Do Indie Authors Need Editors?
The Indie Publishing School of Hard Knocks
Do indie authors need editors? Read on.
I released my first book in 2011, a novella that briefly rose to the top of Amazon’s sci-fi charts. In 2013, it was a third prize recipient in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Awards. The novella, SECTOR 64: Coup de Main, garnered many five-star reviews, but rightfully, it also earned a few negative appraisals.
I sharpened my trade while working on book two of the two-book series, and it became apparent that my first effort did not deliver the polish and finish I initially thought. Essentially, I was that guy, the guy traditional publishers pointed at when berating the indie publishing world. If you did a Wiki search of the indie publishing stereotype, you’d likely have found my smiling mug at the top of the article. I never imagined I’d be that guy, but there I was, putting out a book that passed all the MS Word grammar checks, but nonetheless presented a myriad of amateur errors.
When I earned my military pilot wings, it was with the assistance of numerous professional instructors and extensive training. When I built my custom motorcycle, I sought out professional assistance, and now, building an airplane, I tap my pre-pilot history as a helicopter mechanic and the knowledge base of various professionals throughout the industry. However, when I finished my novella, I didn’t think I needed a professional editor.
I was wrong.
The Algebraic Curve
As I soon discovered, the road to literary excellence is an algebraic curve; it is a constant struggle to push the line of progress ever closer to that elusive goal. When authors go it alone, that curve takes exponentially longer to reach the same area code as the axis of perfection.
After a not insignificant amount of soul searching, I paid heed to those few negative reviews and read between the lines of some of the other, less glowing ones. I halted work on book two, reopened the source files for my first book, and hired a professional editor.
From his inputs as well as the feedback from various reviewers, I formulated a plan. In addition to its mechanics, my book’s characters needed further development. For instance, my main female character, Air Force Captain Sandra Fitzpatrick, plays a huge role in book two, but in book one, I had Sandy, an elite fighter pilot, sitting on her thumb while aliens attack.
With editorial assistance, I rewrote the entire story, fleshed-out the characters, cleaned up the writing, and threw some aliens at the West Coast, sending Sandy after them. Developing her storyline and character afforded me the opportunity to develop the other protagonists through her eyes.
The new material, characters, and scenes more than doubled the size of the original book. In the process, the 52,000-word novella grew into SECTOR 64: Ambush, a 108,000-word full-length novel.
Along the way, I filled my writer’s toolbox with techniques and tools that vastly improved my prose. For instance, once you have that sentence, paragraph, or scene just the way you want it, use your device’s text-to-speech feature to have it read said prose back to you. Echoing headwords stand out, and the computer will not glean over typos or missing words. Additionally, it highlights clunky sentences, the ones that require multiple passes for full comprehension, the ones that yank readers from a story like a stick jammed in the spokes of a speeding bicycle. When spoken aloud by your computer, a sentence that sounded perfect to your mind’s ear may suddenly sound clunky. This technique dramatically improved the flow of my writing, eliminating the literary tripping hazards.
Once I had the scene edited and flowing, I loaded it into Grammarly’s grammar checker as a final stopgap. It is a premium service and well worth the price. Over a period of months, the status of scene after scene cycled from Revised Draft to Final Draft, until finally, the last of ninety scenes crossed the finish line. Then, I handed my editors a vastly improved manuscript.
Before I started the rewrite, when my first editor went through the book, the errors were so ubiquitous, he was unable to do a granular editorial pass. It limited him to pointing out the basic mechanics missing throughout the manuscript and making general suggestions on character and story development. More than a year later—and due to scheduling conflicts, with a new editor—the process was painless. The manuscript progressed smoothly and quickly into a finished novel.
The final result has reviewers comparing me and Ambush to the industry’s heavy-hitters.
“Dean M. Cole is without a doubt the next Dan Brown. Sector 64 is a book that you can’t put down.” — Amazon Reviewer
Even the hard knocking reviewers at Goodreads have awarded Ambush an average of 4.1 stars with over 70 ratings to date. (Coup de Main had 2.84—and still does, ouch.)
Audible published the audiobook version in November. Nationally recognized narrator Mike Ortego lent his voice to the project. You will know him as the voice from audiobooks and documentaries as well as commercials for Toyota, Kingsford Charcoal, Coke Zero, and more. As production drew to a close, Mike told me, “It’s been a joy to be a part of your fine book,” and “You got a great talent, bud,”—immensely rewarding sentiments from a nationally known professional.
In mid-November, AudiobookReviewer gave Ambush an across the board five-star rating.
“SECTOR 64: Ambush was a highly imaginative action-packed apocalyptic assault on your mind.”—AudiobookReviewer
In December, IndieReader awarded it five stars and named Ambush a Best of 2014.
“SECTOR 64: AMBUSH is an engaging book from the very first page to the final words of the epilog.”—IndieReader
…Not as I Did
Please forgive the horn-blowing. I only mention those accolades because they leave me asking: What if I had done it right the first time? Where would I be today if I had not rushed my manuscript to market, had not ruined a good story with an amateurish presentation?
I certainly would not be fighting the uphill battle of countering a bad first impression.
So, do indie authors need editors?
Do as I say, not as I did the first time. Learn from my mistakes.
Don’t be that guy or girl.
About the Author:
Dean M. Cole, a world traveler and commercial helicopter pilot, writes from locales as remote as Equatorial Guinea and romantic as Paris’ Champs-Elysées with his trusty sidekick and beautiful wife, Donna. A combat veteran, he flew Apache Attack Helicopters in the US Army’s First Cavalry Division.
SECTOR 64: Ambush (Available on Amazon as an ebook and paperback. Find the audiobook on Audible, iTunes, and Amazon.)
It’s 2015. Friendly extraterrestrials JUST found us. So why have the enemies of these benevolent aliens HATED humans for millennia?
X-Files meet Independence Day when incredible events thrust Air Force Captains Jake Giard and Sandra Fitzpatrick into a decades-old conspiracy to integrate humanity into a galactic government. Then, the plan renders present-day Earth a pawn in an extraterrestrial civil war. Wading through looters and apocalyptic infernos, can Sandy save her family? Can Jake save humankind?