One of the questions I was asked was whether professional editing was necessary. Wow. What a loaded question.
The short answer is yes, yes, yes. The bigger question is who is a professional.
The worst editor you could choose is yourself. After all you’re looking at the manuscript through the eyes of the person who penned the words, placed (or didn’t place} the punctuation, created the flow, added the dialogue, broke it into chapters. You won’t catch the errors. You will read over mistakes. Period.
Chances are, as an author, you have researched your book, written the words, revised the words, self edited, rewritten parts of the story, drafted another version, and worked through that cycle over and over before finally being ready to publish.
Before that, however, your manuscript has to be read by outside eyes. If it has any chance at salability, that is a prerequisite. But does it have to be an editor?
Well, ultimately, yes, but there are few steps in between. I am a big advocate of beta reading. Beta reading is like a think tank for authors. By choosing people you respect and familiar with the genre you’re writing in, they will critique your work honestly. Often, they’ll pick out some grammatical or consistent spelling errors, but their role concentrates on the story line and flow. They will tell us (authors) when we deviate from the story too abruptly; when we talk about a character introduced early who suddenly reappears; when a paragraph, dialogue, chapter doesn’t make sense; when something is missing in the story; when something is too repetitious; whether the syntax is correct; whether the context is appropriate; whether the phrases or scenes fit the historical time frame of the story. Their role is not to nit pick whether you used the Oxford comma or not.
After the beta reading — more than one person — you will most likely rewrite parts of it. That’s when the editor comes in. That’s where the problem comes in. They ain’t free.
Good editors will either charge by the word count or a flat fee. They are usually supplied if you go through a traditional publishing house. Even small individual publishers will offer some level of editing. For the independent author, however, you are pretty much on your own. You will get what you pay for, but recognize, it’s all upfront cost — $100, $200, $300, $400, more. It doesn’t cost much to self publish, but when you factor in the editing costs, you are starting in a financial hole. Recognize most independent authors, especially new independent authors, rarely sell 100 books a year.
Editors make changes and suggestions that will improve the overall quality of your writing, particularly in relation to language use and expression. They will likely proofread as well, correcting grammatical, spelling, punctuation, and other language mistakes. But they also have their own style and strengths.
I was a newspaper editor for about 40 of my 52 years in the business. I’m not a big fan of the Oxford comma. The word “that” drives me crazy. Determining pronouns should match. Possessive apostrophes should be used properly. Over those years, I would clean up copy, make sure it followed our guidelines, maybe rearrange paragraphs or sentences. But it was never my intent to rewrite. If the story needed rewriting it went back to the writer. If a deadline was involved, I might bare bone the story before sending it back for a followup rewrite.
And, editors are not infallible. It’s your book, it’s your document, it’s your manuscript. If you are fond of “that” so be it.
When I wrote the novella Heaven Shining Through, I went through a publishing house which had editing included. When I submitted the document, t went through the normal editing process. Except for a few style notes (including my lack of the use of the Oxford comma), it came back with relatively few red lines. I responded I knew I was an experienced editor, but I expected a little more input. The manuscript was forwarded to a higher level editor who gave me the feedback I needed and was expected.
I followed much of the guidance. But I retained the phrase “the rabbit died” when referring to getting pregnant. Both the lower level editor and upper level editor didn’t understand the phrase and its significance in the late 60s. My readers did.
After self-editing My Name Is Sam … and Heaven Is Still Shining Through, I turned it over to three beta readers. They returned their comments. I was stunned. All three said “something was missing.” I incorporated their individual comments in the rewrite, but quickly put the manuscript aside for a few days while I mentally looked for what was missing. Thus, Sam’s opening letter was born. It served to frame what the book was about, the overall back story. When I showed it to my beta readers, they quickly responded, “That’s it!”
From there it went through the editing process at Higher Ground Books & Media.
That’s my two cents. Editing is necessary … but be careful when choosing an editor.
THOUGHT TO REMEMBER: The issue of faith is not so much whether we believe in God, but whether we believe the God we believe in. — R.C. Sproul, Knowing Scripture