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Why self-publishers need editorial help

9 September 2013

This week we have launched our new suite of editorial services to cater for self-publishers. It may seem obvious that this is a sensible thing to do and we certainly hope that there will be good demand, but in its way it marks a remarkable change in the publishing world in the twelve years since WritersServices was set up - and a huge turnaround in just the last three or four years.
No longer do authors have only one option, which is to focus all their attention on getting a publisher, which over the years has come to mean finding an agent first, for most kinds of trade (general) books. Now writers can choose to avoid the difficult path to publication through first finding an agent and then that agent finding them a publisher. This is a huge relief for writers who have struggled to find a publisher and then sometimes struggled to keep them as well.

Self-publishing should not be regarded as an easy way round the problem though. Self-publishers have to work tremendously hard, firstly going through the business of actually publishing their own book but then also working out how to market and sell it successfully. A lot of books, perhaps particularly non-fiction, are intended for a recognisable audience and it is generally easier to reach them. But fiction writers are competing against other fiction writers, some of them very much better known, and it's quite hard for them to distinguish their books from other writers' and to sell them themselves.

One of the things which will give your book a decent chance is to make sure it's as good as it can be before self-publishing it. Self-published work has a poor reputation because too many self-publishers skip the editorial advice and input which mainstream publishers offer.
This comes in two forms - advice on the manuscript itself and copy editing and proof-reading of the text once it is ready for publication. Sometimes a self-publisher will put their book straight into print without any advice on it, not even from members of a writing group. Doing this means that they miss critical input from other people. But freelance editorial services can be used by self-publishers to critique their work and help get it into a publishable state, the task which is effectively undertaken by agents and publishers for those whose books they have taken on. This is not an argument for using WritersServices, just one which says that a professional opinion is worth investing in after all the hard work of writing the book in the first place.

There are many legendary stories about authors who found it difficult to get their work taken on, the most famous of which is probably that of J K Rowling and the 20 publishers who turned her work down. But authors who do manage to find an agent and then a publisher will get a lot of editorial advice along the way. Many published authors have drawers full of unpublished manuscripts, a study of which would show that they have learnt their craft through the process of drafting and then redrafting their work, not by assuming that it was perfect first time.
As far as copy editing is concerned, this should only be undertaken when the manuscript is in its final stage before publication. Whoever carries it out, it's an expensive undertaking because it requires many hours of detailed work. But if self-publishers don't bother with this, it's really just like publishing a manuscript and will never give you the professional result you want for your book.