For those of you who already know the answer to the question at hand, I applaud you.
But there are a few who might be wondering why, in fact, one would ever worry about editing. Two schools of thought rally around this subject. Some of you might be thinking one or both of the following:
- Who needs an editing service? For God’s sake, I could edit the local newspaper in my sleep. I’ve got this, people!
- Why should I bother with editing? That doesn't matter! I wrote this book with my bare hands and I’m hitting ‘publish’ tomorrow!
It’s true that indie publishing has simplified the once traditional route to getting our work out to readers. But that’s all the more reason to take your writing seriously. By overlooking the editing process, you’re only hurting yourself. Once you decided, “I’m getting published someday!”, you essentially said goodbye to writing as a hobby. Look, I’m not telling you to stop enjoying the creative process. Of course not. I think we should all remember why we got into it, why we still love writing. However, you should see your manuscript as a potential book.
Notice I said potential? Before you hit ‘publish’ on that Amazon screen, think carefully about the ramifications of publishing a book without official edits.
We’re all familiar with bad reviews, right? Not only have we seen them on book purchase pages, reviews have changed the fate of restaurants and hotels alike, even something as simple as a pair of shoes.
Words have power. Just as our books can move readers on an emotional level, enough bad reviews can kill your book’s reputation. Having said that, a negative review happens now and then. No author, not even a famous one, is immune. It’s true that you can’t win every reader over. But, wouldn’t you want to be judged on the merit of your work, the quality of your story, rather than the editing mistakes and glaring grammar problems you thought weren’t so relevant?
Take it from me. I’ve been a published author since 2010, and I still jump to catch all the editing issues before I even consider publishing the book. With my latest book, Directions of the Heart, I fortunately fixed the mistakes in the proof copy CreateSpace sent and was still able to meet my deadline before the collection officially released. And this occurred after numerous rounds of self-editing, and assistance from outside sources. To date, no one has mentioned any editing issues in the book's reviews.
But let’s get back to the discussion here.
Consider this. If you decide to go the traditional route and you skip the editing step, you’re not going to win any points with literary agencies or publishers to which you send query letters. Once they get a load of the first few pages of your manuscript, you’ll get a tasteful yet boring form letter that basically says, “Sorry, but no thanks!”
So…the question you need to ask yourself is:
“How important is the finished product to me?”
I think most writers want to put their best work out there. Some are even perfectionists about it. Does it irk you when you missed making a word plural on an email or social media? You want to fix it right away, yes? But it's not always possible. I feel your pain. Now, why wouldn’t you have the same reaction with the book that you’d like to show readers?
“I’m ready, Marie. I am hitting ‘publish’ right now!”
Whoa…slow your roll there, cupcake. Have you read through your manuscript a few times? For example, two or three weeks between each round? Did you read it aloud or even print it out? Sometimes these different techniques allow us to see glaring errors we missed before. And I’m not even touching the idea of having to format your book for release.
But let’s go back to the beginning. Remember the eager writer who can’t wait for the world to see his or her work? Ditch that dream just for the moment. You need to put your editing hat on!
Look, this is when things get gritty, or at least they should. Think of yourself as the girl who fell for the bad boy. He can do no wrong, but your family is trying to tell you otherwise. Yet the intelligent thing to do would be to weigh your options, consider your future with this guy. Likewise, you’ve got to look at your manuscript with a critical eye, not rose-colored glasses. Fall out of love with your book for a while. I’m not asking you to second guess everything, just to be smart. Now is the time to keep an eye out for plot holes, character confusion (using the same name for two different secondary characters…yeah, it happens), and, among a thousand other aspects, making sure you didn’t miss any important details.
Believe me, when you’re finally ready to see them, they’ll pop out at you. For example, if you want to ensure your characters are fully developed, answer these questions. You won’t include every detail in the book, but at least you’ll know your protagonist much better and be more aware of when those facts matter within the story.
By now, you’ve probably realized that I’m talking about self-editing. Mmm-hmm…it’s a thing. Even if you are open to using an outside source for help (critique partners, beta readers, a proofreader or other editing service), do you really want to hand your hard work over to a total stranger without perfecting it on your own first? Nah, probably not.
Here are some possible questions to ask yourself with any work of fiction:
- Chapter Opening and/or Closing: Does it hook readers to read more?
- Plot: Is there a compelling event, subplot, tension or conflict that is causing the story to evolve?
- Pacing: Are the sequence of events or actions of the characters making sense? Are there too many minute details that are weighing the story down? In other words, is the narration too long?
- Character Description: Can readers visualize the character? Is it easy to enter the character’s mind and feel emotion?
- Scene: Is it important to the story? Why? Does the character support the scene? Is it rich in details?
- Character Building: Is there an internal or external struggle? Is the character struggle important to the scene or the story? Why? Do you understand the character’s motivation? If it’s confusing, maybe you should find out why.
- Point-of-View: Is head hopping occurring? If there is a POV shift, did it elevate the plot or move the story forward?
- Transitions (Between chapters or scenes): Are they occurring seamlessly between paragraphs? Are they building tension in the story?
- Grammar and Word Choice: Are there repetitive phrases? (Suggestion: Use synonyms. They break up repetitions.)
A critique partner will often help you narrow down many such problem areas. Still, it doesn’t hurt to suss out some of it for yourself.
Okay, let’s say you’ve tackled that as well as possible on your own. Now comes the dreaded part. Unless you’re a total editing maven (and even if you’re an editor in real life, I still wouldn’t suggest editing everything on your own), then self-editing can be a grueling yet necessary process. Luckily, the internet has provided us with awesome tips. Hallelujah!
I swear by these next two articles from The Write Life:
With my first pass, I use article number one, and then I read through the manuscript. During round two, I launch into the second article. This is a more detailed look at the mistakes people often make while writing. After implementing the article’s suggestions, I read through the book again. Take decent breaks between each round (you don’t want to be too familiar with your work). With both articles, utilize the advice but try not to drown out your unique writing voice. I always do another read-through before anyone else sees my work. That’s three full rounds of self-editing.
“Marie, this could take a while!”
No kidding. But the best endeavors often do.
Will you catch everything? Nope. But I guarantee it will be a lot better than where any of us started out with the first draft.
So…hopefully, your work is edited well enough to hand over to a critique partner or beta readers. Try to provide a questionnaire to help focus your betas on what kind of feedback that you’re looking for. It looks something like this, but you can tailor it to your specific genre.
Perhaps you’re thinking of checking out an editing service. I’ve worked with a lot of good editors through my publisher. I would advise you to compare rates. Most editors charge per word. That can really add up, especially if you have a novel-length manuscript. Plus, there are different types of editing. Are you looking for basic copy editing or something more thorough, like line, content or developmental editing? Word of mouth is usually the best way to find a good editor. Ask your fellow writers or authors who they used for their latest book editing.
I hope we’ve established the importance of editing. Do errors still slip through at times? Even with the professionals? Sure. I’ve noticed the occasional typo in a big six bestselling novel. The fact is no one is perfect. But I bet you’ll agree that one or two minor issues would be far better than a 100,000 word manuscript riddled with errors (which is likely to cause your reader to toss the book, or their Kindle, out the window).
Editing is too damn important, both for your professional integrity as a writer, and to avoid making your eyes cross when you reread your published book. Plus, readers will love you for giving them a polished product! You can’t lose there. I know you’d prefer them to talk to their friends about the story and how it makes them feel, rather than get hung up on all the grammar problems. Right?
I thought so. Despite how much of a pain it can be, editing is your friend.
Really! ;) Are you still with me?
Okay, we’ll go with whatever makes you comfortable. In any case, editing is an aspect of the writing process that you can’t afford to ignore. At least, if you want to survive as an author. A well-edited and published book is certainly something of which you should be proud!
I hope you found some helpful tips here. Have a great weekend, and, as always, happy reading! :)