Could This Be The Death of The Editor?

Reading & Writing

If you’re a professional writer, this story will either make you want to cheer or kill yourself. The connection between the cloth pig and the young lady is intriguing, because it started a career.

28 year-old Amanda Hocking writes vampires novels and paranormal romances, and is obsessed with the Muppets. She lives in Austin, Minnesota, and wanted to see a live Muppet show that was being brought to Chicago, so to finance her trip she uploaded her unsold books online. Muppets. She’s 28. Let’s move on.

On April 15 2010 she made a book that had taken her less than a week to write available to Kindle readers on Amazon’s website. Following tips she found from the blog of JA Konrath, an internet self-publishing pioneer, she also uploaded to Smashwords to gain access to the Nook, Sony eReader and iBook markets. It wasn’t that difficult. A couple of hours of formatting, and it was done.

I think you know what’s coming, don’t you?

‘Switched’, the first in the ‘Trylle’ trilogy, which is about trolls, made her a millionaire with breathtaking speed. It became so big that she could no longer cope with solo publishing and went to traditional houses, St Martin’s Press in the US and Pan Macmillan in the UK, who are championing the book as an example that publishing is not dead.

Now, whatever you think of Ms Hocking’s writing, there’s no denying she’s a determined young woman who deserves success for her energies, so long as she keeps her head about all this. But the story tells you something about the upside-down state of publishing right now. The good thing is that this area is being driven by the writers. The bad thing is that the publishers in question are content to ride on technology’s coat-tails and pick up the cash as it falls into their laps.

But most of all, because Ms Hocking self-published, there was no editing process involved at all.

Does this mean that the future of publishing is going to be Bottom Up? (Bottom-up processing is a type of information processing based on incoming data from the environment to form a perception.) And could you also apply this type of approach to the writing of literary novels? Is Ms Hocking the future of publishing, or one of a handful of early-adopter writers who weren’t put off by the snobbery surrounding online novels?

And what of the fact that in all the reporting frenzy about this story, everyone is focussing on the Muppet connection, and nobody AT ALL has mentioned the contents of the book?

Trend or aberration? What do you think? All comments will be read with interest.

8 comments on “Could This Be The Death of The Editor?”

  1. FabienneT says:

    This post really strikes a chord with me. Very much like with music, books now are seen as products and a way of becoming rich/famous and publishers are obsessed with profit margins, shareholders, etc. The creative process doesn’t count anymore. They don’t do it for the love of books and writing. They are not editor-led but marketing/sales department led. One of my favourite writers (who was shortlisted for the Orange Prize once) had to launch an independent publishing company in the end because her latest books didn’t find a publisher (she’s too “challenging”).
    Myself, I have decided to go down the self-publishing path (but it’s going to take ages as I have to learn everything) because I can feel I will never find an agent/publisher, but I have always wanted to write books and self-publishing could be a way of at last seeing my writing turned into books.

    Ms Hocking’s story is encouraging in a way, although I would never want to become “a millionaire” and be a “literary phenomenon” because celebrity repulses me big time. Look at poor J K Rowling or the circus surrounding… the Night Circus… You lose control of your writing, your image, yourself…
    It would be nice to earn a living as a writer and be able to work full-time on my books, but I don’t think it can ever be done anymore unless you compromise everything you believe in… Naive, maybe…

  2. Russ Varley says:

    I completely agree with Fabienne T. I think, believe and hope that this is the first few rocks moving that will start an avalanche that will sweep away the inter-mediators. It is already happening in music with artists like Jonathan Coulton who is a web only artist and has no record deal. Also the recent move by Google Music in the US to allow unsigned artists to sell their music through the Google Music site for the usual 70-30 split on the revenue will make it possible for more musicians to make their living off their music.

    This is also happening in the news field with site like Google and Twitter taking the newspapers and broadcast media out of the equation for breaking news. From the Japanese tsunami to the Norway shootings, it was these sites that gave the news first. Read Jeff Jarvis’ blog http://www.buzzmachine.com for more of the effect on traditional news media.

    There was the US comic Louis CK (I think) who released a performance online for $5 and got a revenue of $1 million in about three weeks off the back of it.

    This lady in the US is the way writing is going as well, because by taking the publishers out of the equation, they no longer act as arbiters of taste meaning that for those of the population with esoteric interests are more likely to find the kinds of books that interest them. The publisher’s don’t get in the way meaning a more direct relationship between author and reader.

    The finances are also better for the author. If a sensible “living wage” is perhaps £25000, at the moment, when I hand my tenner over at Waterstone’s for a CF book I understand that the store keeps £5, the publisher about £4.50 and the remaining 50p goes to the author. This means that to get the £25000 annual “wage”, 50,000 people need to hand over £10.

    Now, what if I handed the £10 directly to you, Chris? Now instead of needing 50,000 customers you only need 2,500 to get the same financial reward. This means that there could be an explosion in writing because the financial rewards will shift away from the big names and mean that many more people will be able to make their living solely from writing. This in turn will mean their writing will improve giving us readers a better experience.

    Finally, you also have the freedom to experiment with genres, forms etc because there is almost no cost (or barrier to entry) to digital publishing with ebook readers and print on demand sites like Lulu.

    I know many people say there is no substitute for a book, but in a world that is increasingly seeing timber as a way of generating renewable power, I think it is likely that rising timber prices will push paper prices and consequently book prices up to the level they were in Gutenberg’s time with books costing many tens or even hundreds of pounds. Could we be facing a world where it becomes as socially unacceptable to buy paper books as it is today not to recycle?

    Publishers, record labels, and even, in time, film studios will be taken out of the equation by the power of the internet, connecting content creators like you directly with their audience and giving them total control over their own work.

    I suppose that only leaves the question of making yourself more vulnerable to piracy, but it has to be said that the efforts of the music industry over the past two decades have shown that trying the legal and drm routes will not work. These only ever punish the honest consumers with drm hoops to jump through as the pirates will simply circumvent them. The best solution is to make the stuff available for a reasonable price everywhere. Then the overwhelming majority of people pay for the content. Indeed a recent study undertaken in Switzerland reported that people who pirate music and films are also the people who spend the most on …. music and films. Therefore it appears that the MPAA and the RIAA in the US and BPI in the UK are pursuing their best customers through the courts.

  3. Helen Martin says:

    You are sure that her book was not edited? I have in my hands a manuscript which was given to me for reading/correcting/editing. It has already been read by two people, one of whom did a very careful job. The fact that none of us are on a publisher’s staff does not mean that we are overly gentle or not competent.
    Authors who say their work is repressed by editing are possibly too connected to it to be able to recognize improvements. I close my ears to cries of “Bloomsbury Group” and all writers before that. Would Dickens have suffered from a bit of careful editing?
    McClelland & Stewart, an iconic (and I use the word carefully) Canadian publishing house, has been sold due to cash problems. I wonder how the new owners will deal with writers like Margaret Atwood, who has always been an M&S author.
    I wish I knew more about the creation of books so that I could make positive comments.

  4. M. vd Wel says:

    I think that the fact that nobody says anything about the contents of the books says enough. Obviously the Muppet connection made a better story than the story she published.
    As for the non-editing, at least now the story is still entirely hers. A book is never a product form just one author, but at least two, the person who’s name is on the cover and the editor.

  5. I.A.M. says:

    Editors are the best thing to give a story direction. No matter how much a writer says “but I worked really hard on that descriptive passage…!” the editor has a neutral position from which to say “I’m sure you did, but it sticks out like a sore thumb in the middle of an autopsy of an industrial accident victim. It’s out.”

    Trust me, Dickens, Dickinson, and other writers who don’t have “Dick” as the root of their surname, were edited. Shakespeare was too;l how else do you explain the pirates a third of the way into in Pericles?

    Angry Robot Books announced this week they’re going to start a Crime Fiction imprint, and they’re seeking a Commissioning Editor. Notice that 2nd word in the title. “This is a great story, but the sub-plot needs to be shored-up and the characters need some more work.” This is what they do, and thank goodness they do.

    Granted, I’m told that too many editors actually spend 99% of their time writing “great!” or “love it!” in the margin and not actually editing. If that’s true, one wonders how different Ms Hocking’s work is from any other tripe out there.

    The ultimate ‘gatekeeper of quality’ is the reader / purchaser of books; i.e.: us all. Act responsibly, people.

  6. Rich says:

    Writers need editors. You need someone who can offer criticism, support and be able to point out the glaring mistake which you’ve overlooked.
    Unfortunately I’ve read too many books published in the past ten years which lead to me to believe editors are not the job well.

    There was an author on an Amazon forum promoting her e-book. I was amazed to see that she was selling it via Amazon but had withdrawn it because readers had told her it was full of mistakes. She changed them and re-submitted it for sale and was told again by readers there were mistakes. She was still offering it for sale but asking readers to tell her if there were other mistakes. I left a comment saying for that reason I was put off reading her book and others like it.

    Someone else joined in who also self-published, largely saying that they couldn’t afford to have their books properly edited, they didn’t want to wait years to be discovered.

    It left me feeling quite depressed. I understand the urge to see your story in print, but what is the point, if you sacrifice an opportunity to present the book you may have spent years on in the best possible light.

    Writers need editors. Good editors.

  7. Dan Terrell says:

    Rich, I agree with your comments about editors. The editor can truly be an valuable silent partner in a successful product. Good writing, composing or painting is a most solitary business, not so much I think with developing and scripting. It’s not only a matter of someone catching spelling mistakes (grey for gray or the flip), it’s “strongly” and hopefully “nicely” suggesting to a writer that: would this character,in this instance, really do/say that? Are you sure it gets dark at that time in the summer in Germany? A German reader would know, you know? So,I too, wonder about “self-publishing”. I know it’s possible to write yourself blind to errors. After months/years on a work, you are so involved you don’t see errors that someone coming new to the piece would spot instantly. (I know a newpaper editor who reads his own stuff UPSIDE DOWN and BACKWARDS – he can set type the old fashioned way – in order to spot his errors.)I, too, have found in the past x number of years there seem to be a lot more errors in published books. These are less frequently spelling errors,than they are the flotsam and jetsam of writing, revising, and typing; as well as of the composing process(thats he, tha tshe, thatshe, that she).All the great American writers I studied at the university had one and a love/hate relationship with the editors. The books were certainlythe better for their partnership. God help the manuscript that’s untouched by an editor. Lastly, my wife is a teacher of both German and English and I gave her a Kindle Fire for Christmas, which she likes, and she download several 99 cent self-published books. On a silent night I’m at work on the laptop when I heard: “Ahhhh!!!! Five, five! errors on one page and it reads like Spell Check.” I nearly stroked-out;’nough said.

  8. Tony Lee says:

    I think this brings up the issue of books that are ‘edited’ and books that have ‘editors’.

    The former has people who read the book, highlight issues / spelling problems / plot errors before the writer classes it as ‘finished’. Often, they’re nothing more than glorified ‘spell checkers’.

    The latter are people who often take a finished book and tear the layers off until it stands exposed, before (with the writer) putting it all back together again. A lot of the former is used here, as well as so much more of the latter.

    In comics (my alma mater)this is becoming more and more of an issue as time goes on. Have a book from DC, Marvel, IDW, BOOM, Dark Horse etc? You’ll have an editor who works with you from the pitch stage. Sometimes, you’ll have two. Add to this the book publishers who now move into the graphic novel industry. Editors involved, every one of them. A book with Image? Markosia? Arcana? It’s more murky here – often you’ll find an editor off your own back, and this might be the former rather than the latter. And then we reach the Kickstarter projects, the webcomics, the self financed ones – who edits these?

    E-Books are the same. In September, after 18 months of waiting for my then agent to sell a book that didn’t want to be sold (even though the publishers all seemed to like it) I put it, DODGE & TWIST, onto the Amazon Kindle for about £2. I didn’t care about the money, after two years of waiting, I wanted it to be read, especially in a Dickens year. Was it edited? Yes. I sent it to several people to red pen it to death. Did it have an editor? No, bar my agent when I first wrote it, and even then it was more grammar than plot structure.

    Did the book suffer because of this? Possibly. I do believe that with a good editor, it would have been a far better book. Would I do it again? Probably not. Because I like having an editor. I NEED to have an editor. Otherwise the book I write won’t be moulded into what it needs to become, to be all that it can be.

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