Almost Perfect

Every author cherishes (or tries to) the fond illusion that his or her work is very nearly perfect. An experienced editor might perhaps suggest a few minor tweaks, but surely not much more work will be needed before the book is rocketing toward the best-seller list.

Even the very weakest, most inept authors tend to think that. If anything, they’re more enamored of the illusion than a seasoned professional would be.

As I roll down the hill toward the final thrilling climax of my four-volume YA fantasy series, drafting 2,000 words a day and wrestling various vexing plot problems to the ground, I find myself clinging to this very illusion. Granted, I have a lot more experience than a first-time author, including two novels that were published by reputable New York publishing houses back in the dark ages before the dawn of the internet. (For the seekers after trivia, those would be Walk the Moons Road, Del Rey, 1985, and The Wall at the Edge of the World, Ace, 1991.) But humility requires that I take a deep breath and not make too many comforting assumptions about the quality of my work.

Naturally I think my series is magnificent — but I’m in no position to be objective. It might be inept, or self-indulgent, or both.

One reason for thinking about the sorts of slimy critters an editor might discover by turning over the rocks (those would be the rocks in my head) is because I’m still waiting, with gradually diminishing patience, to hear any good news from my agent. Okay, I actually have a literary agent. A lot of authors never break through that barrier. She’s trying to sell the series to one of the mainstream publishing houses. But, well, the market is very competitive.

If she’s unable to find a publisher, I’m going to have to self-publish. Or maybe I should put a positive spin on it and say, “I’m going to have the opportunity to discover the joys of self-publishing.”

This is the disconcertingly narrow place at the mouth of the bottle. If I’m self-publishing, should I hire a freelance editor, or should I just say, “Nah, it’s pretty darn good already, and I know what I’m doing”? To edit a 100,000 word novel, a freelance editor may charge $1,500. That’s one quote I saw this week, and it seems reasonable; other editors might be higher or lower. But because I have some solid experience as an author, it would be foolish to waste money on a cut-rate editor. I need someone good.

Multiply that figure by four books, and ouch! That’s $6,000 just for editing. Given the vast sea of tripe through which one is compelled to swim as a self-published author in order to attract the attention of even a modest readership, do I stand to recoup that investment by selling books?

I think I need a business plan. Dropping $6,000 on what turns out to be strictly a vanity project would not be a smart move. And of course that’s not the only cash outlay. An author needs a decent website ($2,000). The books will need cover art (another $2,000). If I earn — let’s pick a number — $3 on average per book sold, I’ll need to sell more than 3,000 books just to break even. And you don’t see sales figures like that if all you do is toss the e-book up on Amazon and cross your fingers. Some heavy lifting will be needed in the promotional area.

There are online companies that offer promotional services to self-publishing authors. Some of them may be quite effective. Others are surely scams.

Oh, dear. Do I really need to spend all that money on an editor? Or is my work pretty darn good already, except for maybe a few minor tweaks?

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