I’ll admit I’m probably biased, being a version of editor myself, but let’s be real–every author goes through a stage or a moment or a glimmer of madness wherein she questions the merit of employing an external editor (i.e., an editor who is not (a) the author, (b) the author’s mother, or (c) the author’s cat). If you are in that stage/moment/glimmer of madness, read on.
During a recent discussion about editing, another writer (who happens to be successfully self-published) told me that he “still ha[s] serious reservations about even one word being changed to suit someone else.” I do understand this concern. I think we all go through a time in our writing development where we question the accepted convention of editing, of anyone else putting their proverbial stamp on our authorial babies. I certainly did.
But in my case, the more I wrote, and the more I had my writing looked at and edited by others, the more I recognized the value in gaining outside perspectives. It quickly became clear that even uneducated editors are a prize to be treasured. Truth be told, I wish I could get more people to edit for me. The more input, the better, IMO.
If you agree with me, great! Knowing the importance of editing is half the battle. However, if you have yet to be convinced that the benefits of editing outweigh the arguments against it, then for argument’s sake, let’s address some of the reasons writers might avoid the whole editing thing.
Reasons editing inspires fear in writers
#1: What if the editor wants me to change something I don’t want to change?
#2: What if I don’t have the money for a proper editor?
#3: What if I follow my editor’s advice and it turns out to be wrong?
#4: What if my editor tells me my story sucks eggs?
#5: What if I wait for an editor to edit my story and then miss my window of opportunity?
#6: What if I pay all this money for an editor and it turns out that my agent/publisher would have done the editing for me anyway?
#7: Can’t I just skip all the potential drama and edit it myself?
An editor’s perspective on the questions listed above
#1: It is my understanding that even in traditional publishing houses, they’ve moved away from the practice of throwing authors who disagree with their editors into the iron maiden. I could be wrong, but I don’t believe anyone holds a gun to your head until you add that demonic comma. That being said, it is in your own best interest as the author to either make the change or make an indirect change that clarifies and/or justifies the thing you don’t want to change. Here’s why: if it twinged someone (anyone, really) the wrong way, then it will probably ring false with your audience as well. Above all, our purpose as writers is to create a world so real that our readers feel like they are living in it. And believe me, all it takes is a questionable comma to dump a reader right back into her bedroom.
#2: There is more than one way to skin a cat. A crafty author will find a way to have someone edit her story. If cash is in short supply, there are a number of avenues for cheap to free editing. Trade full-manuscript editing with a critique buddy. Enter contests that list editing as one of the prizes. Find an editor just branching out on her own and offer a glowing testimonial and marketing plugs in exchange for a discount on her services. Also, look into what the prices actually are for editing. Some higher-concept edits cost less than in-depth edits, and you might be surprised how affordable it is.
#3: Very rarely will an editor tell you to change something so profound that it will make or break your story. Most often, an editor’s comments are related to mechanics: pacing, structure, timing, dialogue tags, grammar, characterization. In other words, the editor generally addresses the “hows” not the “whats”–how you’re getting your point across, not what the point actually is. Also, remember that the responsibility for your success or failure ultimately rests with you, because you decide which of the editor’s notes to incorporate and how. I can’t think of a single instance in which having an editor has cost someone success. But I can think of several instances in which not having an editor has done so.
#4: If your editor tells you your story sucks eggs, then the reality is that she is the one who sucks. Any editor worth her salt tells you exactly which aspects of your story are working and which are not and why. Most editors want what you want. They want your story to be the next Great International Novel. They want to be the one who helped you hone your story to the white-hot brilliance it is capable of. The editor is your friend. Say it with me now…
#5: You are a writer. The world is your window of opportunity. Your whole life is the window of opportunity. There is no great ship that is going to sail without you if you don’t get your story out there in the next two months. Okay, yes, the vampire ship has already sailed. But everything else is pretty much up for grabs. And if by some strange happenstance you do manage to miss some critical moment of pop-culture glory, there is always another idea waiting right around the corner for you to seize it. You’ll just have to take my word for it that making the time for a thorough edit will actually save you time in the long run by greasing wheels you didn’t even know needed grease.
#6: Let’s turn this question around. What if every agent you submit to rejects your manuscript, despite your original voice, intriguing premise, and engaging characters, just because your writing is not of high enough quality? A good edit would have polished those rough edges, making your manuscript irresistible to every agent you sent it to. Can you really risk sending the story without a thorough edit?
#7: This entire discussion is predicated on the idea that you have already edited the hell out of your manuscript. But there comes a point when you’re skipping over entire paragraphs, because you’ve read them so often that you literally cannot see the trees that make up the forest anymore. You can mitigate this a little bit by setting your manuscript aside for a few months and writing something else before attempting to edit. You can also try printing out your story or putting it in a different font to trick your mind into thinking it’s reading something new. But none of this provides the pure magic of a fresh, outside perspective. It may be different than yours. This is the point.
Hopefully, I’ve convinced you that an external editor is not only a necessity but also a desirable commodity. And it’s only more important if you’re considering going the self-publishing route. Good structure, tight prose, characterizations that sizzle, all of these can make your novel stand out from the crowd. And a good editor (or series of editors) can help you take your story from passable to popping off the shelf.
If you’re still not convinced, take a look at the following posts about the importance of editing (one from an agent, one from a published author, and one from an honest-to-god editor):
Okay, now that you’re really convinced that your beloved manuscript needs editing, I think it’s time to delve into the different types of editing. Which means…drum roll please…another series! We’ll start off next week with a post about Revision.