THE BLOG
12/10/2012 11:37 pm ET Updated Feb 09, 2013

Why Editing Is the Single Best Marketing Tool

With all of the options out there to publish, it's pretty tempting to just point and click your way to a completed book. When print-on-demand first came on the scene around 1999, we saw a glut of books being pushed through the system -- unedited and unvetted. When someone said "garbage in, garbage out," they were often referring to self-publishing -- hence the stigma. If you're new to indie publishing and you think that the stigma is the "us against them" idea, you're only partially right. The history, albeit a somewhat negative one, started many years ago when authors thought their books were "good enough" to publish.

Cycle forward to 2013: We now have some 300,000 books published a year -- the competition is fierce and the stakes are high. That number, by the way, comes from Bowker, which produces these statistics and readily admits that this number doesn't include eBooks or books that are published without an ISBN. You can imagine how high that number really is.

People ask me all the time, "How can I be successful?" Well, aside from the usual stuff, like show up and keep promoting, the one key to success is to publish a book so good, your reader can't put it down. But to take it a step beyond that, I would say publish something that has been edited often, and by someone who knows how to edit a book and isn't afraid to tell you the things you may not want to hear. It's amazing how, over the years, I've heard time and time again that "Well, my neighbor/mother/wife/husband edited my book." You should never, ever have your book edited by someone who is a family member, friend, etc. Why? Because if the book is really horrible, they may not feel they can tell you. Also, are they really professionals? Do they have a business?

Let me say this, if you publish a book that's sub par, no matter how much money you throw at it, it will never succeed. Some critics might say that the Celestine Prophecy succeeded despite a poor editing job. Well, that may be true, but can you think of another book that reached bestseller status where people said, "Good story, but it needed an editor"? I didn't think so.

Let's look at this from another perspective: book reviews.

Marlene, who is a blogger at Book Lover and Procrastinator says:

I think the self-published author either doesn't have the finances to get a good editor or is unaware of the need. It is very frustrating to read a book that could be great -- if the bad editing didn't take you out of the story. Not all self-published books are poorly edited. I've read some great self-published books. I get about 10-15 requests for review a month. Usually, I review four or five books a month. After I get a submission, I read the excerpt and a little of the book. If the book doesn't strike my fancy, I don't review it. Bad editing and the author's voice go into this decision.

Your book is your resume. Ask yourself how many book reviews you might be losing because of poor editing. I asked Lauren Hidden of The Hidden Helpers to weigh in with her views on editing.

Penny C. Sansevieri: Why is editing so important?

Lauren Hidden: You had phenomenal ideas for your book; many of them, in fact. Maybe it was a section of super-helpful information in your business book or a fascinating, quirky character that popped up every few chapters in your novel -- you certainly have a personal investment in what made the "final" cut from your head onto paper. You know your topic or your story inside and out, but sometimes what you're thinking doesn't successfully translate to paper. That's where an editor steps in -- clarifying a confusing scene, tightening up a repetitive or wordy section, correcting a word you consistently misspell, or fixing a problem with shifting tenses. Readers can tell if your book isn't edited. The idea is for readers to love your book and tell all their friends about it. Don't give them a reason to put your book down after the first five pages.

Who should get their book edited?

Everyone. Wise authors know that they have to put their best foot forward. Period. This applies equally if you are seeking a traditional publishing contract or if you are planning to self-publish your book. Why would you let a reader or agent/publisher read anything but your best work? Competition is fierce. A poorly edited book will score bad reviews from readers or end up in the circular file in an acquisitions editor's office. Too many authors say they can't "afford" to get their book edited, but you shouldn't start writing a book without incorporating editing into your budget. Think of the hundreds of hours you put into your book writing and revising, and the money you earmarked for layout, cover design and promotion. If your book isn't polished, you've just thrown away all that time and money... not to mention future revenues you were eagerly anticipating from book sales. An investment in editing can pay off for years to come.

What mistakes do people make when choosing an editor?

The biggest mistake people make is not finding the best fit for them and their specific book. Ask for editor recommendations from other authors and industry professionals. You should choose an editor who is experienced in working in your genre. You should also be sure to ask how long the project will take them to complete, as well as how much they charge for their services. Also, make sure you and the editor agree on the amount and type of editing to be performed. Some editors may perform more of a proofread looking for blatant errors and some may try to rewrite your book. You likely don't want either of these extremes. Another big mistake people make is looking for the cheapest possible editor. Do your homework and make sure the editor's expertise and experience is a good fit for you -- and that the fee is, as well. The last thing your wallet or timeline needs is to have to hire a second editor because the first one didn't do your book justice.

What's the difference between copyediting and content editing? Do people often need both?

Simplified, copy editing is polishing the words on the page. This can be correcting subject/verb agreement, eliminating repetition, fixing spelling errors, cleaning up awkward phrasing, correcting homonyms and the like. Content editing is addressing the "bigger picture" of the book. In fiction, this most often means addressing inconsistencies with character and plot points, recommending the author eliminates or expands scenes and ensuring the book flows well. In nonfiction, content editing most often addresses the clarity, completeness, consistency and organization of the information being presented. And yes, every author should have content and copy editing performed. Sometimes authors don't think they need content editing, but they're also not an impartial party. Of course, everything makes sense to the author who wrote the manuscript, but will it make sense to the reader? Content editing answers this question.

How many times should a book be edited? Is there such a thing as over-editing?

A book should certainly be self-edited by the author before a professional editor ever lays eyes on it. When it reaches an editor's hands, the editor and the author will discuss the number of rounds the editor typically performs. Then you may want an independent proofread for a second set of eyes. But after that, and after the author's final review, the book should be finished. I've seen some authors run into problems when they've self edited their book, then hired a trusted, high-quality editor, and finally asked for feedback from their friends who all suggested other changes to the book. At some point you have to let your book go. Don't keep second guessing yourself. If you passed your book around to 10 different industry friends, you'd get 10 different opinions on what to change. If you feel that you took all the necessary steps to produce a great book, had it professionally edited, and are happy with how it turned out, then it's time to release it to the world.

Finally, here are a few more things you should know about editing: If you're just submitting a book proposal to agents and publishers, or you are submitting the entire manuscript, you should have the book fully edited. Why? Publishers and agents often don't have the time to ferret through unedited or rough manuscripts. You'll increase your chances of getting noticed if your book and package are polished.

If your editor loves everything you write, there's something wrong. The truth is that while you should like your editor, they should push you. One reason I love working with my editor (Lauren) is that she pushes me very hard on my work and won't let me slide or slack off on anything. While sometimes I really just want to be done with it, in the end it makes for a much better book.

Don't skimp on editing. Ever. I know Lauren addressed this above but really, it's such an important part of your book and, as I mentioned early on, the single biggest marketing tool.

Consider this: You have spent years writing this book, why would you pour marketing dollars and marketing effort into something that wasn't your best work? The world won't love your book simply because you wrote it, it must be the best work you could have produced and if you're not ready to meet this criterion, then you may want to wait until you are. There's a lot of time and money wasted on books that aren't great. In fact, some years ago I worked with iUniverse.com, and the then CEO told me that only 1 percent of the books submitted to them are, in fact, readable. One percent. That's a frightening number. Here's another scary stat: There are approximately a billion eBook titles and three million print titles on Amazon.com. Staggering, no?

It's hard enough to compete in publishing. Put in the effort and put forth your best book. Does your book deserve anything less?