Indie Authors, Please: Get an Editor

Indie authors have an uphill fight to get their books noticed. Not only is the market crowded, and competition fierce, but a stigma still clings to self-published or independently published works as being second class. If the books were any good, so the reasoning goes, a traditional publisher would have picked them up.

While that’s not true, too many indie authors aren’t helping themselves (and the rest of us) by releasing books that are just not ready. So please, I beg you, get an editor.

Case in point: I’m reading an indie book that I thought would be enjoyable. The blurb caught my attention, and the book had 81 reviews (44 5-star, 26 4-star). I should have paid more attention to the 3 1-star reviews.

From the very start I knew there would be problems. In order not to embarrass anyone, I’ll rewrite the opening of The Lord of Rings the way the author of my current read opened his novel.

When Mr. Bilbo Baggins of Bag End announced that he would shortly be celebrating his eleventy-first birthday with a party of special magnificence, there was much talk and excitement in Hobbiton.

The residents of Hobbiton had little else but parties to occupy themselves other than parties and beer, but that was not true of the rest of the world. Ever since the ring of power had been cut from Sauron’s hand centuries before, the kings of Gondor declined in power until their line ended and Gondor was ruled by a steward. The northern kings died out long before, and if they had an heir, the fact was obscured by the passage of time. Sauron, unbeknownst to the rulers of the west, was forming again, seeking his Ring, as it would give him power over all who lived.

Bilbo was very rich and very peculiar, and had been the wonder of the Shire for sixty years, ever since his remarkable disappearance and unexpected return.

Please. Dumping backstory in like that just ruins the interest sparked by the first sentence. Jumping from present to backstory and back with no transition jars the reader.

In my current read, the opening sentence was great. I was hooked. Then flung into a few paragraphs of backstory and dropped abruptly back into the action. The backstory, which I’m sure the author intended as a means of orienting readers to the world he’d created, served only as a vehicle to pull me out of the story and confuse me. And this was just on page one.

I kept reading, just to give this book a chance, swayed by the favorable reviews. The concept of the story was interesting, but the stilted writing keeps me from getting more involved in it.

Then there were the small howlers that left me shaking my head. At one point, two characters were fleeing for their lives on stolen horses, hoping to leave town before the horses’ owners catch on. The female character makes a comment to her companion, while studying her face in a mirror. That’s quite a trick on a walking horse, let along a galloping one. It’s these and other errors that an editor can catch.

I wanted to like this book. The backstory did have some intriguing ideas in it, and this book could have been the start of a great fantasy series. Instead, this author is on my “never buy from him again” list.

I know good editors can be pricey. If there is absolutely no money to pay one, at least get some beta readers who know enough about writing novels that they can point out the most obvious mistakes. Or try a site like Critique Circle. You’ll have to critique others’ work in exchange, but I’ve found the feedback I’ve received there very helpful. I know that I often get too close to my work. I know what I mean. A fresh set of eyes can spot inconsistencies, errors or just plain lame spots that could use a little polishing.

Writing a novel is hard work, and represents a huge investment of time. You owe it to yourself to finish the job properly, by getting feedback to make the book better. You owe it to yourself, and the rest of us trying to make it as indie authors. Please.

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