Nicola Vincent-Abnett

Nicola Vincent-Abnett
"Savant" for Solaris, Wild's End, Further Associates of Sherlock Holms, more Wild's End

Friday 13 April 2012


It is never a good idea to edit oneself. Trust me.
I’ve been editing for a long time. I began with a bit of proof-reading, and moved on from there. I edit everything that comes out of the husband’s office, and lots more besides.
You would think, wouldn’t you, that this would qualify me to proofread and edit just about anything? And, the truth is, it does... Just about.
Self-publishing is a thing now. I’m perfectly at ease with that. Anything that keeps rubbish off the slushpile (see my snarky rant: Bloody Amateurs) has got to be a good thing.
There’s a debate about the benefits of self-publishing, and ‘bestselling’ writers are being born on the web every day, it seems. I’ve heard enough about “50 Shades of Grey” to know that I won’t be reading it, though.
Self-publishing, like the old vanity publishing, is OK, I suppose, if you want your friends and family to be able to get their hands on your great opus, but it isn’t playing with the big boys, and, in my opinion, it isn’t smart.
Here’s the thing. Nobody reads my blog before it’s posted, except for me, and, as diligent as I am, and I am at least careful enough to read back what I’ve written before I post it, my sister found two typos in the last post that she read.
I know this because she told me. My sister has come to visit, which is lovely. She and I and our other sister are going out for breakfast this morning; it’ll be fab. I’m the only one of us not to be a grandmother (they are both a lot older than I am, obviously), so you see, we have long and enduring relationships with one another, which is why my sister was perfectly at liberty to point out my errors.
My sister is not much of a reader, her job doesn’t involve words or reading, and she doesn’t have any higher or further qualifications in English.
It is impossible to edit oneself for the simple reason that, having written the thing in the first instance, one knows what is supposed to be on the page, and, as a consequence one is, essentially blind to any errors that might have crept in. (I use ‘one’ because, although I’m talking about me, I am also talking about you!).
If this is true of writing and editing, and it clearly is, I can’t help thinking that there are a great many other filters between the writer and his audience that keeps him safe from most forms of ridicule. Laying out books, choosing fonts and covers, editing and proof-reading (and I’m only scraping the surface of what a publisher actually does) are skilled jobs, done by skilled people, who are paid to specialise.
If you’re a writer, and let’s assume that you are, because everyone seems to be these days... If you’re a writer, do yourself a favour and don’t think that you are also a publisher. If you honestly believe that you can do the job of at least half-a-dozen people, and do it as effectively as they can, you’re clearly delusional. Think about it, you might just be delusional about being a writer, too.


  1. I only picked up your blog a couple of days ago, being one in the many legions of your husband’s fans I'm easily diverted every time he utters words such as Heresy or Ghosts.

    The few posts I've read thus far have really struck a chord and I'm working my way back through the archive.

    Having spent many decades shunning others suggestions that I should try a career in writing I finally woke at another ungodly hour to resume my cog in the machine duties, with the revelation that “Hey, they may have a point.” That numbers me clearly with the 'amateurs' right?

    But I’m hoping that with wisdom garnered from musing such as yours and the array of excellent sources the links from the blog have revealed, I may avoid adding to the slushpile and eke out a happier and more fulfilling career. That or rid myself of the delusion.

    So thank you for taking the time, either way.

  2. Just because someone chooses to self-publish doesn't necessarily mean they choose to do everything themselves. Smart self-publishers will outsource part of the project to specialists: an editor, a proofreader, graphic designer for the cover, Kindle formatter, etc.

    Self-published does not necessarily mean sloppy. It CAN be done professionally.

  3. Snigger. I must like your blogs because I read them daily more often than not, and my attention span is a bit toddler-ish. This one is well reasoned, well balanced and entirely logical, but still manages to sound snarky. Must be a writer skill, I can't do that, I just sound grumpy!

  4. I just found your blog, after having been an unwitting fan since Gilead's Blood, and am finding alot of what you have to say as well as your viewpoints eye-opening. Self-publishing is, as you say, a crapshoot. After having beta read and done sundry other things for enthusiastic but unbelievably naive self-published authors, I've come to believe that the primary issue with self-publishing is that it's the place for work that the writer thinks is "good enough" but is unwilling to put in the effort it would take to make it printable.

    That's not to say that there isn't an occasional diamond in the rough to be found there, but with no quality control the public has no assurances, making for a downward spiral. Of course, I've read plenty of books which should never have come even close to print as well. And I suppose it's that sense some people have that there is no predictability, rhyme, or reason to what gets published and what doesn't that has made so many people who choose to self-publish feel righteous about it.

    In any case, you bring up the issue of whether a person who chooses to self-publish is delusional, and by extension perhaps deluding themselves over being a writer. As an extremely insecure and closed-off person who wants to think of himself as a writer but isn't sufficiently confident to make that assumption, I must ask, what are the qualities that make a writer to you?

  5. You say in another post that in this post you're "actually bigging-up publishers, agents, artists, designers and all the amazingly talented people it takes to put a proper, beautiful book together."

    Publishing houses are dinosaurs: terribly inefficient companies who are stuck in the stone age. Agents, as go-betweens, are irrelevant and will soon be extinct. Artists, designers, editors, and proofreaders are hugely valuable and important parts of the book process. But they can work as freelancers, and be hired by self-publishers. When the last publishing houses go extinct, they will still have work...if they're smart and know how to go into business for themselves.

    And that comment above regarding self-publishing being the place for a writer who thinks a book is 'good enough' but is unwilling to put in the effort it would take to make it printable??? Seriously??!! Thank god for print on demand...making self-published works printable. The publishing houses are not gods, and are not the ones who dictate what is printable and what is not. Unfortunately, they've been slow to find this out.

    1. I'm happy to enter into a dialogue on any of the subjects I raise, and which reflect only my opinions and only at the time of writing. I am, however, reluctant to do so with people who choose not to put their faces or names to their opinions, however well-thought-out and reasonable they appear to be.

      Thanks for the comment, though,


    2. Thanks for taking the time to read my comment, Anon. And yes, I am quite serious.

      I think you'll find that if publishing houses are going to be the ones to print a story, they can and do dictate what is and is not printable. You and/or other writers may be of a different opinion, but so long as large-scale publishers are the ones to print a book en-masse and distribute it on their own dime, they are holding all the cards. It is in that context by which I mean a story is printable or not, in that an author may have submitted it to many agents, but, having come up with no takers, rather than attempting a re-write according to whatever feedback they've received, have deemed it not worth the work and simply posted it as is for people to download.

      Are publishing houses and lit agents gods? Of course not. They are as fallible as anyone else. But, if you want to be published through them, you've got to follow their rules.

  6. Sorry, but although I agree there is a lot of utter crap out there, I completely disagree with the generalisation that self-pubbers are amateur.

    Take my amazingly brilliant martial arts book for example - - I paid to have this edited, proof-read, worked closely with the layout chappy, stumped out on a paper coating that meant the pages wouldn't stick together, took over 1500 photos, knocked my uke out once (I slipped honest) and spent ages on rewrites and touching up photos.

    The only reason I self-pubbed was because the chap that approached me to write the book left the company and didn't tell them there was going to be a proposal. As such, after I'd done so much work, I decided that I'd a) just write the damn thing b) go for the higher commission rate.

    For agents and publishers such as DL to say that they won't allow self-published authors to circumvent the submissions windows is - quite frankly - annoying. Understandable of course because thousands of complete idiots would self-pub on Kindle and use that to bombard them. However, I have a book that has sold the world over to critical acclaim and which I'd quite happily go toe-to-toe with against a book that has been published 'properly'.

  7. Honestly, Nicola. You don't come across as snarky, witty, or insightful. Just poorly informed and somewhat snobbish. Some self-published books are poorly written and edited, so is much of the crap I pull from Barnes and Noble bookshelves, including a LOT of what Black Library puts out. For example, from Baneblade "I remember when you used to didn't pray at all." How many extra words are in THAT sentence? I guess the copy editor was sleepy. In Adam Baker's Juggernaut (not BL, I know), a Marine officer is twisting his West Point ring. Where's the fact checker on that one?

    Of course you'll also find errors in self-published novels, usually more, but many self published novelists now hire editors to ensure their book is the best it can be. Bottom line, I don't want my words to wallow in an overworked editor's slush pile. I want them read, and if I'm the one to make that happen, then so be it.

    uh... em... I also wanted to say that you write well. I don't agree with what you say, but you say it well. Keep writing.



  8. Gosh! Lovely to revisit such an old post, and thanks for dropping in.

    You're right of course, on this subject, I probably am a bit of a snob, but, you know, it's all just one woman's opinion.

    Talking of opinions: "Baneblade" and my pal Guy Haley. He's a bit of a card, our Guy, and he likes to play with characterisation. The bit you've quoted appears to be direct speech, so I'm guessing that the wording is deliberate, and probably consistent with the speech patterns of the character. Of course, you don't have to like it, but it does explain what might otherwise look like bad English. Honestly, I have been known to have a go at writers for so-called style choices, too. Smiles.

    Always happy to indulge in dialogue and debate on the blog, so thanks for commenting and hope to read more of your thoughts over here.

    1. Yes, and we all do have a right to our opinion. I guess I'm just a bit touchy on that subject, but no matter. All in all, Baneblade was a great novel.

      Keep up the good work, and Happy Independence Day. Sorry about Yorktown and everything.