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The Importance of Editing

April 8, 2010

Editing is the most crucial step of any manuscript. It is what takes the raw work and polishes it into something beautiful. It needs to be done by those whose lives are the English language. There is no step around this, no way to compromise that. If you do, you wind up with shit work that makes people cringe (I cannot tell you the number of such pieces of work I’ve read from a certain publisher whom I’ve bitched about before). If you want people to buy your work — and keep buying your work — you have to give them a great reading experience, and part of the behind the stage work that goes into giving a reader a great reading experience is the editing.

If you’re self-publishing, this step is even more important. There are no channels for your work to go through other than yourself to ensure the piece is great. Not just good, but great.

Too often, I see self-publishing authors talking about getting their friends, family, or free beta readers to look over the manuscripts before they put them out for the public. This isn’t enough. You need people who do this sort of thing for a living. You need to pay someone to look over that manuscript. Preferably someone who is going to be honest and critical of the work because you must ensure the piece is at its very best when you self-publish. People already believe self-publishing is a crock, that everything that is churned out by independent publishers and authors is unedited, unvetted crap.

And when all you do is ask your fans or friends to beta read it before you publish, you’re just perpetuating that stereotype.

As self-publishers, we have to work twice as hard to get half as much. We’re supposed to be fighting against stereotypes, not embodying them. It’s precisely because of the fact that, as a self-publisher, we don’t have access to an army of publishing house editors that we have to take the extra initiative to have the work thoroughly and professionally edited and not just proofread and looked over by our buddies. Do that, by all means, as every eye you can get on it is helpful, but then give it to someone whose job it is to take the raw material you provide and polish it to a shine.

Anyone who reads more than two books a year can immediately spot a manuscript that hasn’t been edited, and someone will call you on it. An traditionally published author has the umbrella of “I just used the editor they assigned me” as an out for any errors that creep into their work. Self-published authors don’t have this cushion. We either independently choose a good editor, or we don’t. And the responsibility lies with no one but us. It’s the price you pay for being independent: you are responsible for everything, and you will be held accountable for all decisions you make.

Editing is the final step, the biggest step, and you can’t be cheap about it. I’ll give you one final analogy, and then I’ll bring this to a close, but this topic is so important to me, I really want to drive this home to any and all who independently publish.

Imagine you’ve built a house. You put months of your life into it. You have built it and it is structurally complete. However, if you tried to sell this to someone as a finished house for $250,000, and they walk in and see exposed wood, nails, exposed drywall, just the sub-floor, and exposed wires, they’re not going to buy it and they will tell you the house is not finished. And no amount of you screaming that it is structurally sound and complete is going to convince them it’s finished. That’s the difference between your finished manuscript and the edited copy that will go to print. The editor paints, puts down the carpet, cleans everything up, makes it shiny, pretty, and presentable.

The editor makes that manuscript worth the $7.99 you want someone to pay you for that completed work.

And to take the analogy to its conclusion, in the context of this post, how many people would invite their buddies or their mom (who, more than likely, have 0 experience in such matters) to come over and paint a house they intended to sell on the mass market? It’s going to look like shoddy work because it is. We have professionals for a reason, and if you cannot afford a professional to do your editing, then perhaps you should reconsider self-publishing.

Being your own publisher is not easy, it is not cheap, and you can’t cut corners to save a buck and truly believe no one will notice.

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