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Investing in your writing career

Independent authors are faced with many decisions during the self-publishing process, not least of which is determining what type of editing their manuscript needs. The decision to hire a professional editor, in itself, introduces a whole host of choices that can lead very quickly to decision fatigue.

The editing trend

There is a temptation, especially if one frequents writer Facebook groups and other corners of the Internet, to skimp on editing and instead rely on the help of proofreading software or the author’s own editing skills to produce a finished manuscript.

As an editor frequenting these types of groups, not a week goes by without a post about how successful someone has been without hiring a professional editor. But the same can be said for posts from authors who are disappointed because they’ve received negative reviews and low sales due to the unprofessional quality of their self-published book.

It seems trendy to cut corners. A hobbyist who is writing and self-publishing to have a copy of their book on their shelf or to give to friends and family may be able to get by without an editor. This sort of person isn’t trying to make a career out of writing.

When it comes to who should hire an editor though, the waffling begins. So, let’s address the elephant in the room right up front. Mystery and crime editor and proofreader, Louise Harnby, who has been in the business of editing and proofreading for decades, both for traditional publishing and now exclusively for independent publishing, says this in her book Editing Fiction at Sentence Level:

“The mainstream publishing industry knows a thing or two about bringing high-quality books to market . . . The writer who seeks to mimic that process is the writer who's least likely to garner negative reviews, and the most likely to build fans. That's key because fans won't just buy this book; they'll buy the next book, and the one after that, and the one after that” (p. 8).

This seems like a common sense statement to most people, yet I see so many authors with doubts. Will my book(s) make enough money for me recoup the cost of editing? Will an editor really find mistakes that I can't? What if I pay all that money and the editor doesn't really fix anything or change very much of my writing?

What’s holding you back?

I don’t think what Louise Harnby has to say is controversial. I actually think most independent authors would agree with her statement. So why do so many feel tempted to skip the industry standard editing process?

It all comes down to money. As I wrote about in What’s in the price?, good professional editors cannot afford to charge bottom of the barrel prices for the time and effort thorough and well-done editing requires. But not every author will have a couple of thousand dollars saved up to pay for editing services immediately.

This is where mindset comes into play.

In What’s in the price? I suggested that authors who are unable or unwilling to pay for professional editing may not be ready to publish. That just seems true on its face. But if you’re not ready, what can you do to get ready?

It doesn’t all come down to saving money. In the end, that’s what will need to happen, but before that can happen, authors have to ask themselves some questions.

First: Why do I want to publish?

Second: Who am I publishing for? Who is my audience?

Third: Am I planning to write and publish more books?

And fourth: Do I want to give my book the best chance it could possibly have to sell well in the current market?

If the answer is “yes” to that last one, then you’re already halfway to a mindset shift. Giving your book its best chance to do well, receive great reviews, and amass fans and followers, means a few things.

It might mean exploring social media avenues and advertising that you haven’t considered before. It might mean finding beta readers and joining a critique group to get more feedback on your manuscript. And yes, it will likely mean hiring service industry professionals to help you publish your book - editors, cover designers, and formatters.

When you’ve made the decision to make your book the best that it can be to give it the best chance at succeeding in a crowded market, money becomes less of a hurdle and more of an investment.

Thinking like a business owner

All small business owners have to invest in their business when they are first starting out (or get a loan). And while I can’t give you financial advice, I can say that thinking of yourself as both an author and business owner can help you think differently about the self-publishing process. Finding startup capital is part of starting a business (or novel-writing empire, if you'd like to think of it that way, ha!), and you can’t make money without parting with a little money to start with.

Where to find that money is another question entirely and not something I’m going to address here. There’s not one right way to get started, and one way that works for one person may not work for another. The first step, before you consider where to find your startup money, is to decide whether you want to invest in yourself, your writing, and your career as an author.

That leap of faith isn’t for everyone. Being a small business owner isn’t for everyone. Making that decision for yourself, and being confident and committed to it, is the number one thing you can do to push forward with your dream or to save yourself the time, effort, and potentially, the disappointment.

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