Professional editing. A concept that may not even be considered by all beginning writers. It sounds a little invasive at first, having someone go through the entirety of your manuscript, cutting and slicing and recommending serious plot point changes, to the point where you may even feel like the whole story is changed. Sure, as writers we ultimately want people to read our books and provide feedback, but that isn’t really an editor’s job is it? They take your book and mark the imperfections for complete and total annihilation.
I have to admit that I was very recently (read: currently) adverse to seeking professional editing. I felt like I should be able to not only pinpoint any major flaws in plot, characterization, and narrative prose, but to also have the skills to correct them. And if I didn’t, I wanted to learn these skills on my own, he same way a writer wants to improve his or her writing. I felt like working with a professional editor would take away from the book being my own.
A recent talk with a professional editor has made me more open minded. Granted, I have yet to work with an editor still, but, when I am ready, will take that step. From my own understanding and research, here are the main benefits of professional editing services.
1) An editor knows the market. As casual readers, or even as readers who read to write, we may not notice the ‘rules’ behind the pieces we love. We pick up on how to build suspense, or to structure well-flowing sentences, but the broader scopes of novel-length work (themes, overarching plot, character-development) may be harder to break down in to what works and what doesn’t. Frankly, we may not be able to tell why a published book is great and our manuscript is just…okay. An editor will be able to look at your book on both a page by page and wholistic level and tell you what needs to change to reach that greatness, or whether your project is just unsalvageable. It is always good to have other eyes dedicated to your story, and even better if those eyes do it for a living.
2) Word on the street is that major publishing houses are so bent on getting out the next new book that less and less time is being devoted to substantial editing. The result? New writers may not be reaching their full potentials. While it can be extremely exciting to have an agent who wants to represent your work and maybe even a publishing deal lined up, you don’t want to short sell yourself in the long run. Don’t wait for the reviews to tell you that it could have been more polished.
3) In the same light, agents are so flooded by submissions that quality of writing really has to be top notch. While I would like to think that an agent who sees potential in an author will consider taking a chance, it would be naive not to recognize that, with the volume of submissions, said agent will most likely received another candidate with work that resonated the same way, only theirs is more ready for the publishing floor. Which candidate would you rather be?
4) Pretty much every successful author works with an editor at some point. Granted, you may not hear that part highlighted too much in authors’ success stories, but that is because they may have received editors after being accepted by an agent/publishing house. The outcome is the same: the end product we all strive for will go through professional editing.
All this being said, there is some considerable bad news. Professional editing can be expensive. My editor friend looked at my 100k-word manuscript and said that he’d get upwards of 10k for a fiction job that size! Granted, this dude is pretty big time, and I’ve looked on the web and seen some pretty reputable services for about $2 or so a page. Still, hundreds of dollars approaching a thousand can be a considerable investment. So what to do if you can’t afford?
1) Self-Editing for Fiction Writers. Get the book. The title says it all.
2) Search your literary connects. Teachers from high school/college? Happen to have met someone from a writer’s conference? Maybe someone knows someone who can have a look at your work for no charge and at least provide a professional opinion.
3) Keep reading, writing, and rewriting. Just because an ideal cannot be met doesn’t mean it’s time to give up! Do what you can, and be diligent and proud while doing it!