Is Crowd-Sourced Editing the Future of Self-Publishing?

Crowdsourced Editing: The Future of Self-Publishing?

Sites like Kickstarter, IndieGogo, and other “crowd-funding” platforms have been all the rage lately.

Without ever leaving your home, you can tap into your networks of friends, family, and followers, and raise startup capital for things like your fantasy board game idea, a local food truck, and even an initial print run of your fan-fiction book release.

It’s a crazy concept, but one that’s been wildly successful for many people.

Could the next logical step be “crowdsourced” work?

Specifically, could we, as authors, tap into these same networks for help with the more mundane and time-consuming (and expensive) tasks like cover design, book layout, and editing?

I decided to put this question to the test, in at least a small way:

After I finished my second and third drafts of my thriller novel The Golden Crystal, I let it sit for a few months while I sought out the perfect professional editor to take my mess and make it a masterpiece.

It turned out that editors are expensive.

I didn’t have the few thousand plus it would take to get even a general proofread, so I threw my hands up in despair—my book would need to be released as is, without that final polish.

However, two things then happened:

1. I got an offer from a reader of my blog to edit the novel—saving me thousands of dollars.

2. I thought about my growing newsletter/mailing list, at the time around 2,500 subscribers.

In the former case, we worked out a deal, and the project began. In the latter case, I decided to submit my book for “peer review” using the very network I’d been building for a year.

Fast forward another year, and the book is finished.

It was edited extremely well by this aspiring editor, carefully, thoughtfully, and expertly. I was more than happy with the result, and I know the book is significantly better because of it.

The other half of the story is this:

When the book was finished being edited, I sent an email to the mailing list with the book attached, and asking these questions:

Would you be willing/able to read and review my upcoming thriller? And if you feel compelled, would you want to leave an honest review* on Amazon or Goodreads afterwards?

The results were wonderful—over 200 people downloaded and (hopefully!) read the book, and I got many emails thanking me and mentioning that they liked the book.

There were also more than a few emails of a different strain: readers had found typos here and there, missing words, repetitive phrases, etc. These emails asked if I would like to hear about these things or if it was out of line.

My response to them was the same each time: “Of course I want to hear about them! If you’re happy to send them, I’m more than happy to address them!”Through these email chains and comments, I was able to have a “second-pass” edit of the manuscript, filling minor holes and catching the tiniest of errors—overall making my book that much better.

What a novel idea (pun intended).

Is this is the future of self-publishing?

Is this the direction we’re heading?

What if this “crowdsourced” editing strategy was extrapolated and used on a larger scale?

Rather than soliciting for reviews, what if authors simply asked for help from a large base of readers who would love to be included in the process, or better—included in the acknowledgements section or thanked personally somehow?

While these are mostly rhetorical questions, imagine—as an author—what it would be like to have your book vetted, critiqued, and improved upon by thousands of readers simultaneously, rather than by a handful at a time through surveys or beta reader critique groups?

I know from experience that this process would have two major effects:

1. My book would drastically improve.

2. My ego would be tested, and I would learn grace and humility.

Both of these outcomes, in my opinion, are desirable. There are, however, a few caveats with this idea as well.

First, “crowdsourced” editing, at least on the individual level, probably will never be as high-quality as a trained professional. Things will be missed, left out, not expressed well enough to the author, etc. But that’s the power of crowd sourcing—through numerous iterations and near countless individuals, you’ll probably get a lot out of the process and make a large dent in your book’s editing needs.

Second, it can get messy. Imagine 200 people reading through a 1,000-word first draft and sending you emails about each typo, grammatical error, and inconsistency they find. Aside from “editor opinion” and “usage-led” grammarians, getting 200 emails about “hey, you misspelled this word” can be annoying.

Finally, there’s the issue of “losing buyers.” If your mailing list, network, or Facebook page has 500 likes, subscribers, or whatever, and you decide to send them all the book for free, there’s a significant chance you’re cutting down the number of people who will be inclined to buy said book when it’s finished. Why pay for something you’ve already received for free?

I’m sure there’s more I’m missing, but this is a good start.

If you haven’t heard of crowdsourcing, or haven’t looked into it, it’s worth noting that it’s not a new idea—nor is the idea of crowdsourced editing. It hasn’t been widely adopted as a viable alternative to “traditional” editing, as far as I can tell, but that could be due to the concerns expressed earlier or something else entirely.

I’d be willing to bet that if an enterprising young company or developer wanted to set up a dedicated “crowdsourced editing” hotspot online, we’d very quickly have some more data. It could be the wave of the future . . . or it could very well be just a fantastical idea not worthy of seeing the light of day.

At Turtleshell Press, we’re working to build some of these ideas into our service lineup. It’s not ready yet, but you can sign up to get first access when it is.

What do you think about all of this? What ideas do you have for improving the speed, quality, and accuracy of the writing process, while possibly lowering the cost of rather expensive services?

Leave a comment and let us know!*Asking for the review in this way was crucial—I didn’t want to “solicit” reviews or imply that I expected only 4- and 5-star reviews. If you ask for help in this way, I recommend using something like this as a template.

Tell me your opinion: Do you think crowdsourced editing could become a valuable resource for authors?

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About Nick Thacker

Nick Thacker is a writer, blogger, and marketer who blogs about self-publishing at LiveHacked. He also has a completely free 20-week course that helps people write a novel, and has recently released his first thriller The Golden Crystal available on Amazon.

Comments

  1. What a great post! And I say that as a professional editor with a passion for helping new authors. Alternatives to traditional editing seems to be the theme of the day, as I was just on another blog (Nail Your Novel) and the post was about other lower cost solutions to hiring a professional editor.

    I believe in win-win, and solutions for everyone regardless of their budget. I do believe things like this are the wave of the future, while at the same time there will always be authors who can afford traditional editing and will use it, so hopefully I will not go hungry!

    • I’m with you, Leslie. As a professional editor and writer myself, I both love and loath the idea.

      What I love about it as an editor is receiving an MS from an aspiring writer that’s been through that process–it’s a less painful and distracting read. That allows me to focus on technique and “macro” issues.

      Literary editing is one of those professions where you have to be be able to see the big picture AND pay attention to detail. I really enjoy the literary part of literary editing MUCH more than the copy editing, so its nice when the MS comes to you with fewer “nits” and you can really help an aspiring author.

      As a fiction writer, I use limited crowd sourcing. I’ve established a group of about 12-20 people (depends on who’s available) that I stick with. They have various backgrounds as writers, editors or readers. I set them loose, but also include a list of open questions like “what part of the book did you like/dislike most”, and “did you have to stop and reread any part of the story?” It’s an incredibly useful and valuable process.

  2. Thanks so much for sharing with us today, Nick!

  3. I had not thought of this approach and Nick seems to have summed up the potential benefits and pitfalls pretty well. You are a brave man, Nick. Thanks for your insights.

  4. I do think that something very different will be happening/changing with publishing over the near future. There’s too much competition, and too few editors and agents with not enough time … and with this combination, an alternative is needed for those of us who are still looking for ways (inexpensive ways!) to publish or self-publish. This could very well be the alternative. Thanks so much for the great post. Lots of things to think about!

  5. Great essay Nick! I visited your site as well and it too is awesome. New to blogging I definitely need some writing tips.

    Many thanks to both you and Kim.

  6. I don’t know if I’d want 200 people involved in editing my novel, but I can definitely see the benefits of having a group-edit. I’ve seen it in my own writing in a small way (with two talented friends, one a published author in her forties, the other a young lady about my own age). I think it’s great to have a piece of writing picked apart (in a kind way, of course!) by people who are interested in your work and interested in seeing you improve. Looking at a story I wrote, the first chapter I did on my own with no editing, the other five were beta-read by one of the aforementioned friends. The difference is almost unbelievable. So, yes, definitely worth it to crowd-source to an extent, though possibly not as large-scale as a hundred people.
    A suggestion I would have would be to have perhaps two or three (or more depending on the size of your group) on the lookout only for plot consistency, others for character development, others for dialogue, and others for the grammar, spelling, and maybe formatting. So perhaps twelve people in all would make up a good editing team.

  7. Hi NIck. How is this different from beta readers? And imagine 200 people trawling through your novel!! Even having 3 Critique Partners gets a bit confusing. However, whatever we choose for improving our novel sure beats publishing a ms that hasn’t had any eye other than ours cast over it. We are all sick of reading self-pubbed, badly edited/formatted books.

  8. I was thinking of making a limited amount of copies for my book and making them “library books” for people to critique on separate paper – but they couldn’t keep the book, they could only read it. I had another idea that, like a library, if the reader didn’t return the book within a month they could be charged a cheap fee. Just an idea so far though.

  9. IndieGogo looks like a great option. I just started my fundraising attempt with it a couple days ago to get my sequel, A Wizard’s Gambit, edited. I don’t have as large a following as you do, but donations are trickling in. And if I can’t raise the $1950 needed to afford my previous editor, at least I might be able to afford a less expensive one… although I like and trust my previous editor, as she’s fantastic and does an incredible job.
    I really do think this is the way to go for aspiring authors who can’t afford the cost of editing, but have an amazing story to tell. Releasing a book without editing is a bad idea.

  10. This is a very interesting idea which seems to be popping up in a variety of places. Crowdsourcing has much to recommend it. It is a way to use digital tools to expand the functions of a writing group or critique group to get more eyes on your manuscript. As an editor who works with a lot of self-publishing authors, I think that it’s important to recognize some things about the process. First, I think you need to give the crowd some clear guidelines as to the kind of feedback you want from them. Second, recognize that you will get feedback rather than editing. Editors look at a work holistically and try to help the author to shape the overall manuscript to be the best book it can be. Feedback from crowd members will often be across the board – everything from spelling errors to revising the story arc. The author must sort through it all and decide what feedback is sound and what is not. Will this improve the manuscript? Sure.
    Would the manuscript still benefit from professional editing? Yes. This is especially true for copy editing. The place where crowdsourcing might be particularly beneficial is in improving the quality of the draft the editor ultimately sees – and thereby reducing the cost of editorial services. The fact is that a more polished draft takes less time to edit. I think authors would benefit from combining the benefits of both crowdsourcing their books and then having them professionally edited.

  11. With so much of an emphasis now on writing multiple titles, I think that authors could really benefit from collaborative tools and techniques that speed up publishing. Indie authors have to be good project managers now! Building a collaborative tool for editing is a great idea, and it will be interesting to see how it gets shaped by feedback. For example, you will learn the optimum size for an editing team, which should address some of the crowdsourcing problems, like too many reports of the same error.

  12. Thanks Leslie! As someone who worked with a pro editor, I can definitely say it’s worth it — it’s just not always possible to go “all out.” In those cases, maybe crowdsourced editing is a viable alternative!

    Thanks!
    Nick

  13. Hi Steve — it’s really about looking at the clear benefits/detriments to do it, but the piece is essentially “predicting” that this is probably a direction we might be heading soon!

  14. Hi faerietaleforest!

    Right on — we’ll see what happens!

  15. Hi Darrell — thanks for visiting! Let me know if there’s ever anything you need help with!

  16. Laura — that’s a fantastic idea! I’ll have to roll that into Turtleshell Press when we start offering crowdsourced editing packages! ;-)

    Thanks for the great comment, and wonderful ideas!

  17. Hi Denise; you’re right — we are all sick of it (however easier it’s making it for the rest of us to compete on quality!).

    The difference — depending on how “good” your beta readers are — is that I’d imagine people who are supposed to be “editing” a novel, rather than just reading through it and promising to review it/mention any major plot holes, would do a better job at catching the “small” stuff that might otherwise fall through the cracks.

  18. Writer4Christ: interesting idea. Sounds like you might be on to something. Keep us posted!

  19. Hi Ryan — I’ve followed the rise of sites like that (IndieGogo, Kickstarter, etc.). The difference here is that instead of having all those people pay for one editor, you’re having all those people actually DO the editing!

  20. Not to sound money hungry or anything, but you sent out your book to 200 people to read and edit would you potentially lose out on customers? Keep in mind, I’m new to publishing. I realize you have beta readers and all that, I was just curious. I also agree with previous comments that 200 people editing could be difficult to manage. But if it worked, I’m all for looking into it. I do like the idea of crowd sourcing in general, just had the one concern.

  21. Anonymous says:

    A little late to the party, but anyway: one of the Kickstarter projects I backed was for a tabletop RPG system called FATE Core. The authors let backers see drafts of the rulebook before it was published, and volunteers were allowed to help edit it. They set up a Google Drive spreadsheet that was accessible to backers, and they could put in the page number, the original text, and what the edited text should be. Granted, this works better on the side of copy editing than anything else, it’s a neat system that can be implemented for other crowdsourced editing projects.

  22. Hi Rochelle — great question. Here’s the thing: every writer needs to decide for themselves what they’re going for:

    1. Money
    2. Breaking out of obscurity

    Either answer is fine, but here’s the secret:

    If you chose “1. Money,” here’s how to get it: Break out of obscurity. Without people knowing who you are, there’s NO WAY you can make money in this game. Period.

    So for me, I decided I wanted the Amazon machine to work for me (through reviews, traffic, etc.), and that’s part of why I gave the book away. Plus, it’s only a small percentage of the overall number of subscribers on my mailing lists…

    Thanks!
    Nick

  23. Nick, fascinating post. I think there could be huge benefits in crowd-sourced reviewing/editing for authors, and some for the reviewers as well, since they get a more intimate connection with an author, getting a work “behind the scenes” in process, and feeling like they are contributing. I do think that could work to promote the author’s work with these readers even if it’s a giveaway, because they may buy his/her other works, or buy the one they reviewed, because of the connection.

    I believe that Guy Kawasaki sent the manuscript for APE out to a large number of connections for comment and review, and they came back with thousands of corrections or suggestions. Indeed that might not be easily manageable, but APE came out well.

    I’m a professional editor myself, and I think there will remain a place for the kind of polished editorial eyes that only formal experience supplies. Whether developmental editing or line-editing, a pro can provide comprehensive guidance that’s usually beyond that of a helpful amateur. However, there’s much to be said for many sets of eyes on a work, and a range of editing perspectives. Time consuming, but probably worth it.

  24. Hello everyone, I am a newbie here and to writing. I love all of the great advice and information that is shared and gained here! I have a question related to this post. If anyone can offer me some advice it would be greatly appreciated. Are there any other options for finding critique partners that are trustworthy?

  25. I just got done reading your article, and really enjoyed it, thank you. You can see some fun self-published books at http://www.fun2readbooks.com where they are in paperback, digital and audio also now. all of them are indie and self published, any questions or help, please ask me, I do this full time and would love to help anyone that needs help or advice, thank you, Vince Stead.

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