Why You Need an Editor (Really)
By Claire Hamner Matturro
Sure, now you can quickly self-publish your brand-new manuscript with the ease of such programs as Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing and Draft2Digital. But that doesn’t necessary mean you should do so.
At least not yet.
Hold on, as I’m about to say something harsh. Despite the many professional and well-done indie books now available, there’s also an avalanche of trash out there. Some of these books are imminently fixable and should be fixed. I’m not talking about bad stories (at least not in this blog). What I’m talking is sloppy stuff. First draft issues. The damn typos that haunt us all. Fact blunders. Continuity errors. Bad grammar.
Confused organization. Errant spellcheck corrections in which “he was an enigma” becomes “he was an enema.”
Which is to say, pause before publishing and own up to the fact that as an author, you need an editor or editors. Or, you at least need a solid critique group and a treasure trove of faithful and literate beta readers.
Please don’t be defensive. Every author needs editing. The editing on Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, dubbed by PBS as America’s most loved book, took years after J. B. Lippincott Company purchased the manuscript.
New authors especially need editors. No matter how compelling the characters, how fast the pacing, how thrilling the plot, how lush the setting, if the manuscript is full of mistakes, bad grammar, typos, continuity errors, factual inaccuracies, and plot holes a convoy of semi-trucks could speed through, you will lose readers. And you most assuredly will not garner the positive reviews you need to promote your book.
A recent article in the Written Word Media blog, titled “Top Ten Publishing Industry Trends Every Author Needs to Know in 2019,” boldly mentioned that “Book quality becomes critical to success.” The article stated, “A consistent issue raised by readers was the prevalence of typos and grammatical errors in independently published books. Low book quality can lead to poor reviews or readers giving up on a book or an author altogether.”
Do readers really mind mistakes in a book? The surveys taken by the Written Word Media certainly establish that, yes, readers do care.
Reviewers must certainly object to errors. Recently I volunteered to review a manuscript for Sassy Girl Book Expo. The synopsis sounded promising, and I started reading with enthusiasm. In the end, I could not review the book due to the large number of typos, continuity errors, and other mistakes. Yet, the characters were compelling, the pacing balanced, and the human drama well done. But the mistakes ruined it for me. Had this author hired an editor or editors to fix the imminently fixable errors, she would have a glowing review on Sassy Girl Book Expo.
Have I convinced you that you need an editor, or editors? If so, then let’s take a second for a quick introduction to what kind of editors, and where to find them.
First, if you are independently publishing, you need free-lance editors. If your manuscript is accepted by a traditional publishing company, they will in most cases provide you with an in-house content editor and a copy (or line) editor. But be aware, before you even submit a project to an agent or publishing house, your manuscript still needs to be edited so that you present your best possible document.
Your first editor should be a content or developmental freelancer. As the label suggests, a content or developmental editor works with the story and the substance of the manuscript. Yes, this is subjective in some ways, which is why you should check the credentials of an editor carefully and make sure he or she has edited in your genre and is in sync with you and your manuscript.
An author can hire a content editor at any stage of the process, though in my own experience, I wait until I have a completed manuscript. But if you are a true beginner with only a compelling idea and a need to write, hiring a developmental editor in the early stages can be a useful move.
Be prepared: good content editors are expensive, but well worth it in the end.
Specially, a content editor will review the believability and impact of the characters, whether the setting is appropriate and appealing, whether the pacing moves forward with sufficient tension and enough hooks to keep the reader engaged, and, of course, the plot. Within the plot, a content editor will study and comment on the plausibility of story lines, continuity of developments, themes, organization, story arc, character arcs, backstories, motive and the climax or resolution. In genre fiction, a content editor will check whether the manuscript conforms with the parameters of that genre, or if it deviates from the traditional formula, whether that departure from the norm is intentional and effective.
Once you and the content editor are done revising your manuscript, it is time to move onto the next stage in editing—the copy (or line) editor.
Copy editors seek out mistakes in spelling, punctuation, syntax, subject verb agreement, correct tenses, passive vs. active voice, awkward phrasing, run-on sentences, confusion in pronoun usage, and tag-lines for dialogue, and much more in the realm of grammar and good writing.
Even if you are a true grammar maven, those sneaky typos and continuity errors might well plague your manuscript. By continuity errors, I mean things like the main character has blue eyes in chapter one but by chapter twelve she’s described as having flashing green eyes.
Yes, copy editors are expensive also.
In some ways, the decision to hire or not hire freelance editors comes down to a balance between commitment and costs. You must be committed to producing the best possible book, free of mistakes that will impede and irritate the reader and repel the reviewer. But if you absolutely cannot afford the fees of editors, here are some alternatives.
Join a writers’ critique group. Don’t look for a bunch of nice, sweet folks who will like everything you show them. Look for a group with at least some professional writers and with people who know what “constructive criticism” actually means. Some members in my most productive critique group didn’t feel they had done their job until somebody cried. Maybe that was too harsh, but every piece of writing I submitted came out 100 percent improved. Compliments make a writer feel good, but appropriate criticism makes them write better.
The critique group is usually a first step, best utilized during the writing stage. After you have a completed draft, find or develop a group of beta readers who will review and comment on content, typos, grammar and mistakes. The best beta readers know their genre and their grammar and donate their time and talents out of the goodness of their hearts. Many authors beta read for others, but some of my best beta readers are passionate readers, not authors. You can ask for beta readers through many author indie services (https://authorsxp.com/readers/be-a-beta-reader for example) and through Facebook indie author groups.
You can find a list of editors who have been thoroughly vetted in Jeff Herman’s iconic Guide to Book Publishers, Editors and Literary Agents (New World Library October 2018). This is an expensive book, but most libraries have copies. Ask other writers who they have used successfully as editors for a word-of-mouth referral. Or check out the Editorial Freelancers Association’s website at https://www.the-efa.org/hiring/#section4. Sassy Girl Book Expo also has a growing list of knowledgeable people who will assist with editing and critiquing your manuscript. https://sassygirlsbookexpo.com/?page_id=726
Good luck, and persevere.