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Why Every Writer NEEDS As Much Editing As Possible

I recently received an email from a writer who had self-published his book but had decided against professional editing because of the extra cost that was involved. I got the feeling that he later regretted his decision.

He asked me this: “With a professional edit and help promoting it, I think the book has potential. I’m stuck on what to do next? I hope you can help?”

Of course, I emailed him back my initial thoughts, and I referred him to a recent post Master the Craft of Writing by my agent, Rachelle Gardner. Basically, she said that most traditional publishers are offering less editing. And as more writers try self-publishing, the levels of editing will vary depending upon how much a person is willing to invest.

In other words, overall, there are more books hitting shelves that have NOT had the intense scrutiny and depth of professional editing that has been typical in the past.

At the same time, there’s been an explosion of online review sites. Readers are becoming more vocal—about both the good and the bad in books. In fact some reviewers are very blunt—they say exactly what they like and don’t like about our stories, down to the tiniest detail.

As the quality of editing is decreasing and reader reviews are increasing, the NEED for editing is becoming more critical in today’s market. Whether we self publish or go the traditional route, we can’t afford to sit back, put our manuscripts out there, and hope for the best. We only hurt ourselves by NOT investing time (and money) into editing.

So what are the benefits of editing?

1. Editing helps please our readers.

We definitely can’t neglect the line and copy edits. Readers don’t want to be taken out of the story because of simple grammar, spelling, or punctuation mistakes. Even worse is when we neglect the substantive edit that can solidify our plot and characters. If our story lacks the pizzazz that comes from the big substantive (or content/macro edit,) readers may not exactly know why they don’t like the book, just that they don’t.

My books have undergone many, many intense edits (read about it here and here). And readers still find faults. I can’t imagine the feedback from readers if my books hadn’t been through all of the various levels of editing.

2. Editing helps us grow in our writing skill.

Every time I have an edit, either from my critique partner or my in-house editors, you can be sure I learn something new. Each tough edit pushes me to examine my weaknesses and then to work at improving them. Without that critical feedback, I wouldn’t have known what areas I needed to grow in. Editing has been one of the best things for my writing career in helping make my books successful. The tough feedback has challenged me to move beyond mediocre and to make my stories really shine.

3. Editing helps us maintain professionalism.

We have a lot of competition for our reader’s attention (internet, movies, video games, busyness of life, etc). We risk pushing readers into their love affair with the competition even more if we rush to put poorly edited books out there. As a writing community, don’t we want to work together to keep our readers and maintain a high standard for our work that sets us apart as professionals? If we consistently put sub-standard work in front of readers, we risk diminishing our profession altogether.

So what do you think? Have you ever skimped on editing because you were in a hurry or didn’t want to invest in the time or money? How do you think editing benefits writers?

39 comments:

  1. I do believe in editing and I believe we can learn from it. Most self pubbed authors I know have gone with an editor they can afford. Others though that haven't, I thought their story was clean. But I do believe in it.

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  2. Hi Jody .. we don't need glaring errors (or any preferably) in our works - I've come across those and it really puts me off. So when my time comes I shall get the basics as right as possible, and then ask for help editing probably! Cheers Hilary

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  3. I don't skimp. Editing is far too important. One of the things I love about my editor is that she's tough. She pushes me and the story to get the best out of both of us. Like you, I've learned a lot (especially from those copy edit rounds). Once you reach a professional level in your writing, it's harder to improve just on your own. Great pro crit groups are one way, your editor is another. Getting a reputation as a sloppy or bad writer (technically speaking) isn't worth the savings of *not* going with an editor if you self publish. Give yourself every advantage.

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  4. I think editing benefits readers because it shows them we care about them enough to give them true quality.

    And the cool (and crazy part) is I'm actually learning (hear forcing myself) to like it.
    ~ Wendy

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  5. I hope I never skimp on editing. That said, sometimes I leave things that I love or think sound good even if they go against the current rules of good craft.
    Still, like you said, readers (including me) don't like to see mistakes in books, although I will say I'm more lenient with grammar/punctuation things now that I know how much a traditionally pubbed book goes through the ringer.
    Don't feel bad when readers find things though. When it comes to art, there's no such thing as perfect. ;-)

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  6. I completely agree. It can be difficult and painful to read critical editorial comments, and even harder to change beloved sentences and plotlines, but even though I grump and swear when I get editted mss through, I know that at the end of the process, my editor and I have produced a much better book than I would have done on my own. It's not easy being editted, but it's essential.

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  7. I totally agree with you which is why hired two editors and a copy editor before I even look at publishing my MS.

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  8. I was really glad to hear you say that publishers are easing up on editing--not because I think that's a good thing but because the number of mistakes I find reading has drastically increased in the past year or two.

    Editing was one of my concentrations in college, so I tend toward arrogance...until my husband points out a little typo and I get brought right back to earth again!

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  9. Hey everyone! Thanks for all of your input this morning. I'm enjoying reading your comments.

    I recently came across an article that talked about how freelance editors are benefiting in this new digital age of e-books. The need and demand for good freelance editors is increasing. I think if someone really has the gift for editing and is willing to put out their services for a reasonable cost, they could become very popular!

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  10. The more editing, the better. I absolutely agree with your thoughts!! :)

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  11. As a magazine editor for ten years, I can attest to the difficulty of finding a good fit between an author and a high-level editor. Sure, proofreading is something we all need and can acquire easily at commodity prices. But a concept edit? That's entirely different.

    Too many times, I've seen editors strip the creative life out of a writer's work. Gifted editors are as rare as gifted writers.

    It's one thing to bemoan that most published work needs the improvement a good editor can certainly bring, but it's another thing entirely for a writer to find an editor who truly elevates their work without scrubbing it down toward the lowest common denominator.

    Until you find a good high-level editor who complements you well (search hard and well; don't sell yourself short), and if you have reasonably good self-editing skills, you might plausibly be better off with a group of insightful beta readers, with a proofreader cleaning up after you.

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  12. The more editing, the better. I absolutely agree with your thoughts!! :)

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  13. I suffered a lot of angst initially over forking over the $450 for a professional edit of my manuscript. After all, I don't get paid for any of my writing, and at the time I didn't have an agent. It seemed like a lot of money for a big risk (plus I had to convince my husband!). In the end, though, I absolutely feel like it was an integral part of my landing Rachelle as my agent. That prof. edit was worth every penny (even though I'm still not earning any money off my writing yet!).

    Great post, Jody. I am linking to this on my fb writer page-- assuming that's okay!

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  14. If I had the money I would fork it over for a professional edit:) But until that day when my pennies turn to big dollars I'm stuck doing the work.

    Thankfully, the class writing class I'm taking is teaching me some great editing tips.

    At the end of the day my goal is for the writing to shine!

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  15. Oh yeah, I have a shout out to your new release The Doctor's Lady on my blog today!

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  16. As both an editor and a reader, I can say this: PLEASE DON'T SKIMP ON THE EDITING! This is my major beef with the "ease" of self-publishing...writers seem to think that just because they can publish easily, they can edit easily too. And when they discover that, no, it still does cost money to have an MS edited, they figure, "Eh, mine's good enough I don't need to worry..."

    Never a good thing...Authors: please get your MS professionally edited before you self-publish. No one ever wrote a book that didn't need edits. No one. Do your readers - and your reputation as an author - a favor and produce the best manuscript you possibly can.

    You'll thank yourself in the long run.

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  17. Jody, good questions you bring up here.

    Like Jeff, I'm a professional editor, so I definitely think editing is vital to producing quality work!

    When I'm done with my novel, I'm not sure if I'll fork over the money for an edit or not. I'm too afraid that I'll spend the money and not be satisfied with the editor. It definitely can be difficult to edit yourself, so I'm aware of that and am still thinking through the possibilities. I might edit it myself and then ask a group of readers to read it and answer questions for me about what they liked, didn't like, what didn't make sense, etc. We shall see when the time comes.

    Where is the best place to find a pro crit group? I have a writers' group I'm part of, but many of them are too busy to read through my entire manuscript in a reasonable time.

    Thanks!

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  18. Sadly, I've read more than a few books lately that could've used a few more rounds of editing/revising. This never used to happen and I don't know if it's because I read more YA and the demand has lowered the standards or if it all has to do with $. And I'm not even speaking to self-pub which I haven't read. Either way, it's too bad because if something is so bad I won't even recommend it I probably won't buy anything from that author again either.

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  19. As a reader (and NOT a writer, lol) I was recently discussing this topic with my husband. I told him there are certain publishing houses where I expect the writing to be exemplary and others that obviously don't put the effort into helping their writers edit their manuscripts. A lot of those latter stories could be great, but because the writer apparently didn't have the editing help, they were simply mediocre to good.

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  20. Important post, Jody.

    I did skimp earlier on in my writing journey. I didn't know any better back then.

    I had written "massage" for "message" several times in one of my novels that was reviewed by an agent. The ms was rejected at the time, and the agent said nothing. I found the mistake later. I still cringe when I think about that typo.

    Edit, edit, and edit again!

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  21. As a professional editor, and author, I need to jump in and say, I do everything I can to work with my authors according to their needs and budgets. I'm not in this to get rich, I'm in this because there are books I believe in.
    And yes, as an author myself even I hire a pro editor when I need one. Look at it this way: You wouldn't pull your own tooth, or take out your own appendix, would you?

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  22. Lindsay Harrel asked: Where is the best place to find a pro crit group? I have a writers' group I'm part of, but many of them are too busy to read through my entire manuscript in a reasonable time.

    My thoughts: Lindsay, many writers hook up with other writer friends that they meet through blogging or twitter. That's how I found my critique partner. We were both in about the same spot in our writing careers, we were both writing historical fiction, and so we agreed to do a trial critique to see how we worked together. And we realized we meshed. So I encourage you to find a few others that you've gotten to know who are also in need of critiquing. This kind of relationship can also be formed through loops of groups like ACFW or RWA.

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  23. Thanks, Jody! I'll definitely keep that in mind.

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  24. Hey everyone, I'm really appreciating all of the input today, especially from some of you experienced editors. It should be eye-opening for all of us, that if even those writers who are also editors would send their work out for feedback, than the rest of us definitely need to.

    As Jeff alluded to, not all freelance editors are equal. And the same thing is true of critique partnerships. Sometimes we need a little trial and error before we find someone we mesh with. I suggest for a freelance editor turning in a sample for a critique before doing the whole manuscript. That way you can get a feel for style.

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  25. Jody, thank you so much for the great insight. Should we hire a professional editor before submitting to agents? My eagle-eyed and trusted crit group went through the whole manuscript, and I've done two rounds of editing myself. Any thoughts?

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  26. Editing (both macro and line editing) are so important. It might be sometimes painful, and one can certainly learn to be a better self editor, but it's impossible to be fully objective about your own work. I myself reach a point at the end of each draft where I need good critical feedback before I will have much to add to it.

    I've been blogging this process for sometime on my site. Being a fairly analytic person, I actually sate down recently to catalogue the number of passes required (for me) to finish a novel. It's a lot.

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  27. Fabio Bueno asked: Should we hire a professional editor before submitting to agents? My eagle-eyed and trusted crit group went through the whole manuscript, and I've done two rounds of editing myself. Any thoughts?

    My thoughts: I think it depends upon the level of expertise within your crit group. Some groups contain experienced authors who have worked under the tutelage of in-house editors. Other groups consist of mainly unpublished authors all learning and growing together.

    I think a writer who is considering self-publishing should definitely hire a trusted, well-reputed editor. Those looking for traditional publication should consider one if they continue to get rejections from industry professionals (agents and publishers). Then it may be time for someone with objective and professional qualifications to help you examine why your work may be experiencing rejection.

    But of course, that's only my opinion! :-)

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  28. One of the places that really could do with much more editorial support is academic writing. As part of my course, I have to critique a number of articles. I often don't know where to start. The language used is unnecessarily complex. The sentences are too long. (I counted one that was six lines in length) So confused in its structure writing looses the intended meaning. In academic writing precision is vitally important. It's sad when a simple edit could make the work, of often very clever people, so much more accessible.

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  29. I worked as a copyeditor for a small publishing company in the past. Sitting on the other side of the desk taught me the value of an edit. We writers can get too close to our work. An editor can offer the objectivity needed. A second set of eyes helps catch the pesky punctuation, grammar, and spelling stuff, too, and well trained editors can provide that.

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  31. Thanks, Jody. Your advice seems sensible. I will not use a professional editor before submitting.

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  32. I've just been through an intense editing process with a publisher for the first time. Wow. What an experience! I have learnt so much from writing and rewriting and scrutinising my own work in depth. I found it a huge learning experience that I am sure will improve my writing for the next book.

    I never quite understood before just how much a book is a team effort. As a writer you are far too close to see how it works for a reader. I can see that is where the editor comes in. She is the mediator between the writer and the reader, as well as pointing out all those writing ticks and howlers you can't see in your own writing at all!

    I love editors!

    Juliet

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  33. I think editing is super-important. It doesn't really matter where the bulk of it happens--critique group, independent editor, agent, publishing house as long as it happens and the finished product is as good at it can be.

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  34. I'm both a writer and an editor. My friends nicknamed me The Evil Editor (TEE) -- but they assure me that it is said with affection and I've chosen to believe them. I'm ... um, shall we say, obsessive about editing. I will edit and edit and edit until I'm cross-eyed. I read things first page to last. Then I read last page to first (this was when I was editing a magazine.) I read on my computer. Then I print it off and read a hard copy. All tricks to make my brain think, "Oh, you're reading something new!"
    Oh. My. I'm on a soapbox ... stepping off.
    Editing. Not optional.
    All done.
    :O)

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  35. One of my tasks years ago was proofreading company books, reports and brochures, and the experience is useful to me now as a writer.

    Extensive editing helps produce a clean copy, and that benefits everyone -- writers, editors and readers. I invested in a professional's opinion when I finished my second book, and learned a lot about editing fiction compared to non-fiction. Those picky line edits are always important, but the substantive edits are crucial.

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  36. I edit everything, even my emails. I'm sure even writing this comment will take me several minutes as I want to be certain each word I'm communicating will be as easily understood by the reader as possible. I see gramatical errors everywhere, and sometimes it's a curse. But, they are especially distracting when you find them in a novel ~ because it breaks the hypnotic trance created from reading a good book.

    Attempting to edit your own manuscript, though is like trying to be your own therapist. It's nearly impossible to have the perspective you need. So often another set of eyes will catch things you won't, or offers ideas you might not have considered.

    As a self publisher, it can be difficult to find the professional services, like editing, at a reasonable cost. This is exactly why we started Help Me Self Publish, so that authors could find one place that supported all of their needs.

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  37. Thanks Jody for highlighting the importance of editing to an author's work. I jump for joy when my editor makes my own work brighter, better and bolder. The expense of a professional editor is much less than the expense of self-publishing a book no one buys.

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  38. Great point, Jill! The cost of NOT getting an editor is something to consider! :-)

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  39. I think it's kind of hard to understand exactly how an editor can help you until you've been through the process. I'm just starting with it now with my frist book, and I'm amazed at what a decent editor can see that I've missed. I want to make sure my book is the best it can be, and an editor is one of the things that will help me with that.

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