Roz Morris and Victoria Mixon are both leading independent editors. For the past 19 years, Roz has worked as a major literary consultancy's book doctor and teaches creative writing masterclasses for The Guardian. Victoria is a professional writer and freelance independent editor who has worked in fiction, non-fiction and poetry for over 35 years. Speaking to Roz in person and Victoria on Skype, I explored their views on their industry and indie authors.
Q. What are your views on the rise of indie editors?
Roz: "Lots of people are coming onto the market and setting themselves up as editors with very little, if any, qualifications or experience. They'll undercut everyone else, usually to get the job–but are they doing a proper job? It's not enough to just be nice and friendly. You have to know what you're doing."
Victoria: "We indie editors have spent many years proving ourselves. When I began, the advice to writers from a then-popular online agent was ‘You don't need an editor’, which was later followed by ‘Get your book edited, but don’t tell us’, and finally ‘If you've had your book independently edited, tell us in your query’.
"However, I suspect that when this happened, many of the aspiring writers who had hoped–and failed–to become best-selling authors easily, without learning the craft, immediately jumped on the bandwagon as 'indie editors'. Now they're out there, charging very low rates to take pot-shots at manuscripts, still without learning how to write.”
Q. How challenging is it to go into a developmental edit with an indie author new to the experience?
Roz: "An editor should never underestimate how demanding the work is. We have to be very sensitive to the author. It can be exhausting.”
Victoria: "I won't copy and line edit a manuscript on which I have not first done some form of developmental editing. There are many aspiring writers who find developmental too much trouble, so they disappear in search of the 'editors' they want."
Q. Are indies more impatient than those on the traditional path?
Roz: "They are, although they don't realise they're being impatient. If an author hasn't been through the publishing process before, they have no idea how long it can take. Some indies contact me, wanting to publish by the end of the month not realising they're likely to get reams of notes that may take months to address."
Victoria: "I think so. Most self-publishers choose the indie route because they don't want to invest the time it takes to get an agent and then wait through one- or two-year cycle of traditional publishing.
"I've also had a self-publishing client who didn’t have time for learning how to write well. They know about the delays of traditional publishing, but not the delays of learning this craft."
Q. Are indies more or less motivated than other authors?
Roz: "I tend to find that authors who attend my Guardian Masterclasses are highly engaged, committed, and willing to be told to be patient. And many are still looking to be traditionally published.
"Some marketers advise indies to focus on getting a lot of books out. That’s certainly a sound model. But there are also indies who are taking their time to produce quality books, creating our future publishing legacy. They understand it's an art and they're committed to quality and originality. That's the beauty of self-publishing–traditional publishing can't always take a risk, which is a shame because the books that people cherish are the ones that are well-crafted and unique.
Victoria: "I would say that aspiring writers still seeking traditional publishing will drop out of the race pretty quickly without a passionate lifelong dedication to craft. So aspiring writers interested in traditional publishing are often extremely hard workers.
"Meanwhile, aspiring writers who go indie often work outrageously long hours learning and implementing the marketing necessary to make their novels visible to readers, even when marketing is not their strength. If they don't, no matter how good their work is, it tends to be invisible in the crowd.
Q: How can indie authors and editors choose the right partner?
Roz: "As an editor, I've learnt to pick projects carefully so I'm in tune with the author and not tied to an agent's or publisher's agenda. I'm interested in working with authors who are committed to developing their writing."
Victoria: "A lot of people find me by simply searching online for ‘independent editor’. Others find me through recommendations on the blogs of my friends. And some find me through my most popular blog posts, which still circulate the blogosphere.
"On the other end, indie authors must satisfy themselves that the editors they find are truly qualified. It means looking for great testimonials and credentials and researching those editors."
Q. Finally, how has traditional publishing changed from an editor's perspective?
Roz: "I think traditional publishing has lost its focus on developing authors. There's not as much nurturing.”
Victoria: "You mean aside from Black Wednesday in December 2008, when many of the top publishers in New York laid off a bunch of their most experienced editors?
"That was the turning point: publishers dismissed their responsibility for the quality of their product in order to try to maintain their enormous profits from it.
"Since then, this loss of editing and author-editor-publisher loyalty has forced writers to go, first, to their agents for editorial help and then to professional indie editors. So Black Wednesday turned out to be good business for me.
"Now what we need are excellent writers and editors who learnt this craft properly. The traditional industry, for all the havoc they're wreaking, are pushing writers toward a fabulous literary renaissance... just not to their own profit.”