Do you need an editor?

I’m excited to be here as a new member of the Madrona Workshop Troupe and I’m looking forward to offering you hints and help tuning up your manuscript for publication.

When you make the bold decision to self-publish you are bypassing many of the traditional gatekeepers who have dominated the publishing industry until very recently. Many well-established authors will tell you that the criteria those gatekeepers use is very narrow and often filters out excellent work. Still, one set of gatekeepers, namely editors, does provide a very valuable service: it is editorial skill that often makes the difference between a book that languishes unread on bookstore shelves and a best seller.

In our January 26-27 workshop I will go into detail about the process of self-editing and revision. Can you do it all yourself? Sure, and I will give you guidelines that will help you.

Some of you, though, may want to consider paying for the services of a freelance editor—someone with the experience and background to take a fresh and objective look at your work.  If you are going to go that route, it’s important to understand something about what different kinds of editors do.

Developmental or content editing: This level of editing is usually a lengthy process. A developmental editor will discuss the concept of your book with you and read through your entire manuscript so that she is completely familiar with the story you are trying to tell (in a work of fiction) or the concepts you want to discuss (in non-fiction). This type of editor can give you feedback on the structure of the book–how to make it more accessible or targeted to your audience, how to improve transitions from one idea to another. A developmental editor can rewrite sections of your book if you request this. She can make suggestions that will help you to move your story forward or enliven your characters or point out characters who could be eliminated to strengthen your story. She can point out ways to present ideas that will make it easier for your readers to follow.

Copy or line editing: This is the nuts and bolts kind of editing that focuses on spelling, punctuation, grammar and basic mechanical errors. You may be a great speller and understand the rules of punctuation and grammar perfectly. If so, you can put your manuscript in a drawer for a week or two then take it out with a fresh eye and copy edit it yourself. But far too many authors rely on their computer’s ‘spell check’ to correct these kinds of problems and in doing so end up presenting their brilliant ideas in a package that readers dismiss. If your work is not properly copy-edited you run a high risk that your final product will not look professional.

While professional editing is usually worth the cost, you can’t avoid the revision process entirely—it’s a big part of being an author. It’s the part that many authors dread, but it can be the most rewarding part of the work. We’ll talk about how to be your own best editor in the workshop. Hope to see you there!

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6 Responses to Do you need an editor?

  1. If you want to increase the success rate once you self-published your book, it is really recommended to hire an editor. If possible, hire both developmental and copy editors. But doing the copy+editing yourself first before sending it to your copy editors will cut off some time needed in editing the book. 🙂

  2. Having just self-published my first collection of short stories “The Girl At The Bus Stop And Other Erotic Short Stories” on Amazon and not having used the services of an editor, I was very interested to read your piece. The next time I publish I’ll seriously consider using the services of an editor. Are your workshops held in the UK or in the USA?

  3. floridaborne says:

    Paying for the services of a freelance editor is good advice, but it may be more expensive than most people can afford. For those who can afford to do without fast food breakfasts for the next year, a good freelance editor is well worth the investment.

    I paid for manuscript analysis and believe it was a good choice. Basically, my writing was good but I was starting the book too far along in the story. To tell it effectively, I had to find where the story began. That was an eye-opener for me. Finding where the path starts, then following it, makes all the difference. Writing has always been a guilty pleasure for me, but now it’s a pleasure better than sitting on a balcony overlooking a mountain scene eating moist, rich chocolate cake on an all-expense paid vacation..

  4. There are a lot of reasons beyond grammar and punctuation to go through the revision process. “Revision” means literally to see again. Revision and editing are not the same thing and writers would do well to understand this. Too many of them think that fixing the spelling and the commas is “revision.” It’s not. And a lot of self-published books reflect this lack of understanding. All writers need to go through the revision process – looking at the manuscript again and reworking it – before even considering an editor. Writers need to be able to take a hard, objective look at every sentence and paragraph. Any writer unwilling to do this, cannot be considered a writer – or an author. It’s just part of the business and the writing life. As one editor put it, “You can’t edit a mess.”

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