Thursday, September 15, 2011

The Case for Editing

Authors talking up their books at a book sale.
I recently visited a bookstore and spoke to the manager. We discussed how an author might get her book in the store. "I always advise people, make sure you hire an editor." She pointed to a table brimming with books. "This is what you are up against."

The case for hiring a professional editor cannot be overstated, not just for self-published authors, but writers going the traditional publishing route.  I work with writers.  Unfortunately, some believe they can cut corners when it comes to editing.  This is a huge mistake. 

Their reasoning goes something like this:  I will have friends read it and then decide if I need an editor.  Or - I know someone in the publishing business who offered to read my manuscript for free.  Another - If my manuscript gets picked up by a traditional publisher, it will get a thorough content and copy edit. Why pay anything now?

I have always recommended you consider asking "discerning" friends if they will do the favor of reading all or part of your book.  The key is discerning.  I could give my book to any number of people, but whether they can offer an honest and valuable critique is another matter.  This is one of the reasons I started the Women's Writing Circle critique group.  We are writers critiquing other writers. Friends are not always qualified to help you craft a scene or discuss a character's motivation.  Friends, no matter what their background, are not invested in your project like a professional editor who is paid for their services.  In addition, people are busy.  Asking a friend to read a 200-page manuscript is asking a lot.
International Women's Writing Guild book sale.

While the dream of finding a traditional publisher is uppermost for many, the odds that an unknown author finds a home with a Random House or Knopf are not good. If you query a literary agent, the first thing they will notice is the typo, the lack of compelling narrative, the stiff dialogue.  Why not make sure your manuscript is as near perfect as possible before you go through the endless hours of querying an agent? (Some toss after the first paragraph, but that is another discussion.)

Recently, a woman came to the Circle. She confessed she spent as many hours on query letters as writing her book!

When I work with clients or hire my own editor, I value expertise and the collaborative process. What I look for in an editor:

Is she a writer?  Has she been published?  Is she available to meet for coffee? Will she take the time to chat on the phone and go over the editing? Can she catch an error that saves me the embarrassment of having written something inaccurate, or possibly misleading?  Is she kind and encouraging?  Is she discerning and honest? Will she tell me what works . . . what doesn't?  Does she include proofreading with the content edit?

Your book is your baby. You put your heart and soul into it. Criticism is hard to accept for some writers, yet criticism/editing is integral to the writing process. It is also rewarding and fun.  Why? It is a learning experience.  Most of all, at the end of the process you have something much richer than you might have imagined, not just for your readers, but yourself.

For Susan's editing services:
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