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Your Baby is Ugly!

Books Are Like Babies: They’re Ugly When They’re Born, but That Doesn’t Mean You Should Throw Them Away

As an editor, most of the authors who contact me realize their book needs work. Some of them underestimate how much, but they at least recognize that there’s editing to be done, or else they wouldn’t have called.

When a publisher calls me, it’s a different story. With publishers (by which I mean, in this context, people who help authors self-publish their books), the conversation often starts something like this: “This author brought me this book, and he thinks it just needs a proofread, but it’s really bad. And if I can tell it’s bad, and I’m not an editor …” and things go downhill from there.

Usually the publisher sends it to me, and I send back an editing sample and a bid. They pass that on to the author, who immediately balks because I’ve just levied upon him the greatest insult of all time: to suggest that his child is not perfect. Never mind that Stephen King, and J.K. Rowling, and every other author you’ve heard of have all been heavily edited before their books get to you. Surely your book doesn’t need that much work.

Here’s the thing.  Like babies, most books are ugly when they’re first born. They’ve been smooshed through a narrow canal called the author’s brain, which has screwed up most of their identifying features. Some parts are fatter than they should be. Other parts are skinnier. Others just plain look weird. And people will say that to everyone but you.

That’s a shame, because like parents, most authors are completely blind to how ugly their baby actually is. They’ve just gone through a physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausting experience. A massive rush of hormones has just been released and is coursing through their veins. They’re in love with what they’ve created and they always will be. And all of those things have clouded their judgment.

There’s really nothing wrong with that. In fact, you could call it an evolutionary advantage: if you throw back your book the first time someone tells you it’s ugly, your future as an author is pretty grim. That’s just natural selection. So if you really want to make it as an author, you need to realize that it’s nothing personal; everyone’s book is ugly when it’s first born, but if you give it enough love and feed it right, the features will smooth out and it’ll grow into a beautiful specimen some time down the road.

That’s why you should trust your editor. Your editor is an expert in raising books. He’ll tell you which parts to hold to your skin, how to feed it and when, and he’ll help guide you through the process. And if you follow directions, it’ll end up being a whole lot easier—and you’ll have a whole lot more success—than if you try to do it all yourself.

Just try not to be offended by what he tells you. And remember that every time you see another author’s newborn book, it’s ugly, too.


David Kassin Fried is an award-winning ghost writer and book editor. He blogs at dkfwriting.wordpress.com, and his writing-related musings can be followed on twitter @dkfwriting.