There has been a lot of chatter online recently about the growing number of poor quality titles being released through self-publishing. Amazon has been tightening up on compliance with its own guidelines, however there is little governance over content.
Currently, when you publish directly through Kindle, CreateSpace or other online publishing options, the content check merely covers a basic spell-check and a copyright check for unique content. This is why you should, at least, consider hiring an editor or independent proofer.
When a computer can’t see the error
We all use text shorthand frequently; when we are in the throes of creative inspiration, we want to get our ideas down as quickly as possible. However, certain words would not be spotted by a computer spell-checker. As an example, if we were to use “no” for “know”, “u” for “you”, and so forth, a computer would be unable to spot an error. I’m sure we’ve all done it by accident at some point and then had a “Doh!” moment.
Another type of error the computer definitely can’t see is when it auto-corrects our typing. This feature, while on occasion useful, more often than not drives me bonkers when trying to type anything that contains technical terminology. Medical terminology is the obvious culprit in this case, but you would be amazed at the other sectors that are affected by this.
Back to human error, computers can’t always see when we use the wrong word but it has been spelled correctly. There, Their and They’re are the obvious culprits – but there are numerous less obvious examples. This is particularly true if your book has been created using dictation (soundex) or using character recognition from our handwriting (optical errors).
In these examples above, you will always be better to have a human proof-reader, even if not necessarily an editor.
A fresh pair of eyes
While a human touch is essential for high-quality proof reading, there is another element that is, I believe, essential; independence. When we create anything, we are too close to it to judge it with an objective eye. When we have written content, we see what we are intending to say, rather than focussing on what our written text may convey to its reader. In the early stages of creation, this view is perfectly adequate; however, as we move towards publishing, a fresh set of eyes may be just what the Doctor ordered.
I have been this set of eyes for a wide variety of authors and genres, and from experience I can say that ALL books need this in some form. From accessibility of content through to simple terminology errors; when we are removed from the content, they all become much more obvious.
Pitching to your audience
Many manuscripts that cross my desk have a very strong author voice. For some genres this is great (fiction, biography and inspirational), however some manuscripts are not focussing on their target audience. For example, if you are trying to encourage trust and respect from your reader there are several do’s and don’ts.
If your target readership already has knowledge in the area you are covering, you should never talk down to them. I have seen this happen in some titles, and it really grates with your reader and you lose their respect very quickly. Likewise, check you use the correct terminology and that your content follows current best practice.
While this audience is less demanding than that of their professional cousins, you still need to find the right voice. If you are too informal, it cheapens your content and may lead to mistrust in its accuracy. However, if you go too far the other way, the formality may lead your reader to believe your content is above their level of understanding.
There will be a more in depth blog post covering this at a later date.
Go with the flow
A professional editor can help you not only find your voice, but also help your content to flow. Although, your work may not be fiction, your book is still telling a story. Even a reference book should flow from A to Z, even if your reader might dip in to D-G. This is through both the use of flow between chapters and clear segregation of content. Think of your book like a journey, with your topics being destinations along your route. While you can reference a destination briefly in another locale, any major discussion should occur in its relevant location.
Indeed, this is where and how you should consider using an editor – not as a proof-reader, but as a book-reader. Is the voice right? Does my content say what I want it to say? Does it read easily? Does it aid or achieve higher understanding of my subject? Only by considering all of these questions, do you end up with a high quality book.