Would You Pay to Proof Someone’s Book?

Came across an interesting post about a debate that occurred at a conference recently, between a self-published author, named Stephen Leather and a couple of other publishing people. Apparently, it got a little heated, as these things tend to do,  around the notion of the $.99 ebook. This isn’t about that argument. The guy makes money selling books for a dollar. What other folks have to say about it to him likely isn’t going to have much of an effect. More power to him. I have my own opinion on dollar books which is beside the point of money, but I’ve discussed that before. It was something else he said that really got under my skin.

When the issue of editors, proofers, and such came up, and the obvious need for them, his stated (I didn’t hear him personally, so I can only go by what was stated in the post) opinion was that with a large fan base, some authors, who don’t need much more than light proofing, can rely on their readers to proof their books.

Yes, you heard me right. Readers can proof their books. While I don’t doubt that there are plenty of readers out there who are smart enough to be excellent proof readers, it isn’t their job to proof books. This is an absurd expectation, and frankly, disrespectful of the reader. It’s one thing to openly crowd-source a book, where you invite feedback on an unfinished story. Note the important word here: unfinished. This is a very different tack to take in producing a story (an interesting one to, mind you, and maybe for another post), but when you are putting out a book to the audience to read, the expectation and assumption is that it’s a finished product.

Why would I buy a book with this expectation? I have no desire to feel obligated to report back to the author about errors that need correction. If I’m paying you money for a story, my expectation is simple. This story is as good as you can make it. It is as error free as you are able to do. Now, the fact is, most authors, 99% even, do not have the skill set to proof their own work. Your brain is so wrapped up in the process and product that it’s just too easy to miss things. This is what good editors, copy-editors and proofers do. We pay them for their services to make our stories as good as the possibly can be. If we’re going to sell our product, it is the minimum we should be doing as writers. To lay any of this at the feet of the reader is having them pay a dollar and invest their time in catching errors that they shouldn’t have to be seeing in the first place.

I’ve stated it before, and it will always bear repeating. If you aren’t willing to invest in the appropriate services to make your book the best possible story it can be before you put it out there to readers, DON”T PUBLISH IT!

Nuff said. Happy reading/writing everyone.

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2 responses to “Would You Pay to Proof Someone’s Book?

  1. Hey Stephen. I figured the post I read that discussed the interactions may have taken comments somewhat out of context. And that the things you mention here, providing feedback for early looks and such, is a different matter entirely. That’s more like enlisting beta readers, and is kind of pre-final product stage. I take no issue with that sort of thing. If you’ve gotten to the point where you write very clean on your own, more power to you. It’s difficult to do. Few writers have a knack for the clean draft on their own, in my opinion. I know I don’t. Editing is not one of my strong suits, at least not with my own material. I will say that writing a lot, can certainly make you a better story-teller, but it doesn’t always translate to being a better editor of your own work. That takes a separate sort of practice. Editing isn’t writing, and not a lot of writers can or are capable of being good at both.

    That said, I’m glad for the clarification, since the comment, taken as it was in the post, didn’t come across very well. Regardless, I like to emphasize whenever I can for writers to always put their best foot forward, and more often than not, it means enlisting some help, which shouldn’t come from readers, at least not as a presumptive method of publishing. It makes us writers look bad when readers put out their money, whether it’s $1 or $20, and receive a poor product. It’s far to easy to be overcome by the excitement of producing a book, and putting it out there before it’s ready. Anyway, the feedback is much appreciated.

  2. HI – I should stress that I am talking about very specific readers, some of whom are also writers and some who are editors. Some I pay but a lot do it for free or because they want an early look at a book. Also, I have more than 30 novels in print and have reached the stage where I don’t need much in the way of an edit…. Yes, I am one of the 1 per cent you refer to! Good luck with your writing, nice blog!