Are You Publishing to Connect with Readers or Just to Publish?

These are two different things. I was reminded of this when I stepped into a lively discussion recently in a Facebook group. There was an author recommending to other authors that they should bypass the editing process and simply have a family member proofread their soon to be self-published book. This doesn’t work for me.

When I published my first book I had one primary purpose—I wanted readers to read my book. And yes, there were other parts of the dream too. I wanted my friends and family to hold my book in their hands and see what I’d done, and I wanted to hit the bestseller lists and have the royalty payments arrive so quickly that I couldn’t spend the money fast enough. That part of the dream is contingent on my main objective being realized first though. Before anything else happened, I had to connect with readers, and to do that I needed to produce a professional product. If I’d just wanted to hold a book in my hands, and show off my writing to those around me, it would have been much simpler. I didn’t, though. I believe that I’m a pretty good writer and I want to earn my living writing and to do that I need to find readers. So, I got some help.

I have a system in place that has worked for me for four books. I rewrite and revise constantly. Every third or fourth time that I sit down to work on my project I start at the beginning and rewrite and revise. Then, when I feel I’m finished I always have the same thought. I think to myself, “It probably ain’t gonna need much.” I’m always wrong.

I have a trusted friend who reads my work as it’s progressing and she helps me with changes as I go along. Then I enlist the help of beta readers. As most of you know, beta readers are exceptional people. They read your work and help you get it to the point where it’s as good as it possibly can be. I have an incredible team of betas that I use on all my projects but I always enlist new ones too. This way I’m truly receiving an objective critique. Inevitably, my betas always suggest changes. My “ain’t gonna need much” thought quickly becomes a distant memory.

Once I’ve calmed down and realized that most of the betas comments are indeed legitimate, I make the changes, and then move on to the next step—editing.

This is where the gentleman in the Facebook group and I disagreed. He felt that self-publishers do not require their books to be edited. This is incorrect. The only books that don’t need to be edited are the books you’re having printed to hand out to family and friends. Usually, they won’t care; they’ll still be impressed. If your dream, however, is to build your career beyond that circle and reach readers, editing is mandatory. I pointed that out to my Facebook acquaintance, but unfortunately it fell on deaf ears.

I apologize in advance for bringing up the same tired line over and over again, but I feel I have to: as self-published authors we have a target on our backs. Traditional publishing fell asleep at the wheel. While they were drafting new rejection letters we found a way to connect with readers, lots of them. And, the books that succeed have two things going for them. They are books that readers want to read, and the product is presented in a professional manner. Beta reading is not a substitute for editing. We need to have our books edited.

Once I implement my edits, my book once again goes to a team of beta readers. This is a final check before I publish and it acts as a proofread too. Even then, once it’s been professionally edited there are sometimes minor errors.

I believe that I’m not only competing with other self-published books for the reader’s attention, but also with every other book out there, including traditionally published books. About a year ago I got very close to the action. Due to a fortuitous sequence of events, my first book, My Temporary Life, hit Amazon’s overall bestseller list. For a brief period of time my book was #6 overall nestled between one of the Twilight books and The Hunger Games. It was a magical time and as all those readers downloaded my book and reviews were flying in, no one complained about the editing. For that first book I’d used a very good, professional editor, and boy, was I glad.

If I want my book to stand spine to spine on the physical or virtual shelf with other books that I’m competing against I need to step up and invest in my work. At the time of my first book my budget was minimal and the sharks did circle offering editing services for thousands of dollars. This isn’t necessary. Professional editors will copy edit your work for far less than these unscrupulous companies charge. Each project is different and I’m not an editor so I hesitate to quote prices but for my work I’ve never paid more than a few hundred dollars for a full copyedit for an entire novel. I realize this can still be a lot of money, but I encourage you to find a way to have your work professionally edited. It truly is the difference between just wanting to publish your book and connecting with readers.

Rant is now over.

Author: Martin Crosbie

Martin Crosbie is the administrator of BookDoggy.com and writer of seven published novels. His self-publishing journey has been mentioned in Publisher’s Weekly, Forbes Online Magazine, and Canada’s Globe and Mail newspaper. You can learn more about Martin on his Amazon author page.

48 thoughts on “Are You Publishing to Connect with Readers or Just to Publish?”

  1. It’s quite refreshing to hear an author endorse this vital necessity, for a change, rather than readers/reviewers bellowing ‘pleeeeeeease edit your work’. I WILL knock off stars for a poorly edited book, that’s all there is to it. If an author doesn’t put his/her book through a stringent editing process, to me it’s a display of arrogance and not caring one jot about his/her reader. Yes, I will finish a poorly edited book…but…NO, I will not read another one by that author. And I certainly won’t read ANY book by the author in that FB group. The self-published market is HUGE. Sadly for today’s s-p authors they have to fight for prominence. It’s too easy now for the reader to be fickle.

  2. I have made the mistake of publishing one of my self published books before it was edited properly. Even though I did go back and fix that, it still hasn’t sold as well as my others. That’s okay, live and learn. I am using beta readers for my latest fiction which will hopefully go to the publisher soon and I have someone reading my non fiction work even though I am not that far along with it. I find it helps with motivation too when someone is reading my work and waiting for the rest!

    1. Yes, we do live and learn and as long as we’re growing and getting better at what we’re doing that’s fine. And, I know you are, Karen. And, I have a very good friend who reads mine while I’m progressing too. I’d be lost without her. Thanks for commenting, Karen.

  3. Great post, Martin.
    It comes down to whether one wishes to be viewed as a professional. I made the mistake of not having someone read the final proof of my first novel. There were errors I couldn’t see. Undertaking a new edit of a published book was a hard lesson to learn. My current method is more tedious, but I feel I owe it to my readers, just as you do.
    It is equally foolish of this person to not respect the suggestions of a successful author. We need to surround ourselves with those who can inspire us, like you.

  4. I use a critique group of fellow authors as beta readers, I also get literary assessment AFTER EACH DRAFT which is quite expensive if you get a reputable assessor, recommended by your national society of authors. (Beware the assessors who will take your money and tell you what they know you want to hear.) I get it copy-edited as many times as I can afford which is unfortunately currently only once. If I could afford it, I’d pay 2 or 3 copy-editors to go through the work. However, “only once” seemed to work adequately since I’ve never had complaints of errors in my book.

    You can save money by designing your own cover if you have graphic skill, by using a Createspace template instead of hiring a book designer, by doing all your own marketing, but PLEASE don’t save money by skipping the professional editing. At least not if you expect the public to pay good money for your book.

    Even the editors themselves pay others to edit their own work.

  5. “I believe that I’m not only competing with other self-published books for the reader’s attention, but also with every other book out there, including traditionally published books.”

    Amen. Not only do you have to compare favorably, but those who don’t do this (that author on the FB group and everyone who does the same) are sabotaging their indie peers (at least for those readers, however many of them there are, who can tell an indie book from a trad pubbed book).

    I had an author use the excuse that “this is just a hobby for me.” My response was, “once you’re putting your book in the biggest bookstore in the world and expecting people to pay money or spend their time reading it, then it is no longer just a hobby.”

    1. It’s true. That’s why I talk about the target on our backs. Poorly edited material reflects on all of us. That’s why Indies Unlimited and others are so important.
      Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Al.

  6. Good post, Martin. I’m a writer first (and foremost), but also an editor, and I would never attempt to publish a book without having a professional, top-notch editor (or two) edit my book. No way could I do it myself. That’s like a neurosurgeon operating on his own brain.

  7. I couldn’t agree more. That is the very reason we didn’t just mass produce a bunch of stories out there. We wanted to put out one and try to find someone who had faith in us enough to see that we had the spirit to go for a dream even though we didn’t have a clue as to how to go about it. We knew we needed a professional editor and we finally got that. Someday, I also hope to reach that time when we can just write, publish and market on our own as well. Thank you for posting this, it can’t be said enough. professional editing is a must!

  8. I can’t agree more if you paid me. I made the mistake too, and I learned a whole lot. Now, It’s as good as it can be, and my reviewers haven’t hacked me down for mistakes If this is going to be a career, then you’ve better get it right.

  9. Thanks for the rant, Martin. I couldn’t agree with you more. I think the attitude of the person to whom you refer, speaks volumes. At its worst, it totally disrespects one’s prospective readers. I can not tell you the number of so-called fabulous indie books I have downloaded that are so badly written, along with glaring grammatical and punctuation mistakes, that I can’t get past the first few pages. It doesn’t matter if the book is free, 2.99 or 15.00; the quality should be as fine as it can possibly be. Anything less is just plain lazy and disrespectful.

    Thanks for letting me have my rant!

  10. “I believe that I’m not only competing with other self-published books for the reader’s attention, but also with every other book out there, including traditionally published books.”

    That just about sums up how I feel about my books too. The only thing I would add is that I have an awareness of… legacy? With luck, my books will be around for a long time, much longer than my human lifespan. Making them any less than the best I can do is selling myself short, as well as all those people I hope will read what I have written.

    I think they used to call it pride.

  11. You nailed it. It baffles me as to how anyone can publish without editing?? It’s crazy. Thanks for representing us self-publishers so well. We’re striving to hit the levels that you experience.

  12. I totally agree. I have a brilliant editor, who worked for one of the publishing house before going solo. She does three runs through the novel and all for a very reasonable price.

  13. I am now working on my fifth novel,since May 2011 and if I were to do the pass two years over, I would have hired an editor for the first book in my Queen of Scots Suite rather than hiring an interior designer. But I had a background teaching research and writing in a law school, have editing and copy editing medals, and felt I could do it myself. Wrong, wrong and seriously wrong. This time I have an editor lined up, and I am saving to send my already published books to her for editing.

    1. Linda, that’s a perfect illustration thank you. I’d like to use your example in my upcoming workshop. We have to know when to ask for help and although a few hundred dollars is still a lot of money it’s less than most authors think it’s going to be.
      Thank you!

  14. I hope my friend doesn’t read this but he had a 45 chapter book edited in a week and self-published it through Amazon. When I saw the finish product I was appalled by the grammar and punctuation errors on the first page alone. When I gave him my opinion on the finished product he wasn’t impressed. He is an amazing storyteller and gained momentum through an online writing website. He had a lot of people telling him to publish it, which he did. To my surprise people who were following him on the writing website have bought his book, and he has sold a lot of copies. My question to you, would a publisher even consider his book given the fact it is so poorly edited?

    1. I’m sorry that your friend didn’t listen to your opinion, Olivia.
      In my new self-publishing guidebook I talk about surrounding yourself with a support group who will tell you the truth. I don’t always like what my colleagues tell me but I listen to them and I usually make changes based on their input. I need all the help I can get.
      If your friend is aiming to find a traditional publisher then he’s probably submitting to agents, and if an agent likes his writing and thinks the story is marketable they might accept it, but they’d suggest an edit before trying to sell it to a publisher.
      Email me if you’d like to be a beta reader for my next book. I need all the honest criticism I can get : )
      martin @ martincrosbie.com

  15. I still go by my adage:

    “Do it badly – but at least do it!”

    That’s what I did when I first self-published my “The Joy of Not Working” back in 1991.

    The first edition had over 150 spelling errors because I didn’t have a spell check. The book sold over 30,000 copies before I corrected the spelling errors.

    Incidentally, “The Joy of Not Working” still earns me around $15,000 a year, 22 years after it was self-published.

    In short, a book with great content, but with 150 spelling errors, will create much, much more word-of-mouth advertising and will far outsell a book with poor content that is perfectly edited.

    I know that I can self-publish books that are not perfectly edited that will far outsell 95 percent of the books by the so called “indie authors” that are perfectly edited. The reason is that I will connect with my readers with the great content. Fact is, more authors don’t know what great content is.

    For the record, my books have now sold over 800,000 copies worldwide so I just might know what I am talking about. As Jack Canfield says, “Results don’t lie.”

    Ernie J. Zelinski
    International Best-Selling Author
    “Helping Adventurous Souls Live Prosperous and Free”
    Author of the Bestseller “How to Retire Happy, Wild, and Free”
    (Over 190,000 copies sold and published in 9 languages)
    and the International Bestseller “The Joy of Not Working’
    (Over 250,000 copies sold and published in 17 languages)

    1. “The first edition had over 150 spelling errors because I didn’t have a spell check. The book sold over 30,000 copies before I corrected the spelling errors.”

      Great job, Ernie. That’s impressive. Even more so because you did it more than 20 years ago. I was a much different time then. These obviously had to be paper books and I’m guessing you sold them through a combination of handselling to individual readers and maybe convincing individual bookstores to carry your book.

      But I can’t help wondering if you’d have the same experience if your were releasing your book in today’s market.

    2. Congratulations on your success, Ernie. And yes, as Bob Mayer says “Content is King.” A good book will find readers. That’s been proven by some of the self-published books that have done well. I want both though. I want to have a book that readers want to read and I want it to be as professionally presented as I can possibly get it. It’s an ongoing process for sure as I become better at writing AND publishing.
      Thanks for commenting, Ernie.

    3. This really worries me. I wonder how many people actually finished though. Most readers I know put the book down if it’s badly edited. But you wouldn’t know that. Which means you care more about the $ than the reader. Hmmm.

  16. As you pointed out, there is much more to “editing” your work than just correcting spelling errors. Ernie Zelinski is absolutely correct in writing “a book with great content, but with 150 spelling errors, will create much, much more word-of-mouth advertising and will far outsell a book with poor content that is perfectly edited.” And he’s making your point for you–content IS king.

    The problem with many unedited books is that the authors are the only ones to see them before self-publishing. Your system of beta readers to revisions back to beta readers IS part of an editing process, and that is one big reason why you don’t have to spend thousands on professional editing. I do have projects that cost the writers several thousands of dollars, but those are usually first-draft manuscripts that are handed to me to “fix.” An author who systematically revises and edits his/her work can save editing dollars for a final polish at a much more reasonable price.

    Posted this at https://www.facebook.com/pages/Change-It-Up-Editing-and-Writing-Services/362306400523555

    1. We’re in agreement. With my system an author only has to pay for a copy-edit if the manuscript has been vetted properly. A substantive edit would certainly cost much more, and there are authors who are willing to pay for that type of service. My article was directed at those whose manuscript is past that stage.
      Thanks for commenting.

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