Is there a bit of wishful thinking behind Simon Owens’s article from Mediashift on how self-publishing has been great for freelance designers and editors? I read so much—even real books with covers and an actual publisher—that clearly escaped a firm editorial hand and would have benefited from one. Self-publishing, he says, has created “a rising need for the kind of editors who offered the feedback that could be found at traditional publishing houses.” Recently, I bit the bullet and sent the manuscript of one of my novels to a freelance editor who specializes in mysteries and thrillers—and is an award-winning mystery author in her own right. It was one of the best writing decisions I’ve made. A terrific experience.
Perhaps Owens hopes his words will encourage more editors to enter the author support services field. The numbers are certainly there: An estimated 3,500 new books are published every day in the United States, not including ebooks. This estimate is based on the number of new ISBN numbers, which many ebook authors don’t bother to obtain. The first response to this need was a deluge of unqualified or barely qualified editors and designers, overpriced services of marginal value, and discouragement and frustration among authors. If an editor is not well qualified (including familiarity with genre considerations) or if the author is unwilling to make changes, an expensive and frustrating experience is in store.
If the numbers are there, the dollars may not be. The majority of self-published authors make less than $5,000 a year on their writing. Even established writers (i.e., members of the Authors Guild) are earning 24% less from their writing now versus five years ago, says a new survey.
The acute need for author support services and the highly variable quality of what was out there led to development of invaluable websites like Reedsy and Writer Beware. These sites are true author advocates—pointing out bad actors, scams, and other traps laid for those hopeful souls who say, “I just want to write. I don’t care about all this businessy stuff.”
Owens’s sources say competition among books actually requires “more emphasis on producing a professional product, both in design and editorial standards” and, I’d add, faith that the audience knows the difference, for which evidence is scant. And, of course, if an author isn’t looking to self-publish, a solidly edited product is essential for attracting agents and traditional publishers.
Two reputable-sounding sources for editorial assistance cited by Owens are Reedsy and New York Book Editors, whose freelancers generally are former employees of traditional New York publishing houses. Ideally, says freelance editor Rebecca Heyman, “There should be no gap in quality between independently-published work and traditionally-published work.”