Why Authors Need Editors
by Kim Kimber
You’ve finished writing your book. You may well have spent months, years even, slogging away but finally your first draft is complete. I say ‘first draft’ because that’s exactly what it should be. Writing is only part of the process, the next, and most important, stage is editing and this is where your book really begins to take shape.
A question I am often asked is, ‘Do I need a professional editor or proofreader?’ The answer is yes; if you want to ensure your work is of a publishable standard and error-free. Whether you are an indie author or planning to submit your work to agents and publishers, it’s essential to have your manuscript reviewed by a pair of unbiased, critical eyes. It is very difficult for one person to pick up every error and practically impossible for the author. All too often, your brain will read what you think you wrote, making it easy to overlook mistakes.
Frequently, authors tell me that their manuscript needs hardly any work because their partner, mum or aunt has already reviewed it. While it is perfectly possible for your best friend or close relative to comment on your manuscript, and even correct obvious errors, the final check should be made by someone whose business it is to pick up other people’s mistakes. A professional editor or proofreader will approach the job very differently from a layperson and be aware of all those tricky foibles of grammar, spelling and punctuation that writers routinely come unstuck over. Editors are also impartial and will not have the same attachment to favoured words and phrases as the author and will have no hesitation in deleting them to improve the overall flow of the text.
Friends and relatives, naturally, may not want to offend you by offering critical feedback, whereas a professional editor will point out a weak storyline and suggest ways to improve it. They will identify inconsistences in the plot and point out if one of your characters appears to be in two places at one time, or changes name halfway through the book (yes, that does happen).
If you are a self-published author, you may have penned a page turning, potential bestseller but readers will be put off by bad reviews, and incorrect grammar, spelling and punctuation attracts negative feedback. If you are planning to pursue the traditional route to publication, an agent or publisher will not even look at your manuscript if it is poorly written and littered with mistakes. If you do not care enough about the presentation of your work, why would they?
A quick once over with the spellchecker is not sufficient as it is not sophisticated enough to differentiate when a word is misused, but spelt correctly, or pick up homonyms such as ‘compliment’ and ‘complement’. Similarly, the majority of grammar checkers are even more limited and will ignore even rudimentary errors, or flag them up incorrectly. Thankfully, this is one area where technology has not advanced enough to replace the human brain.
It goes without saying that you should ensure your manuscript is as good as you can make it before approaching a professional. It is a good idea to set your book aside for a while, before you begin editing, as you will come back to it with a fresh perspective. One way to find out how well your story flows is to read it aloud, from hard (printed) copy rather than the computer screen. The act of reading from the printed page will flag up issues with the narrative and highlight sentences or passages that may need further work.
Like a sculptor creating a statue from a piece of clay, your manuscript needs to be moulded into shape. Superfluous words and phrases have to be chipped away in order for the polished piece to emerge. Every word and sentence should be carefully considered to ensure it has a place in your book. The overall story arc should progress naturally, with a beginning, middle and satisfying ending that concludes not only the main story arc, but also any subplots (you’d be surprised how many authors ruin an otherwise excellent book by a weak ending). Then, when you feel your masterpiece is ready to be unveiled, it’s time to hand it over to a professional.
So, how do you go about finding the right editor for you? A good place to start is the Society for Editors and Proofreaders (SfEP) who have a directory of qualified, experienced freelancers, specialising in different genres. There are various levels of editing from structural and developmental editing through to copy-editing and proofreading – which should always be the final stage prior to publication. Often a manuscript will require a combination of these skills, so discuss your requirements beforehand and make sure you understand what you will be getting for your money. Get more than one quote, particularly if you are on a tight budget. Many editors are willing to supply a sample edit for a small fee. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and make sure you are comfortable with your chosen editor’s way of working. Above all, you want to work with someone approachable and with whom you can develop a positive working relationship.
As an author, your reputation relies on the quality of your finished product. Mistakes happen and we’ve all read published books where they have slipped through unnoticed. So, before you rush to release your book out into the world, it is wise to invest time and, yes, money on making sure that it is the best it can be. Whether you need help with plot and structure, language, or a final check to pick up typos and errors in layout, a professional editor or proofreader can help ensure your book gets noticed – for all the right reasons.
Kim is an Advanced Professional Member of the SfEP, www.sfep.org.uk
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A professional editor or proofreader can help ensure your book gets noticed – for all the right reasons.