I was reading a thread in the Absolute Write forum tonight where the OP (original poster, icydk) asked about others’ editing and revising processes once they finish their first drafts. I love this website and the forum there because there are always great ideas and new ways to do things. I almost always learn something.
I didn’t read all the responses to the question, but I did read probably the first ten to fifteen. They all gave ideas as to how to go about it, and some of them were really good. (My favorite from the responses was to open the first draft in one window and a new doc in a window beside it and just start rewriting. I don’t know if I’d ever go to that extreme—to start over completely—but I liked the idea. My preferred way is to print the whole book and go after it with a pen and highlighters. Then I head back to the laptop.)
What I didn’t see in those responses was “hire a professional editor.” You may ask, “Why was this?” One reason might have been that I think this thread was geared toward getting a draft in shape to be submitted to agents. If that’s what you’re doing, preparing your draft for the querying process, you might be able to do that on your own—or on your own with some beta readers’ help.
If you’re really blessed and you land an agent, and then if you’re doubly blessed and that agent lands you an editor at a publishing house and you sign a contract, you’ll work with an editor there to shape your story (read, “you’ll revise, revise, and revise again”). If all of these blessings fall upon you, then you likely did yourself no harm in foregoing a professional edit.
If your book gets rejected, and rejected, and rejected, you might want to consider seeking the help of a professional. And if you’re planning to self-publish, you definitely want to seek the help of a professional.
When we revise and edit our own work, we can do our books a lot of good in the process. We really can. We can find some plot holes. We can usually find missing words and typos and misspellings. Sometimes we can spot errant details, like the fact that our MC had black hair in chapter one and red hair in chapter twelve.
What we can’t do is remove ourselves from the storytelling. We can’t forget what we know. We can’t ignore everything we ever thought about this book—every backstory we created but maybe didn’t share, every plotline we explored and then decided to scrap, every secret our MC carries with her but we never revealed. We can’t remove ourselves from the storytelling.
And therein lies the problem.
We’re too attached. We’re too invested. We know too much, and at the same time, we know too little.
A professional editor is not invested in your story in the same way you are. A professional editor is not married to your characters. She doesn’t have the same love affair going with them that you do. She can look at them objectively and ask questions about them and about what they’re doing and what they’re saying to make you really think about them in ways you may not have thought about them before because you know them so well.
Have you ever been surprised by something that someone you know really, really well has done or said? Have you ever been blindsided? Ever said, “Man, I didn’t see that coming”? Sometimes that happens because we’re just too close to that person. The reality of who they are doesn’t match the person we thought they were, the person we want them to be, or the person they used to be but just aren’t anymore.
Sometimes the same kind of thing happens in our writing. All the sudden a character is acting “out of character,” and we, the writers, can’t catch it because we just can’t see it. A professional editor will see it because they’re not invested in it the same way you are. They’ll raise a red flag (or a red pen, or a comment box in Word) and they’ll say, “Whoa! What the heck is going on here? How can you expect your readers to believe this about your MC when they’ve been doing/saying/thinking this and this?”
A professional editor brings that objectivity along with a well-honed set of skills geared to help you craft the best book you possibly can. We know about plot, pacing, setting, character and conflict development, dialogue, grammar, mechanics, organization, etc.
As I’ve said before in another post, investing in a professional edit is just that—it’s an investment. But I can tell you this: when my car starts making scary sounds, I take it to the mechanic because he knows what’s wrong and he knows how to fix it. Every time I try to guess, I’m wrong. I can’t find the problem myself, let alone fix it. I need them.
If you’re a writer, you need someone like me. Send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and tell me about your book. Tell me what you really like about it. Tell me what’s driving you nuts about it. Tell me what you hope to accomplish with it. Tell me if it’s your first or your tenth. Tell me why you like to write. I can’t wait to hear from you.