Thursday, November 10, 2011

Is Self-Editing Unprofessional?

There are two main schools of thought in self-editing:

  1. Nobody can adequately edit themselves.
  2. Everybody can (learn to) adequately edit themselves.

My "day job" is as a freelancer. I proofread, write, edit, and write—for small businesses, with small businesses, for individual entrepreneurs and self-publishers, etc.… My first freelance job ever as an 18-year-old college chick was writing online articles, and I was expected—required—to adequately edit my own work. But as an editor for self-publishers, I'm expected to insist that everyone needs an editor.

I can't be the only one who sees the inconsistency there.

Business writers, students writing term papers and test essays, professionals writing their own e-mails—all of them must edit and proofread their own work. Okay, in some cases, editing can be outsourced, but on a test essay? My best essay grade in college was one where I was given the topic and had an hour time limit to produce that essay. My teacher gave me a 99% and later apologized for not giving me 100%, because she hadn't found any errors and the essay still resounded with her.

(Anyone thinking "But wait! Freelancers go through editors, too!" Yeah, for some types of writing, but in my experience, those are acquisitions editors; their job is to make sure you nail the tone and angle that the publication wants, not to play English teacher for you. And I know of one university that doesn't allow undergraduate students to get help beyond "You have comma splices in your paper.")

Self-publishers, though, are often told that they're being "unprofessional" if they don't hire editors and proofreaders for their manuscript. While I agree that most writers need or can benefit from a good editor, and a proofreader's often a good idea, I disagree that hiring an editor makes someone professional.

Hiring an editor doesn't do you diddly squat if you don't understand what that editor's supposed to be doing—and if your editor doesn't actually do her job. (Saying "her" because so many of us are female.)

A (near-)"flawless" manuscript isn't what makes you a "professional," either.

Look at Amanda Hocking. She's a nice girl, polite and treating her writing like the business it is. But all the editors she hired—and there were more than one—evidently didn't catch something in her My Blood Approves series that struck me as a large plot hole, which probably could've been fixed with little tweaks. (I still read all four and don't mind recommending them to people who enjoy that kind of paranormal romance.) Am I to consider her "unprofessional" because her works aren't "flawless"?

Look at Dean Wesley Smith and Kristine Kathryn Rusch, pro writers who probably have more stories under each penname than I have ideas. They know what they want to do with their writing, and they're more concerned about getting quality stories out there in enjoyable form than flawless form. Rusch has been an award-winning short story editor. Am I to consider these two "unprofessional" because they don't even aim for technically "flawless" stories?

Merriam-Webster is the dictionary of choice in US publishing, in my experience. The pertinent definition of professional (2a) is "participating for gain or livelihood in an activity or field of endeavor often engaged in by amateurs" (according to the unabridged online dictionary).

Professionalism is "the conduct, aims, or qualities that characterize or mark a profession or a professional person" (same source, definition 1a). So it's how you behave and what you want out of your chosen profession.

That makes "professional" a matter of attitude, an attitude of seeking financial return from your chosen profession. (You don't have to be "professional" and seek financial return from your writing if you don't want to—but I'll get more into that in a later post.)

A professional freelance writer, one who wants to make money at writing, must self-edit and self-proofread to get assignments, unless they seek clueless clients. (I'm sure this happens, and I feel sorry for the deluded clients.)

A professional author, on the other hand, can hire a pro editor or self-edit, depending on what they need. I find many more typos in, for example, work by another author I like who's a NYT bestseller and gets edited and proofread by one of the so-called "Big 6", then particular self-publishing authors I enjoy, some of whom I know don't hire out.

Now, notice that I'm not saying "You must self-edit your story" or "You must hire a pro editor."

I'm saying your choice on whether to self-edit or hire out editing does not have any bearing on being a professional author.

(Yes, I intend to return to the topic of self-editing next week.)

What are your thoughts on (self-)editing and professionalism?


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