Writer’s Toolkit: Why We Need Editors
So, just finished your first novel eh?
Congratulations. Was it challenging? Yeah? Well, it’s about to get much worse, because now you’ve got to edit. Listen, no one likes doing it… Well, okay, there are a few people that actually enjoy editing, but their brains are wired different than mind. If you are anything like me, you will wish that your book would just edit itself. It won’t. Trust me.
Some of you may be thinking that you can do this yourself, and to an extent you’re right. You should definitely do the 2nd draft all by your little lonesome. In fact, as a general rule, I don’t share my first draft with anyone. I treat it like a secret relic. I don’t let anyone see anything until I’ve had at least once chance to go back through it myself.
But what after that?
It seems to me, that with the self-publishing world of today, a lot of folks fall into the trap of depending on self-editing. This is bad. Have you ever seen one of the eye tricks where you read something, only to be informed that that something was missing or misspelled? It’s a real thing. Your brain doesn’t read every single letter of every word. It pieces it together as you go. Now consider that you wrote your book, so you already know what you wanted it to say. That makes it much easier to miss mistakes.
Grammatical mistakes aside…
What about inconsistencies in the story? What about whole sections of boring drudgery that you shouldn’t have included, but for some reason you thought it was important? What about that bit of humor that no one but you is going to get because you didn’t tell it right? What about those tiny little quirks that so many of us writers have that are consistently wrong and we don’t know unless someone points them out to us?
This is why you need editors. To be clear, I’m not saying that you should go spend thousands of dollars on a professional editor, but if you have the money there are much worse things you could spend it on. You do however need someone, and probably more than one someone. The only challenge is sometimes they can be hard to find, but that’s no excuse!
My First Novel, or how I learned the hard way
Just in case you aren’t sold on the idea yet, let me tell you how I learned the hard way.
Finishing writing my first novel was one of the greatest feelings in my life. Even then, I believed that I should keep the first draft to myself, and polish it a bit before letting anyone see it. Once I was done with my edits, I started asking friends if they would help me edit/beta read. Keep in mind; none of the friends I asked were professionals. In fact, at that point, I didn’t know anyone in the industry at all. Once 10 or so friends agreed, I printed all of the copies, and passed them out. If memory serves me, only four of them returned the edited copies. They found plenty of grammatical errors, misspellings, and even a few story quirks. After that I did one more pass myself, was pretty pleased with my product, and as my impatient mind suited me, decided to move forward with a good ol’ self-publish.
A month or so after that, my girlfriend at the time started messaging me about all of the mistakes that she saw. I argued that there couldn’t be that many, but I was wrong. Way wrong. That book was riddled with errors, and the scary part is that it was selling. Other people started approaching me about the errors. Of course, the people that helped me edit believed that it was pretty clean as well.
Basically, this book was circulating around out there, and while a lot of people were enjoying the story, they probably thought I was a big ol’ illiterate moron. Errors don’t impress people.
I went back through and re-edited the story again with the help of a few more people. If you buy a brand new copy today, that’s the version you will see. Guess what, it probably still has its fair share of errors, but it’s a lot cleaner than it was. It was an experience I was glad I had, but you don’t have to make the same mistake I made.
The thing that people don’t understand…
Editing isn’t easy. I don’t know how many people approached me and said, “You should have asked me to edit. You wouldn’t have all of those mistakes.” Now look, I don’t consider myself to be highly intelligent. I’m not a prodigy. I’m not a whiz bang. At best I’m a fairly average guy that likes to write. I do consider myself fairly capable, and the people that were helping me edit are all pretty intelligent. In fact, with exception of a professional editor or someone that’s been writing twenty plus years, I don’t think anyone would have found all of those mistakes. Think about the papers you had to write in school. The worst of them were probably 10 pages or so. Now we are talking about a manuscript that’s one hundred pages, or two hundred pages, or more. Like anything, editing takes practice. Over time you will start catching mistakes in nearly every book you read, but chances are you will never be perfect. Anyone that’s been in the book industry for very long will tell you to never trust self-edits.
That is why you should have editors.
All of that said, if someone offers to edit for you, you might as well let them. Finding people that are willing to do it is hard enough, and you never know what they might find. If you can’t afford a professional editor, then I suggest gathering as large a group of friends that are willing to help you as you can. If you don’t have any friends, make some. If that doesn’t work, trying joining a writer’s group on Facebook, Linkedin, or wherever. Someone might be willing to help you out.
Whatever you do…. Use an editor!
About the Author
Phillip Drayer Duncan is the author of 4 published novels and 12 short stories. He has work published with Yard Dog Press, Pro Se Productions, and Seventh Star Press.