IVP - Strangely Dim - You Will Know Us by the Trail of Editors

February 11, 2011

You Will Know Us by the Trail of Editors

A friend of mine read an article in USA Today about self-publishing, and because he's worried about me (since conventional publishing, as we all know, is on its deathbed), he asked me if there's an untapped market for freelance editors. Here's my response:

There's certainly a need for editors; whether there's a perceived need among self-publishing authors (it's more painfully obvious to the readers of self-publishing) is a separate question.

An enterprising freelance editor could, I suppose, pitch "second editions" to already self-published authors. The trick is justifying their fee, which would likely have to come with some guarantee of improved sales, which likely means the editor would have to function more as agent than as mere editor, and would need to take on some marketing/publicity efforts as well. I've been trying to do that for my friend Tony (in addition to my doing a quick edit of his book, see my interview with him here and my review of his book here), but it's a lot easier to to do that for free than to get paid for it, particularly if an author has already accomplished their major goal: getting published. Sometimes the money is not the main motivator.

I actually think self-publishing is the way to go for a lot of people. A conventional publisher necessarily filters the types of books (and authors) for its existing audience and along the lines of its existing channels. Anything that goes off the grid of traditional publishing, to any extent whatsoever, increases the risk considerably to the publisher, which has its own context into which it comfortably publishes, its own bills to pay, its own sanity to protect. An author with direct access to a ready audience that's not easily accessible to a conventional publisher isn't just afforded a second-best option in self-publishing; in some cases the author is actually better off.

Nevertheless, by self-publishing an author is in fact going off grid, with all the challenges and limitations that going off grid entails. Some self-published books do break through to become blockbusters, but they are still wild exceptions, and their exceptionalism likely indicates that there's more to the story than comes across in how the story is reported. It's not simply this woman's "aggressive self-promotion" that led to her success, but also who she aggressively promoted herself to, who else aggressively promoted her, and who was willing to be aggressively promoted to by someone out of left field. It's not exactly alchemy, although it resembles alchemy; it's just the logic that applies to all effective networking.

 It's worth noting, incidentally, that the vast majority of the "20 million people" who "read e-books last year" weren't reading self-published books but rather bestsellers they could get on Kindle for $10 instead of $22. The article sort of obscures that notion, and Amazon's VP of Kindle Content certainly (and fairly, I suppose) capitalizes on the mythology that any one person is just one lucky break away from being the next great American novelist. (That mythology is part of the alchemy of the "culture of narcissism" I write about in Deliver Us from Me-Ville, what inspires the odd auditions on American Idol, among other things.)

For the record, I do sometimes recommend self-publishing to prospective authors, not as a critique of their ideas or their writing but because for them it's a more viable path than conventional publishing. It's roughly equivalent to my directing an author to a different conventional publisher whose program fits the author better than ours. Sometimes, of course, it's because the writing and ideas aren't particularly good, and the person is merely infatuated with the idea of publishing. I had an unusual experience recently where I was the only editor at a gathering of writers, and one of them very intentionally pursued self-publishing rather than the possibility of publishing with a publisher like us. You can read a bit of his rationale here. Good on Jimmy for having a plan and sticking to it.

Feel free to push back on my characterization of conventional and/or self-publishing, my interpretation of the article and its profiled author's experience, or whatever. The self-published, the conventionally published and the blogging editor have this in common: we love to have people interact with what we've written.

Posted by Dave Zimmerman at February 11, 2011 7:46 AM Bookmark and Share

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Behind the Strangeness

Lisa Rieck is a reader and writer who likes to discuss good ideas over hot drinks and gets inspired by the sky. She takes in all kinds of good ideas as a proofreader for InterVarsity Press.

Rebecca Larson is a writer/designer/creative type who has infiltrated IVP's web department, where she writes and edits online content. She enjoys a good pun and loves the smell of freshly printed books.

David A. Zimmerman is an editor for Likewise Books and a columnist for Burnside Writers Collective. He's written three books, most recently The Parable of the Unexpected Guest. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/unexpguest. Find his personal blog at loud-time.com.

Suanne Camfield is a publicist for InterVarsity Press and a freelance writer. She floats ungracefully between work, parenting and writing, and (much to her dismay) finds it impossible to read on a treadmill. She is a member of the Redbud Writers Guild and blogs at The Rough Cut.

Likewise Books from InterVarsity Press explore a thoughtful, active faith lived out in real time in the midst of an emerging culture.

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