What’s the Point of Editing?

Just the other day, I wrapped up my manuscript for The Broken for the final time, exported a copy as a Word document, and sent it off to my editor. Technically, I still have a few weeks before she’s going to be able to start on it, but I was burned out, and couldn’t really look at it anymore. It’s not that I don’t like the book – I think it’s damn good, in fact – but there comes a point where you just can’t read it without coming away with the same sense that you’ve done all you can to it. It needs a fresh pair of eyes.

As a self-publishing author, I do almost everything related to publishing myself: from the manuscript to the page layout to the formatting and font choices, cover design and more. But there is one thing I will always get someone external to do, and pay good money for, and that’s the editing process. And if it seems like an obvious thing to do, there are a lot of writers in the world who might feel tempted to skip this process: after all, it can be expensive, time-consuming, and when all you’re looking to do is get the damn thing out there, feel like a waste of time and money.

The truth is, however, no manuscript is worse-off for a thorough edit, and it’s impossible to self-edit to the degree that someone removed from the writing process can. And when I talk about editing, I don’t just mean a spell-check or someone to tell you that your characters are two-dimensional (although that’s a part of it); a good editor (and I’m fortunate enough to have found a great one – thank you, Parisa!) will dissect your manuscript, looking for plot holes, structure issues, sensitivity problems, and more. After all, your computer can do the basics for spelling and grammar consistencies, although it won’t catch everything, but a real live person can tell you, simply-put, if your story works or not.

Of course, you might be tempted to try this yourself – after all, no one knows your story better than you do, so how could anyone else know what works or what doesn’t? And indeed, you should absolutely run through several self-edits before getting a third-party involved; however, the point of an outside editor is to act as a real-life reader: someone who doesn’t have the insight into your mind and your thought process, and who only has the words on paper to make sense of the story you’re trying to tell.

And this is an important distinction: you, the author, know your story inside-out, back-to-front, and upside-down, meaning that to you, it all makes perfect sense. It makes sense, because it’s the story you came up with. But what will your readers think? Will they understand the motivations for your characters if they aren’t made clear in the text? Will they understand why your plot veers the way it does – particularly since they don’t know yet how the story ends? You might not see these problems, because in your head it all plays out just the way it’s supposed to. To an outsider, it could be excessively confusing, seemingly full of plot holes, or worse, appear like plain bad writing.

An editor is someone who can be a reader before you get readers; feedback before you get reviews. Every author strives for those five-star reviews, and a well-polished manuscript is the best way to get them. A good editor won’t just correct your spelling mistakes, but will give you solid, constructive feedback on how to make your overall story better. And it’s often difficult feedback to take, because often it will incur large rewrites of sections you might have thought were already solid; it might mean a change in once place that results in massive changes throughout the rest of the story.

Of course, having a third-party editor doesn’t relieve all responsibility from you, the writer; it doesn’t mean you can just bang out a first draft and have someone else fix it all for you. I’ve made that mistake before, and my editor kindly told me that there was little point continuing the edits, because the story was so flawed. It hurt to hear, but it was important advice. You should go through a minimum of two or three revisions of your manuscript before you send it off to an editor; whether you’re just reading for consistency, checking for typos, or trying a first go at plot restructuring, it’s important that your manuscript be as good as you can make it before you give it to someone else. And there’s a lot you can learn from seeing an editor’s work. I’ve learned to cut, and cut drastically; I’ve learned to avoid passive voice; I’ve learned what elements of my writing work really well, and which parts need hard work.

But at the end of the day, you can re-read your manuscript a thousand times over if you like; you will always miss something. On the first page of my first fantasy novel, both myself and my editor missed that the world ‘farmers’ was spelled ‘famers’. And look – even Harry Potter is full of typos and spelling mistakes. No one is perfect. But the closer you are to your work, the more you’ll miss, because it becomes impossible to see the forest for the trees. You can train yourself to see the bigger picture, but you should always involve an outsider eventually.

As for The Broken, I’ve re-read it several times, made some adjustments, and revised it a couple of times as well. But it got to the point where I recognized my inability to see the bigger picture, and realized there was little more I could do myself; I needed my editor. I should have the manuscript back by the end of the month, and I can’t wait to see what Parisa has to say – both positive and negative. I’m looking forward to being able to make the story a better one, and the strongest it can possibly be, in preparation for its launch (hopefully by the end of March).

For those of you who’ve published – whether traditionally or not – what was your experience with editing? Do you try to self-edit as much as possible before getting outside advice? Or do you just write and send, hoping (or knowing) that your editor can fix (or at least suggest fixes to) the worst of mistakes? I’d love to know your experiences, too!

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