Now, a publishing startup has entered a new frontier: crowdsourced editing. Advance Editions aims to “make good books better” by drawing on the wisdom, knowledge and proofreading skills of readers around the world.
An Advance Editions title is professionally edited before being soft-launched as a low-cost ebook, with the first half available to download free. Readers are then invited to suggest ways the author could improve the book, before it is finally published a few months later in ebook and print versions.
While I applaud this publisher's novel way of involving readers in finding errors, this isn't really editing. It's closer to proofreading, and it's not new.
What Advance Editions is doing here is a modern example of an idea which has been around for decades if not a century or more. Publishers have long used beta readers as the final step in the publishing process, so aside from The Guardian confusing this program with actual editing there really is nothing new here.
That said, I think that confusion is a sign of a worrisome trend. Book editing is an often invisible addition to the quality of a published book, so it is difficult to show that it has value. This has led some to discount what a developmental editor can add to the finished product.
Luckily for me, I do have an example of just how much a good editor can contribute.
In 1974 Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle wrote a book called The Mote in God's Eye. Before they sent the manuscript to the publisher, they first sent a copy to Robert Heinlein and asked him to critique it. He responded with a 14-page letter which shows just how much even successful, professional authors can benefit from the assistance of a developmental editor.
He effectively rewrote the book by advising them to discard the first 100 pages and change several key plot points. He also caught numerous errors which only an expert would notice.
You can find that letter in the The Virginia Edition of Heinlein's collected works, and it can also be found in the sample PDF which has been floating around. If you are an author or simply interested in literary analysis, it is well worth your time to read.