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Opinion: Are New Self-Publishing Platforms Killing The Editing Process?

Opinion: Are New Self-Publishing Platforms Killing the Editing Process?

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Yen Ooi – “creator, thinker, do-er”

Are traditional editing services an endangered species, or do we bypass them at our peril? Indie author Yen Ooi debates whether modern self-publishing platforms killing the editing process or are encouraging writers to be better editors.

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What’s next? How about self-publishing your book chapter-by-chapter, or even as you write?

The immediacy of self-publishing seems to relate directly to the feeling of impermanence, especially when using simple-to-use publishing platforms that are so easily found nowadays. What do I mean? Well, I catch myself doing less proofreading on ebooks that are so easily re-publishable than, for example, books that require typesetting or print layouts. The easier the publishing method, the less permanent the product feels, the less importance I seem to give it.

Exhibit A: This Blog Post

Take for instance, this blog post. Because I need to email it to Debbie before she approves it for the ALLi blog, the extra step makes me consider my writing more carefully. (How to make a blog editor happy! – Ed.) If I was writing this opinion piece for my personal blog, I would have published it two drafts ago, and perhaps tweaked and re-tweaked a couple of times more after publishing.

Just because we can, does it mean it is right?

I don’t know. The straightforwardness in publishing today makes it so easy for us to complete the write-to-publish cycle all by ourselves, sitting in the same spot, without conferring with any colleagues. Of course, through support groups like ALLi, we learn about publishing standards, processes, where and how to seek help with editing, and ways to get our book to its best possible state before publishing. However, as with all things, once we have done it a few times, we cut corners.

Do You – Should You – Cut Corners?

Cartoon about author churning out too many books

(under Creative Commons Licence – see https://what-if.xkcd.com/76/)

I have heard writers say, after having had their books copy-edited a couple of times: “Oh, I now know what mistakes I always make, so I look out for them myself. It saves on copy-editing costs.” Or, on publishing a draft: “I want to put the book out there to see what kind of responses I get from it first. If there is a demand, then I can justify investing some money into editing it.”

The democratisation of the publishing platform has also made it the perfect canvas for experiments. Some writers republish their books each time they get told of an error, while others try to solicit developmental feedback through publishing their drafts. These actions do not seem professional, yet we know that the simplification of processes due to better technology warrants changes in habits and procedures.

Is our future going to be filled with published unpolished drafts?

There is no doubt that all writers, regardless of what our writing/editing/publishing habits are like, get better through experience. The more we do something, the more skilled we are. So, does that also mean that new publishing platforms are also encouraging us writers to be better editors?

Sparing A Thought for Readers

As much as we are learning what it means to be a writer in this democratised age of publishing, we should keep in mind that our readers are also learning what it means to be a reader in this same age. With more titles than ever being published every day, are readers getting more sophisticated and demanding, or less bothered about the quality of the text? Perhaps that doesn’t matter. With more books out there, our books need to stand out to get noticed, and one of the best ways to do this, is to ensure that it is the best book it can be.


  • How has your approach to editing and proofing your books changed over time?
  • Has the ease of publishing quickly encouraged you to make mistakes you now regret?
  • Is the onus on the readers to catch up with the way the modern self-publishing movement works?

Please join the conversation via the comments box!


#Authors - are #Selfpublishing platforms killing the #editing process as we know it? by @YenOoi for #AuthorALLi #amwriting Share on X


This Post Has 38 Comments
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  2. I read and assess British, South African and Australian self published novels for a leading Award in the United States. During the past three years hundreds of books have passed through my hands.

    The overwhelming majority do not meet commercial standards for editing. This is a great shame as very often the prose, characterisation and plots are as good as anything you will find conventionally published.

    A big part of the remedy would be for every author to consult “The First Five Pages” by Noah Lukeman. (O.U.P. 2010.)

  3. It had not occurred to me until I read this to rush a book out with the idea of tweaking it later – though I have certainly reread a blog, noticed a mistake and re-published it. With my current novel I am reading the Kindle draft AGAIN, still surprised how letters can drop off or words rearrange themselves. But as someone else said, there is no deadline – I hope to ensure grammar, spelling and the actual writing are the best I can make them.

  4. All this, both the great blog and the many excellent comments, has certainly made me think again. No serious writer would question the need for good, structural editing, copyediting and proofreading, but am I merely paying lip service to the obvious? It’s easy to say these things are crucial yet, at the same time, skimp on each of the necessary stages.
    I have some excellent beta readers. I rely on each one for rather different things. Reader No. 1 is great at the overall arc, others for continuity or the line by line edit. For each book there also tends to be an ‘expert’ in the factual background (be that police procedure, politics, the inner workings of particular organisations etc). I’m lucky enough to have two professional copy editors (That I must confess I’m embarrassingly poor at). I’m sure many writers would say much the same.
    Nonetheless, the better these people are, the easier it is for us writers to rely on them to correct our failings and abdicate our own responsibility. Surely, we need to re-draft several times looking at every aspect (story arc, character, pace etc) separately and hone our manuscripts to the absolute best long before we pass it over to anyone else. Detached analysis of our own work is an essential learning skill that will help us improve as writers which leaving it to others will not.
    Note to self – As Indie authors, no publisher is emailing us to complain about missed deadlines. We set our own. Does it matter if we miss them? Far too many of us need to slow down and get it right before we are tempted to rush to publish.

    1. Hi Judith, I like your note and I agree. We’re all in a lot of hurry, but I think it’s also because writing can feel like a slow process. Perhaps we need to be more aware of our own production schedules and plan like how publishers would plan. I think I’ll do a bit more research into writers’ publishing schedules and habits… that’ll make for an interesting topic too! 🙂

  5. Excellent post – and great comments.

    I’m showing my age here, but I always liken self-publishing to the punk explosion of the late 70s. Yes, it was fantastic – liberating – that anyone could get up on stage and ‘have a go’, and it provided an injection of excitement that the music industry arguably lacked at the time.

    However, the bands that achieved longevity and progressed beyond that initial explosion were those that put in the hours, learned their craft, and released product (yes, that word) that was of high quality and matched the expectations of listeners. To me, readers are the same: they’ll put up with the odd typo (although I don’t see why they should), but, as Dan said, there must be a well-constructed story there in the first place. If not, what exactly are we contributing to the world of books?

    I work as a copy-editor and proofreader, but when the draft of my first novel was completed I still paid for a structural edit, copy-edit and proofread. Collectively, it cost a lot of money, but I spent a long time writing the novel and there was no way that I was prepared to let myself down by putting out a sub-standard finished book. We should be publishing books that we are proud of, not ones that will merely suffice.

    One other quick point: if some authors are happy to put out a book and then republish it when news of typos filters back to them, isn’t that a slap in the face to those people who bought the book initially? If only they’d waited for version two, or three … they could have had a far better reading experience, without being tripped up by spelling mistakes or grammatical inconsistencies.

    1. Thanks David. I do agree with you.
      The advancement of technology allows us all to be publishers now. However, some authors are unable to, or do not know how to be publishers, and still insist on holding on to just the role of the author, which is quite a different thing. I recently heard Joanna Penn remind writers that we are CEOs of our own companies. It’s a different mindset. Our books are our products, which means that we have the responsibility to get our products to the best shape possible before publishing, and editing is one of the crucial steps in this process.

      Exciting times!

  6. Professional editing and proofreading are essential requirements of all authors before publishing. I work with an excellent woman in Toronto who retired to freelance after 25 years with McClelland and Stewart. Message me if you are looking for someone of her calibre. 🙂

  7. If anything, I think self-publishing platforms are proving how important the editorial process really is. If writers do not value their own work, why should readers value it?

    As someone who has worked as an in-house editor and now a freelance editor, I find the comments about in-house editors vs. freelance editors very interesting 🙂 I definitely owe a lot of my knowledge and skills to the time I spent working at different publishers, but I think I am a better editor now that I am able to be more selective about the projects I work on, and I’m not under all the other pressures that come with being in an office environment.

    My advice to writers who are searching for editors would be to seek those who have in-house editorial experience. They may be more expensive, but you get what you pay for.

  8. Great post, Yen. As an editor and ALLi partner member who works with many self-published authors, I’ve sometimes been hired to clean up the problems after the fact. In other words, I have encountered authors who rushed to publish an unedited book, only to search frantically for an editor once the negative reviews started to roll in. In the meantime, the negative reviews sometimes remain, even if an updated, edited version of the book is released later on.

    It saddens me that authors put so much passion into their work and yet jeopardize their success because they have skipped the important step of finding and hiring an editor. Not all editors will turn a book into “vanilla,” as some authors understandably fear. There are those of us who work hard to retain the author’s original voice while smoothing out the rough spots. That’s why it is important to request sample edits and to compare them and to select an editor with training and experience, rather than the one who charges the least and promises the most.

    1. Thanks Nikki. As with everything right now, technology encourages us to rush through creations. Many writers do not learn about the processes involved in publishing (writing, editing, design, production) before rushing into self-publishing. That is why I find that organisations like ALLi are so important, to help all writers learn and share knowledge of best practices, so that we can all create the best books for our readers.

  9. Very interesting post and I identify with the point that the instant nature of self publishing makes you hasty in your editing. Some self publishing platforms offer editing – do you see those replacing traditional editing services too?

    1. Thanks Derbhile. I think that with the variety of authors out there that have such different writing and editing habits, traditional editing services will always have a place. Also, many self-publishing platforms that offer editing still use freelance editors, who work much in the same way whether it’s for trade or self-publishing.

  10. Some great points here, covering the whole ‘different kinds of editing’ subject.

    One more point: sorry it is a negative about editors. Editors are not there to ‘flatten out’ the style into a vanilla voice … something I fear gets done to people who get taken on by less experienced small publishers. This has happened to my sister in law, whose editor is ‘smoothing out’ her lively style to an unnecessary extent, and even inserting whole sentences she didn’t write which are not in keeping with her personality, interests, or education – and which will totally distort what is a lively memoir by someone who has led an interesting life in public service.

    1. Thanks, Claire.

      Isn’t it just so important to have a good editor? Someone who understands the author, the text, and the importance of the story that’s being told. Editors should help improve and polish the work, not change it.

      Perhaps with the introduction of new publishing platforms that support the editing process, it might be easier for writers to find suitable editors, through a stronger recommendation system from other writers of the same genre/style. Let’s see!

  11. Even the major publishers fall down on structural/content editing. Famously, in some cases, like some of Steven King’s books or the 5th Harry Potter book. Bestsellers don’t get edited. Why bother? Fans will buy them anyway.
    And in my observation, many small presses have complacent or over-burdened editors so that their books have the flaws Dan Holloway describes and more: inconsistent character behaviors, plot elements that seem to be abandoned mid-stream or wrapped up all in a bang at the end.
    One of the reasons I decided to get off the (very slow) traditional publishing bus and self-publish was because I came to realize that my books would be better served if I hired my
    own editors. They’re hard to find, though.
    Thanks for a great post on a topic that needs to be more often discussed!

    1. Thanks for the comment, Anna. It’s interesting to hear that editors are hard to find for you. If that’s something you’ll like to explore more, I would love to continue our conversation on email. I was working with a small press in the States recently, and met a few editors who are finding it hard to find writers! 🙂 Feel free to drop me a line at yen(at)yenooi.com if you like. And I love the photo on your website!

  12. I’ve noticed dozens of proofing errors in major publishers books – Lee Child/Christian Cameron come to mind – but the structural editing is always good. I think publishers are also cutting costs and not being as rigorous as they once were. I know that Orion sub-contract their editing and no longer have in house editors.
    Why is it no one ever complains abut this? It’s always author-published books that are complained about.
    I edit my own books.send to beta readers/edit again, then send to line editor/proofreader. I publish 5 new titles a year and 7 backlist/joint ventures/box sets. However hard I try, a few errors always get past – but far fewer than I found in Christian Cameron’s last book.

  13. I care too much about my books and have too much respect for my readers to consider cutting corners. I learnt so much from the first manuscript appraisal I paid for many years ago – on topics such as pacing, character motivation and scene structure – that I’m truly glad I invested the money. I now do editorial work in addition to writing my own books and certainly don’t see self-publishers as a cash cow, but have observed some reluctance to make that investment in a structural/developmental edit and accept that an editor’s suggestions might improve the book for the reader. I’m also aware of what I’d consider bad advice having been given by both freelance editors like myself and more established literary consultancies. To be honest, I’ve read traditionally published books where I’ve wondered what the author and editor were thinking. There’s a lot of subjectivity.

    I don’t believe self-publishers should attempt to do everything by themselves (an external proofread should be the bare minimum), but we do have the privilege of making the final decision to publish. It’s not a decision that should be made lightly.

  14. BTW, you can publish your book chapter by chapter as you write it. The service is called Wattpad. It has been around a long time. Authors have used Twitter as a writing platform.

  15. Editing and proofing are not an option. Those are part of the bookmaking process. I have already made several drafts of my current book and have several more to go. I will also have a single copy printed by Ingram from which I will probably proof it at least once more before sending it out into the big bad world. But then I have been fortunate to have a career which have given me the experience and skills to know to do this. Unfortunately, not everyone has had the same.

    If a publisher does not want to edit their books or can’t edit their books, it really does not matter. At least to other publishers. Publishing services were not designed for the publisher, but the distributor. The distributor needs volume. It is not in their interest to offer nor require editing. They have a large, free workforce working on commission to exploit. All they need is reader to buy, but the readers can do the sorting themselves. And for them it is a win-win situation–no one blames Amazon for the bad book. A loss of one, or even a million self publishers does not affect the distributor–there are many other books to be sold. If a book does become a bestseller, great for the distributor. If a million authors sell one book a month, not so good for them, but a boon for the distributor. To blame the ease of publishing to the quality of books misses the point. No one cares about a badly made book. It is whether the distributor can make a profit–why make it hard to publish?

    1. Hi William, I agree that editing and proofing are not options, but are compulsory, and that it is the publishers’ (companies or individuals) responsibility. Though distributors and publishing platforms need volumes to make a buck, it doesn’t mean that we (writers and readers), as users of their systems, cannot push them to better themselves and how their platforms are used. I think as readers, we can definitely blame the platforms for encouraging the making of a bad book.

      The article was written in response to platforms like Wattpad, or the newer Tablo, and many more. There are also some great new platforms that fully embrace editing and design phases within them, which I think will go on to do well. Technologies and the industry are rapidly changing, and as we (readers, writers, publishers) are trying to keep-up, I think we need to also try and shape them to what we want them to be.

      We live in interesting times! 🙂

  16. Very thought-provoking. There are lots of questions here, and they need teasing out. In particular the difference between a copy edit, a proof read and a full structural edit, which is the one you haven’t talked about. My experience of reading self-published books is that, for 99% of books, it is the last of these that really matters most. I have read many first-time self-published (as opposed to those where the author got the rights back, where the full process was undertaken under the publisher’s aegis) books where the structural edit was wanting. Not absent – this is either from authors I know use a structural editor, or where there is a polish that suggests they have) but wanting. There’s both too much generality and too much specificity. What I mean by that is that the overall narrative arcs are fine. And the sentences are put together well. But there is often very little sense of how to put together a chapter or even a scene. That’s what a structural edit should do. But it’s the one thing that’s still really *really* rare in self-published books – an understanding of what scenes and chapters are. And a lack of understanding that can kill a book dead – compression where we need expansion, expansion where we need compression, scenes entered too early or left too soon or too late, chapters that haven’t completed their arc or have carried on past the point of completion. I have never met a reader who is not a writer who says a book has been ruined by typos, but flatness, dullness and disjointedness all kill books, and those are the remit of the structural editor rather than the copy editor or proofreader.

    The real question is why? It seems to me there are 3 possible answers
    1. Self-publishers don’t have access to the same standard of editors and the same level of input as publishing houses do, and for a price they are willing to pay.
    2. There are editors who see self-publishers as a cash cow and don’t treat their books with the same rigour as they would if the script came from a publisher.
    3. Self-publishers are, by nature, more independent. We know the buck stops with us and we know we have final cut. And we use it.

    1. Good points, Dan. I think your item 3 might be the crucial one. I’ve met and spoken with many writers who, even after they’ve been edited, believe they know better. That’s not to say there are not editors out there who are only paying lip service to the process, but a lot of self-publishers are so embedded into their stories they are unwilling to compromise any of it even in the pursuit of improvement. However – most of those are never likely to go anywhere near an editor.

      I know personally getting a good editor is the most painful process I have ever had to go through, but also the most valuable.

    2. Thanks, Dan. Yes, every time I start talking about this topic with anyone in writing/publishing, the discussion is never-ending! 🙂

      There is definitely a lack of understanding of the different types of editing in general, and definitely more so for structural edits. I think it’s because of all three of your answers, and a few more. Lack of knowledge, lack of gatekeepers, industry standards, etc. These do spurn off even more questions and issues (let’s not even go into freedom of speech!), but it’s probably worth thinking through, and lots to be grateful for, as we are, I think, experiencing a more levelled-playing field for writers.

      I’m sure that my opinions will continue to change as the industry changes, and that’s what makes these conversations so interesting!

        1. Haha. Indeed, Marilyn! This clearly shows the need for editors (and the problems with auto-correct and typing on phones!). Thanks!

    3. The structural edit is a great point. I read a lot of self-published work. When I started, in 2012, I read books with almost all the problems one can imagine – poor editing, poor proofing and the ever-important lack of a structural edit. Lately, I find most self-published books I’ve read are not bad in terms of basic grammar and proofing but, as Dan has mentioned, the structural editing is sadly lacking. And these are the books that really get to me because they could have been so much better.

      My experience as a writer leads me to believe that much of this can be learned as we gain experience as storytellers. But I do find myself wondering – if we don’t have an instinct for how a story should flow (albeit strengthened from sober second thought after reading through the input of a good structural editor), it may not come to us.

      But we all need to submit our work to the eyes of others before we publish. We simply do not have the degree of objectivity to edit our own work.

  17. Rather a timely post and thought provoking post, Yen Ooi. On the weekend that FSOG hits the cinema, can we really believe anymore that a great swathe of readers still care anything at all about the quality of our writing?

    It’s depressing, but I’m beginning to wonder if those of us who continue to care about quality are serving our work up to a dwindling sub-group of others who still care, while the world goes on without noticing. For every well-written book out there I’m sure we can all name a dozen that have gotten to the top of the best seller lists and that you or I would never give house room to.

    PS: I only spent thirty minutes editing and proofing this so if there are any misteaks my bad 🙂

    1. Indeed, David. We might never know what it is that pushes a particular book into the masses (other than crazy money marketing, sex, and occasionally, good writing 😉 ), but the least we can do is save our readers from having to endure crap, I think. If we (writers) promote good quality writing, our readers will at least have the choice to select good writing to read!

  18. I know my own weakness well enough never to publish without an outside, professional edit. My covers are also professional. Very few authors can edit their own work. I see the mistakes others make but miss my own. Even authors I know who are also editors will not edit their own work. The author who can do that successfully is a true exception.

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