In my travels around the internet and my adventures critiquing others’ writing, I’ve found two statements about editing that bother me.
“Truth” 1: You can’t edit yourself.
Before you editors in my audience get too worked up, I’m not disagreeing with the premise that a finished, professional product requires the services of a professional editor. I can’t imagine putting a work for sale without, at the very least, a structural edit.
I disagree with an implication I’m getting from the statement, one that I’m not sure was intended but that bothers me a lot — that an author shouldn’t do everything he can to edit himself. After all, if it’s not possible to edit yourself, why should you try?
More indicative of this attitude is a statement I’ve seen too many times to count from those who have been critiqued:
“Truth” 2: I don’t have to (punctuate correctly, understand basic grammar rules, craft a coherent thought, produce more than a jumble of random words, etc.); that’s what editors are for.
That attitude makes my head want to explode.
Here are my truths about editing:
Truth 1 – If you’re going to be a writer, do it right.
You simply must employ the services of an editor before hitting “publish” for your precious manuscript. If you’re not serious enough about producing a quality product that you can’t make that monetary investment, how can you expect anyone to pay for your work?
The most likely results of failure to do so is:
• You embarrass yourself.
• You make the rest of us self-publishers look bad.
If you truly don’t have any money, try crowdsourcing. If your work has any merit, you should be able to generate enough money for at least a manuscript review by a freelance editor. That’s not ideal, but it’s better than the alternative.
Truth 2 – Self edit before the edit.
• Your editor is a professional, meaning that’s how he makes his livelihood. He’s charging you per word as a way to estimate the amount of time he will spend working on your manuscript. He cannot afford to spend more than that allotted amount of time. Once he hits that limit, he has to move on to the next client. Would you rather he spent his time taking your work from horrible to readable or from good to great?
• Editing is freaking expensive. Unless you have a publisher that’s paying for it or you expect your book to make six figures, it’s simply not cost effective to have an editor fix mistakes that you could have caught.
• An editor can only take your work so far above the starting point. When I critique someone, I can’t do much if I can’t understand what they’re trying to convey. All I can do is point out the confusion. If I can understand but the wording/technique is off, I can suggest a remedy. If the wording/technique is good, I can focus on how that piece fits in with the overall story.
Truth 3 – Sweat the small stuff.
Similar to the attitude that it’s the editor’s responsibility to fix all your wrongs is the attitude that small mistakes don’t matter.
What’s more important — not using adverbs or having a coherent plot?
Obviously the latter.
The big stuff — plot, character, tension, emotion — take your work from useless drivel to readable. If you want to find any audience at all, you must master these elements.
If, however, you want your work to be great, you have to master the small stuff.
No one, beside another writer, is going to read your book and say, “It was awesome. The author didn’t overuse adverbs.”
What’s going to happen is, since you found ways to immerse the reader in lieu of using adverbs, the reader is going to turn page after page until the end and say, “Wow, that was awesome. I couldn’t put it down.”
Each time you make a mistake, you pull the reader out of the story. Enough mistakes, and you lose them.