Editing Ebooks - So Who Does The Editing? - Stephanie Zia

If you're thinking of going to the London Book Fair next year I'd give the pokey little Author's Lounge stand a wide berth (Lounge... LOUNGE?!! with those toadstool benches and hard-sell salesmen?). Instead pause for rest, refreshment and author interviews at the splendid English PEN Literary Cafe and plan your day around the numerous seminars that take place in the conference rooms scattered throughout the building. It was good to see more author-centric seminars this year, like this one, "Has Anyone Spoken To The Author?" chaired by Unbound's John Mitchinson. All sorts of interesting new possibilities in this "era of broken models" were discussed.  Bundling - get an ebook free when you buy a hardback. Building on the all-important "word of mouth" phenomenon by having credit buttons in ebooks so that readers can send recommended titles to friends. Readers, basically, becoming part of the sales force. The amount of control that self-published authors have over the traditionally published was also discussed. I was shocked to hear that the supermarket deals that they rely on so much can, in some cases, reduce the author royalty right down to as little as less than 1p per book. No names as I cannot check up on this information - the secrecy of sales figures and working out what on earth royalty statements mean etc were also mentioned! 

This is a shot from The Literary Consultancy/The Arvon Foundation seminar "Is New Technology  Threatening Editorial Values, and Failing to Provide Writers, Readers and Our Culture With What They Really Want?"  Blake Morrison speaking.  Who does the editing is the topic that seems to be concerning the guardians of the mainstream most of all. Do editors still edit anyway? As ever, some do some don't. Some agents edit, some don't. But long-term editor/author relationships do seem to be an increasingly rare luxury for those who luck out on both sides. Editor turned literary agent panellist Rebecca Carter said that in her last position as an editor, she was told editing = time = money, therefore don't buy the book that needs editing. 

The panel speculated on what will happen in the future. Would the art of editing survive, how will editors make a living? Rebecca's career-swap offers a clue perhaps. For me it was the agents anyway who did the bulk of the shaping and editing of my novels. My first agent took me on with just 3 chapters and a synopsis and worked with me closely on structure from the beginning. After advising me to swap from 4 POVs to 1 POV, and keep everything in the voice of the central character, her first 'notes' on Draft 1 ran to 8 pages of closely-typed critique. Much of it hugely insulting ("this bit's like Janet & John!"). It was thrilling to receive. 

How will novels get this kind of attention in the future? I imagine we will see more editors setting up as freelancers and agencies like The Literary Consultancy (organisers, incidentally, of the recent Writing In A Digital Age conference) will find themselves more in demand. More literary agents will, perhaps, publish their authors themselves. Ed Victor, with his Bedford Square Books, is leading the way here. At Blackbird Digital I have worked with with my ex-Hamlyn editor Sarah Tomley who is still a mainstream editor but is also available for hire at EditorsOnline. And now I, too, have been working as an editor. But am I qualified, you ask? 3 O levels no degree me? As a writer? As a member of a serious critique group for over 10 years? As an ex-documentary maker? As an occasional Creative Writing tutor? As an avid reader all my life? I'm in the final stages of completing a paid commission, editing an 80,000 word memoir. An extraordinary piece it's been a complete pleasure to work on.  I've also enjoyed editing the books I commission at Blackbird Digital. Not least because I like the authors so much. We work together not only on the editing but on choosing the covers, the presentation, sales tactics, the lot. As editor, I get paid a percentage of the royalty. Teamwork. All in it together. Maybe that's how it'll work?  

The Beginning of Dying, available as ebook and paperback at Blackbird Digital Books.  “A wonderful look at finding yourself again after the death of a loved one. Insightful and delightful, full of thoughtful dialogue and exceptional clarity.” Leslie Wright, Tic Toc/HUFFINGTON POST BOOKS,  Stephanie blogs about digital publishing, writing and Hidden London at Confessions Of An Author.


Dennis Hamley said…
Great post Stephanie. It's part of a marvellous trend I've noticed in AE over the last months. We started off by glorying in our new-found freedom but still not quite sure that it was going to work: now post after post is forming a sort of condensus on how it WILL work and what final shape it will take, not just as an excape route but as a serious and in the end victorious model.

Onr of your most telling points was Rebecca Carter's appalling account about commercial editing about editing. Thus ends the most fruitful and enduring relationship any writer can have and, to my mind, the end of serious commercial publishing. So much for those who accuse self-publishers of being ignorant amateurs. You made me feel fiercely complacent, if you see what I mean, about the conviction that we are treading the right path. AE is becoming the compass for charting its direction.
CallyPhillips said…
Short on time (never short of opinion!) Great post Stephanie and likewise observation Dennis. It IS good to see AE moving towards a positive commentary and analysis of what we can do and how writers can epublish (creatively/successfully/profitably/well - pick your choice of word) rather than having to defend ourselves against naysayers in repetitive or circular arguments. As I've said (several times) before, it's a big virtual world out there and there's room for everyone and we seem to be starting to find our feet and our way, our niche/s and our rationale. We have a right to be here and to influence the changes that are happening. Hoorah for independence.
Stephanie Zia said…
Thank you, Dennis. Yes indeed, Cally, why shouldn't there be room for everyone? I haven't been here long enough to know about the naysayers but I sense the fear of digital is starting to shake down. No need for them and us.
Jessica R. said…
I'm in the early stages of starting to consider going the indie/self pub route and if it's a road I'm going to take I clearly need to hire an editor to give my book the once (or thrice) over before I hit publish.
As a blogger I'm not scared of the publish button, what I am terrified of is finding an editor. How on earth are we supposed to know who's legit? I feel like the state of the industry makes it ripe for a lot of scam artists to come take advantage of cute, innocent newbs like me.
In any case, thank you for this great post and the few links I can use to start my search!
Diana Kimpton said…
Once I'd decided to publish indepedently, my agent no longer had a role so she's now my editor instead. It's the perfect solution for me - she knows how I write and I trust how she edits.

Going solo is scary but exciting - like a huge adventure. The main problem I'm having is the lack of deadlines to make me buckle down and write. Setting them for myself doesn't seem to work.
julia jones said…
Startlingly interesting Stephanie. Thank you.
I've done the same as Diana - asked (paid) my ex-agent to turn editor. And yes, it has worked very well.

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