I’m noticing an interesting trend that is growing with the swell of technology: authors are increasingly bypassing traditional publishers and self-publishing their works via sites like Amazon. It is fast, cheap, and – perhaps most alluring of all – does not require the approval of a third-party like an editor or publisher. You submit your novel to a print-to-order site, and voila! You have your very own book, which you can advertise via the web, social media, and word-of-mouth.
Self-publishing options are, in my opinion, a wonderful thing. Rather than having our literature wholly curated by a select group of people (publishers and their cohort), we are allowed access to a great range of works by all kinds of people. And for the authors themselves, it can be tremendously liberating to bypass the sometimes terrifying and disheartening process of submitting a manuscript for publication, at the rather great risk that it will be turned down. But does that mean authors shouldn’t engage a professional editor before sending their novel out into the world?
The simple truth is that, no matter how many times we might draft and redraft, read and reread, it is nearly impossible to gain enough perspective over our stories to know if they are, in fact, well-written. For a start, an author may have limited experience or education in the craft of writing, and so their work will come across as having an amateur feel. Even for experienced authors, however, the material becomes so familiar, and the story seems so natural and perfect in your mind, that you lose all objectivity. That’s to say nothing of the sentimental attachment you might grow toward certain characters, scenes or passages, which can keep you from making the best choices for your story.
Unfortunately, by avoiding the possible rejection or embarrassment of allowing a professional to pick over your work and make suggestions (which can, admittedly, be a fairly brutal and emotional process), you’re likely to leave your readers making those judgements instead. They might smile politely and say, “That was lovely, well done!” Or they might try to let you down gently. Either way, they’ll have read the story and thought, “That could have been done better.” If you are genuinely passionate about writing for other people to read, then probably you would rather your readers think, “What a fantastic story!”
Editors can do more than just fix up spelling and grammar mistakes. As a developmental editor, I work with my clients to understand their story – who the characters are, what themes are present, what the underlying message of the story is. I’ll then start by assessing the overall structure of the manuscript: does the story flow well? are the characters consistent? does it make sense to have each scene placed where it is, or would it be better to move some things around? are there confusing gaps or inconsistencies?
After making these ‘big-picture’ suggestions and helping the author to implement such changes as they agree are necessary, I’ll assess aspects such as tone (does the narratorial voice stay consistent throughout the piece, or does the tone chop and change?), language (is it appropriate to the story, the characters, the readers?), and fine tune things like pace and flow, to ensure that the finished product is captivating, engaging, and stays true to the themes and message it contains. Finally, I go through with a fine-toothed comb and copyedit all of the more basic grammar and spelling errors.
Working with an editor before self-publishing is an investment into your novel, your readers, and yourself – because the process of discussing and reviewing the story will inevitably help you grow as a writer, pushing you further along in your writing career. It is well worth the time, money and courage it takes to engage a professional editor.