By: Jim Dempsey
With e-books selling for such low prices and tight profit margins in self-publishing, there’s constant pressure to keep costs down. As a result, authors can be tempted to cut corners in editing and production to save money.
That’s risky because the quality of the final product can suffer. A poorly edited and produced novel risks being unread.
A well-edited novel will stand out from the crowd and command attention – and even help boost sales. Professional editing will not only correct errors, it can clear away the clutter, tighten up the plot, invigorate characters, and strengthen the author’s voice.
Here are five reasons why you need a professional editor for your novel:
Editing is like housework, it goes unnoticed unless it’s not done.
Professional editing is an indispensable, not just a desirable, part of a novel’s journey to publication. Editing can make all the difference to getting a novel noticed by a prospective publisher and audience alike. An editor will make sure the reader remembers the dazzling plot and characterisation, and not the problems with grammar. Authors need editors. It takes teamwork to craft a polished and captivating work that could become tomorrow’s bestseller.
Lots of authors ask friends and beta readers to take a look at their novel. Most people are flattered by the request and are happy to help.
While any feedback is welcome and can help improve the manuscript, friends tend to give a lot of positive feedback and encouragement. They can gloss over some of the novel’s shortcomings to avoid causing offence. And there could be those who are just a little bit jealous and who will gladly recount a whole list of failings.
Professional editors, on the other hand, are experienced at giving criticism. They are systematic and thorough, covering not only familiar issues of grammar and punctuation, but also matters of style, pacing, dialogue, plot twists, and fact checking (to name but a few). Above all, the feedback they give is honest and objective.
Like the author, editors want your readers to be focussed on the narrative and not be distracted by misspelt words or absent apostrophes.
Authors are proud of their work. They have spent many hours perfecting the text, gone to great lengths to check the spelling, grammar and punctuation, and reacted to comments and corrections from their beta readers.
But that’s unlikely to be enough.
Friends and beta readers will do their best, but they have their work, family and other obligations to consider. They can probably only get to your book in their spare time, reading a chapter or two a night.
Professional editors, however, will spend their entire working day on a single novel. And the next day too. And the next, until they have a thorough understanding of the work. They are, therefore, in a much better position to point out contradictions in the characters’ behaviour, inconsistencies in syntax, and irregularities in the flow and formatting.
None of this is done in isolation. Editor and author have to work together. It’s the editor’s job to be honest with the author when suggesting improvements (such as rewriting, restructuring or cutting sections) while respecting the author’s message, meaning, tone, and style. Both author and editor have a shared interest in producing a work that gets – and keeps – the reader’s attention. What’s more, with experience and knowledge of the book-selling market, an editor can suggest ways to take the novel in a direction that might better attract the eye of a publisher or agent.
Authors often pour their deepest feelings, and even secrets, into their novels. And, for that reason, they are often cautious about who reads their early drafts. They put a lot of thought into selecting beta readers, and they do this with some trepidation: friends could spot some of the more autobiographical elements in the novel, or they might think they recognise aspects of themselves in the characters (however tenuous). Some might even wonder why they’re not featured.
In such cases, authors can benefit from the impartial opinion of an editor. By taking a bird’s eye view of the novel, the editor can identify those elements that work and those that don’t and suggest the necessary changes. While the editor will get to know you throughout the editing process, especially in the case of full, substantive editing, they are not concerned with your private life. Friends and family can wait till they read the finished novel to discuss your personal touches.
It can be tempting to ask a friend to edit your book. Someone who is not an editor but who is good with language and is prepared to do the job for little or no cost.
The issue here is one of thoroughness. Editing is a profession like any other. Editors do much more than simply spotting errors in the text. They see it as their job to help the author produce a work that will keep the reader turning page after page of your novel.
Not convinced? Why not give a professional editor a go. Any good editor worth his/her salt will offer a free five-page sample – judge the difference in quality for yourself.