers aren’t in a place where they can take that financial risk.
So what is the practical advice? What’s the solution for the people that can’t afford to hire an editor?
The solutions I’ve seen from the same people spouting pithy nuggets like “If you can’t afford an editor, you can’t afford to publish” are often along the line of “find a way.”
“Work longer hours and save up.”
“Sell your stuff and save up.”
“Stop buying coffee and save up.”
While these are solutions, they come across as backhanded and dismissive of the greater issue. If a family of 4 in the lower income bracket had an extra 2 grand to spend on something, why would they put it into a book that may or may not pay off?
We shouldn’t judge our peers by how much money they spent on their debut novel. While every book could benefit from an extra pair of eyes, there are ways to produce a viable product without hiring a professional editor. But it will take more time and more work.
The number one way is to trade critiques with other authors. As many as you can find. There will be a lot of trial and error, you won’t enjoy everything you’re given to read, and not every bit of feedback you get will be useful. But having multiple eyes on your manuscript is invaluable and I wouldn’t recommend publishing without going through several rounds of critiques and beta reads first.
So where can you find those angels that are willing to trade chapters and offer feedback? Here’s a list of websites and communities, and whether or not your first publishing rights stay intact when you post your manuscript there.
Websites designed for writers trading critiques:
Critters: First publishing rights stay intact. Runs on donations.
Critique Circle: First publishing rights stay intact. Has free and paid memberships.
Scribophile: First publishing rights stay intact. Has free and paid memberships.
Communities and forums for writers:
Goodreads: While Goodreads is primarily a site for reviewing books, there are forums and groups like this one where writers can work out critique swaps among themselves. Be sure to explore the site for yourself to find the best community for your needs.
Wattpad: If you’re writing a genre that skews young, what better place to find beta readers than a site known for young, voracious readers? Note that you will have to network to find those readers, and those readers will expect a relatively clean manuscript (more or less typo and grammatical error free).
By publishing your manuscript on Wattpad you will be burning your first publication rights, but if you were planning on self-publishing the novel anyway, why not put it through Wattpad first to see where readers lose interest? You can always take it down when you’re done.
Nanowrimo: Love it or hate it, lots of writers participate in it. Start a free account and check the site forums for others looking for beta readers and critique partners. While Nanowrimo is in November, CampNano is a similar event that takes place twice a year, normally around April and July. Both are great places to meet other writers.
While not built with writers in mind, Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, and Reddit all have writer subcultures. If you are already active on one of these platforms, search the groups, hashtags, and forums for “writers”, “beta readers”, or your genre of choice. Do enough digging and you will find where the writers hang out.
The reason I’m not linking to specific groups on these social media sites is because many of them evolve over time as new authors come in and seasoned authors leave. A writer’s group that I could recommend today may be unrecognizable by the time you read this.
So, if hiring an editor for your self published debut, or rapid release, is within your financial reach — go for it. Do your research and find the best editor for you.
But if it’s not, don’t sweat it. Put your manuscript through the wringer by letting as many constructive critics see it as possible. Figure out what feedback you can take to heart, and what you should ignore.
No matter what path is right for you, know that you worked hard and did your due diligence in creating the best product you could. And most importantly, don’t let anyone make you feel less than for not taking their publishing advice.
The same way a panster and a plotter can both write a good book, a community-edited story is just as respectable as a professionally edited piece.
The process used in writing a book doesn’t guarantee its quality, and the money spent to produce it doesn’t guarantee its success.
And I think that’s what some of us are afraid of. We want to tell each other that if you love your story enough, work hard enough, spend enough, you’ll make it in this industry. And that’s just not the case.
Money is an advantage, no doubt. It’ll save you time, frustration, and may even buy you peace of mind. But no matter how much you spend, you aren’t guaranteed to break even.
Some writers can afford that risk. Some writers can’t.
Do what’s best for you.