Skip to content

Doing it…all. Myself.

Yep, I’ve already talked about this. Doesn’t mean there isn’t more to say. I saw this post by Passive Guy today, and it bugged me.

Now…he put it up without commentary, and I don’t want to impute an opinion. Also, I’d love to be wrong in mine. The title was “From Good to Great: What Editors Do for Authors” and…well. At one point the author of the original piece has this to say (emphasis mine):

My ideal author would be one who is anxious — not just willing — but anxious to work with me. I don’t mean me, Chuck Adams. I mean me, the editor. Someone who understands that, while they are happy with what they’ve done, there may be room for improvement. They’re open to listening to my suggestions and, once I have shared my wisdom with them, they do something with it.

I’ve tried roughly fifteen editors. I suppose I’d try another without much in the way of provocation. Thing is…I get junk in response. I don’t mean that my prose is masterful or that my sense of story is flawless. ‘Cause we all know better, and I promise: Regardless of what you see here, I’m more aware of my flaws as a writer than you could possibly imagine.

When I say junk? I mean:

  • I get manuscripts back with lots of new grammatical errors. Basic ones.
  • I get them back with stuff removed from Chapter One that makes Chapter Two ridiculous…and I’m not talking about chunks of backstory: sometimes it’s a single sentence that’s half the reason Chapter One exists to begin with. You know…pivotal stuff.
  • I get comments to the effect that I write pretty sentences but need to work on my cinematic vision.
  • I get comments to the effect that the story is good but I need a good copyeditor ASAP. (Yes, I’ve gotten both this and the above in response to the same chapter…which Amazon reviewers to date seem to feel works fairly well.)
  • On the structural side, I get things like suggestions to scrap half the book…and sometimes the suggestions aren’t awful, because I can see how the book the editor envisions could be good. In Pagan Sex, for example, an editor didn’t like my female protagonist and wanted her largely removed. Which, given the odd but deliberately chosen structure of the book, would have also removed my reason for writing it. So…not an option. When I pointed out that the book would no longer be a romance, and that it would be much much darker, and that I was trying to accomplish specific things with the story…I got nothing back. Which struck me as somewhat unfair, in that my goals weren’t immoral or impossible to achieve. They might or might not be impossible for me to achieve at my current skill level, but so what? Trying to grow as a writer is kind of important. Writing my book, rather than another book with a single character lifted from my manuscript, is important. But what could I do? I paid the editor for her work, and moved on.
  • Seriously. What I get is just not helpful.

As an indie I hate to admit it, but there was a single exception to my list of complaints regarding the quality of editorial feedback: I submitted a book to a “traditional” publisher. An editor there eventually let me know she liked it and asked for some very straightforward revisions. I made them…but a few more months went by (this process took nearly two years) and when I tried to contact her again I learned she’d left for another company. Nobody at the publisher seemed to know anything about my book. So: she was an editor, she wanted specific changes for specific (and reasonable) reasons, I made the changes, and it still turned into a waste of my time and emotional energy. In fact I quit writing fiction at all for nearly six years afterward (a mistake I won’t repeat). The changes she requested mostly made the book a bit less edgy…I don’t know that it was either better or worse as a result, but I didn’t have any particular emotional investment in those bits either.

So, are you an indie author? Have you met other indie authors? Did they want you to read and review their books? Were the books largely awful? Were you stuck trying to figure out what to say? These indie editors (by which I mean the ones who aren’t outright scam artists) have so far left me feeling pretty much the same way. So I’m working really hard on getting better at self-editing, as I have not found a viable alternative approach.

Then there are book covers.

Lots of people out there say they’ll create them for a fee. If you look at their portfolios, most of them suck. Now…in this case I’m certain there are lots of pros who actually know what they’re doing, and it’s clearly worth the money to pay them.

I’ve tried three. Not one cover designer actually delivered. In all three cases I got promises…but no cover. It can’t be me, as I never saw a cover to be difficult about. The most recent artist was supposed to start a week ago, and I’ve heard absolutely nothing. I don’t feel I have a reason to contact him at this point.

Buying pre-designed covers won’t really work for me either, because I have multiple books out and want their covers to have some design elements in common. Also, I really need my covers in a format that includes layers so I can edit their text as needed. Very few designers offer this.

So I’ve signed up for a six-week course starting this Wednesday, and we’ll see what I learn. At the very least I ought to be in a better position to judge covers I commission…should I ever receive one.

Ebook Formatting? Book interiors?

Okay, on the ebook side I just started doing it myself. I saw lots of things out there I didn’t like, and put some time into figuring out what I did. And frankly it’s not very difficult to publish a readable ebook. OTOH I’ve been putting a lot of effort into learning print book interior design. There are a surprising number of things I didn’t know I didn’t know. Some of this will carry over to the ebook side of things. And…I have to say I love doing it. So: I’ve never tried to hire a pro for this stuff. I probably never will.

At the end of the day?

I’m here in my writing cave. Slogging along. I’m having a great time with all this, but I do wish finding and hiring competent help were as easy as others imply. And if you’re in the same boat with your own work? I figured it might be helpful to let you know you’re not alone. [UPDATED/EDITED TO ADD: Also, I want to know why we’re in a boat in a cave. Not that there’s anything wrong with it.]

Have fun out there.

Published inMy FictionPublishingRandom Rants


  1. Becki

    I’ve commented on some of your posts before, but let me introduce myself a bit here. My husband writes novels, of the thriller/almost-horror/sometimes-lesbian variety. I am not a writer, but I am a pretty good technician for him, helping him to edit, formatting the books for print publication, and formatting the ebooks (amongst other things).

    We don’t hire professional editors, formatters, etc. We do have a small group of trusted “beta readers” (that we call editors/proofreaders, and usually pay with dinner or a small gift card), and we know what we are likely to get from them. Some are strong grammar-catchers and find misspellings better than we do; others are better at “big picture” ideas and concepts. Some have more experience with some of the lifestyles my husband writes about, and we value their comments about his errors in those regards. But my husband still has final say (even over my objections) about the story; he is, after all, the author.

    However, we do hire comic book artists to illustrate the books, and that’s where we are willing to spend our money. Each book gets anywhere from 7-20 illustrations (depending on what we can afford at the time) to show characters and scenes. They aren’t graphic novels, but they are great spot illustrations that we can use for promotional posters, bookmarks, etc.

    My husband designs his own covers. He’s pretty definitive about how he wants them to look. Would we sell more books with different covers? Don’t know, and not really interested in finding out right now. He’s writing and publishing because he has stories to tell, in his own way, and I don’t know a better reason to write than that. We’ve hired a number of people to portray specific characters, and photos of these models occupy the covers.

    I refuse to believe that traditional publishers are all that interested in writers like my husband, and we are able to do most of the publishing stuff ourselves (between the two of us, we have the skills to do most of what a publisher would do for us). We like having total control over our product. So we are proud to be indie publishers. 🙂

    • David

      Hi Becki-

      I’d figured out some of the above from your previous comments. But, y’know…you’ve made your husband’s books sound pretty interesting. Care to post a link, or otherwise contact me? I’d love to check them out.

      • Becki

        I don’t usually post links unless asked; never want to be a troll. 🙂

        We have a website at, which gives you some idea about the series, which is called “The .40 Caliber Mouse” (also the title of the first book). There’s also a fan page on Facebook at called “.40 Caliber Mouse: Fans with a Vengeance”.

        The ebooks are available at amazon, smashwords, and the usual other major retailers. Samples are made available for those who want to just try a little.

        He’s also written songs connected with his books and hired musicians to record them, made short films about the characters, made t-shirts from the books, commissioned a mask from his third book… in short, just about everything but make a feature/blockbuster movie. I’m pretty proud of what he’s managed to do (some with my help, some with his own skills).

        Your thoughts on what we’ve done are welcome! 🙂

        • Becki

          Duh. Forgot to add his name, or you probably won’t find his books on the ebook sites. His name is Stephen Pytak, and his books are “The .40 Caliber Mouse”, “The .40 Caliber Mousehunt”, “The Wild Damned”, and the newest “Katerina Blues” which just came out in May.

          • David

            I’ll go look. Looking forward to it!

  2. Hi David,

    Came over from the Passive voice.

    My 1st few experience with indie editors were the same (I never submitted to legacy pub).

    My 1st book was a campy satire. One scene had the hero, a Phd, say funny things. To which the editor wrote, “No Phd will speak like that.” And then she wanted to turn the guy into a nerd.

    This pissed me off. One, it was my character, and he’d speak as I damn well wanted him to. 2nd, the idea that all Phds are nerdy geeks is so insulting. And 3rd, I’d hired her as a copyeditor, not a content editor. When the book came back from her, it had 72 typos for a 65000 word book. My readers on Amazon found them.

    Can you guess how humiliating that was? I got comments like “you should have hired an editor,” to which I thought, yeah man, I did. And she wasn’t particularity cheap either. Her CV said she had worked for many years for the big 6, but she didn’t know the difference between ‘their’ and ‘there’, ‘quiet’ and ‘quite’.

    That said, I find I always find typos no matter how many times I self edit, so I do hire a copy editor. I design my own covers, though. Most artists use the same stock photos I can buy for 10$

    • David

      Ha! Reminds me…I had an editor tell me a murderer wasn’t believable because he was a college professor. Also, a clean-cut kid around college age couldn’t make his living playing poker unless I showed him committing a crime early on. Or something like that.

      I’ve said this before somewhere or other, but I don’t find typos to be much of a challenge. I start at the end of the book/story and go backwards one word at a time, then look at each sentence when I reach its initial word. I make a little mark for each sentence just to slow myself down. I also read the whole thing aloud & record it, then sit with the manuscript in front of me and listen. Plus, there’s this stage where I shuffle all the pages (fun!) and look for a way to increase tension or improve something else on every page. I find stuff.

      It’s a bit time-consuming but works well enough that a couple of reviewers have praised the editing and nobody’s complained about a typo yet.

      • Becki

        Reading backwards?? Wow, not sure I could do that one. 🙂 I normally use a ruler as I go through the page, making a point to read each word (sometimes “out loud” in my brain, if that makes sense). I often ask my husband before I start an edit, “do you want me to look for mistakes or focus on story?” because I can’t do both at the same time.

        • David

          Yeah, the trick is that I’m not reading when I do that, because I can’t. I’m just looking at words & punctuation, then sentences. If I try to go front-to-back I end up reading the story, which is a different sort of job. {8’>

  3. Peter

    This site has pdf downloads on formatting POD books. If you’re unable to grab a pdf there, let me know and I’ll send you one.

  4. Wow. I needed to send my editor a box of candy right away. I didn’t realize how lucky I was. Great post and I’m glad I found your site.

    • David

      Thanks! I’m glad you’ve had a better experience. Though I think I’m also glad to have been so consistently pushed to learn how to do it all myself. A work in progress, always, and I love that! {8’>

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.