Posted on June 21, 2013 in Archive

More on John Green and the role of editors


Not long after posting my defence of John Green, I came across a potentially incendiary piece on Publishing Perspectives about how vital an editor really is. Don’t worry, John Green hasn’t secretly taken over this place, but the ideas he and, as it turns out, others touched on are worth exploring in more depth.

The PP piece is actually an analysis of a recent blog post by predominantly self-published author Hugh Howey. He’s worked with publishers, both big and small, and self-publishes through Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing platform. Howey’s been on both sides of the publishing fence, so he’s pretty well-qualified to answer this from one of his readers:

I was wondering what you consider to be the biggest barriers to the self-publishing of quality works (as someone who has done it himself).

What was potentially incendiary about Howey’s post is that he essentially echoed John Green’s criticism of authors working entirely alone.

I’d say the biggest barrier to releasing quality material is probably impatience. You have a work that feels pretty good; you’re exhausted; you want to move on; you might be a bit delusional about how good it really is; so you hit publish. Nobody steps in and tells you to make it better…
Hugh Howey

Admittedly, he said it with fewer expletives, but Howey’s point is exactly the same. Authors need editors – or at the very least, critical feedback – in order to improve their books; writing isn’t a solitary activity. The trouble is, a traditional publisher forces you to go through the editing process, whereas if you’re a self-publisher, it’s all up to you.

That doesn’t mean self-published books are all terrible, it just means quality control is only as good as each author’s self control. And the more that companies like Amazon encourage the idea that nobody should come between authors and readers, the more likely self-publishers are to forego what ought to be a compulsory step.

John green - Glasses on a book

An editor’s critical eye can make all difference.

As so often happens, after reading Howey’s comments, I started to see more and more people saying the same thing – some of them even mentioning Green’s video. My personal favourite was this from UK author, Polly Courtney:

The term “self-publishing” is a misnomer…in fact, there are certain things that a self-publisher shouldn’t do: namely editing and cover design
Polly Courtney

What was even more interesting about Howey’s post, though, was the idea he put forward to solve the problem of author impatience. He suggested a service where anonymous beta readers would be paid a small amount to read a manuscript and give some basic critical feedback on it, from spelling errors to pacing problems.

For the writer, a $50 investment to get five honest opinions is a great deal. And I think writers will do MORE work before they even upload the manuscript, knowing they are paying someone to read it.
Hugh Howey

Of course, Howey isn’t suggesting this is any kind of replacement for a real editor, but it’s an excellent, low-risk way to encourage self-publishers to seek as much criticism as possible before they publish. It’s also the first time I’ve heard anyone suggest a novel (no pun intended) solution to any of the problems associated with self-publishing.

There’s a real temptation to think self-publishing begins and ends with Amazon. Although they’ve got an impressive platform, the real infrastructure for self publishing is still being built and there’s a growing community which is still under served.

It’s a shame Howey’s too busy writing to take his idea and run with it. Hopefully, one of the commenters on his post is an entrepreneur!