William Faulkner claimed that he wrote his fifth novel, As I Lay Dying, over the course of six weeks and that he didn’t change a word of it. Whether that’s true or not, there’s one essential takeaway that every author can glean from Faulkner here:
You are not William Faulkner.
It should be pretty easy to admit that you’re not Faulkner. If you can admit that, we’re in business. However, admitting you need an editor is an entirely different challenge.
If you’re a writer, this post is for you, because whether you believe it or not, you need an editor.
In case you missed it, we’re kicking off a series on editing this week. Our first post, How Not to Irritate an Editor, got us started. Read it.
This post continues that series because you need an editor. Not just a critique partner or critique group. Not just beta readers. Not just your mom telling you how much she loved it, except for that one part where you used a bad word.
You need an editor, plain and simple.
Here are 4 reasons why.
1. You’re too close to the project.
This is your baby. Either you’re predisposed to think highly of your work, even if you’re pessimistic by nature, or you can’t see mistakes and errors because the story conceals them from you.
I’m a perfect example of this. In the process of publishing my debut novel Blood for Blood, I was too cheap to hire an editor/proofreader. I figured, “Hey, I’m a professional editor. Surely I can edit my own stuff.”
So I meticulously went over every word multiple times on my own. I even read the book aloud when I finalizing my edits to ensure I hadn’t missed anything.
But guess what? Readers subsequently found at least three typos that I missed, and they also noted a significant continuity issue that I had to address. I did, of course, and eventually I published an updated version, and the book eventually won the 2015 Cascade Award for Best Speculative Fiction Novel.
If even a pro editor like me couldn’t fully self-edit his own work, then you probably can’t effectively do it either.
2. Your critique partner/group and beta readers aren’t qualified to edit your project.
This is a generalization, but if you take a hard look at the qualifications of your crit group partners and beta readers, you’ll likely see that they lack either the education or the experience (or both) to perform an effective edit on your work.
And if they do have the necessary qualifications, they likely don’t have enough time to do a thorough edit on your manuscript. It’s a catch-22: the folks with the right qualifications are likely getting paid significant amounts of money to edit for others, or they’re chasing their own writing dreams. Any editing they’d do for you would encroach on their own editing or writing time.
They won’t invest their hearts into your project like you will.
But they won’t delve into the depths of the ugliest parts of your manuscript, tear them apart, and help you put them back together again. They won’t invest dozens of hours refining and honing your writing to elevate it to a higher standard than you thought was possible. They won’t invest their hearts into your project like you will.
But a good editor will. A good editor becomes your partner, your co-conspirator, your associate storyteller.
3. The best way to master the craft of writing is to work with an editor.
All of my editing clients will tell you that they’re amazed how much they learn throughout the course of me editing one of their manuscripts. The longer the manuscript, the more they learn.
Reading books on craft is foundational. Attending writers conferences is the natural next step in developing your craft. And all the while, you’d better be writing. Practice makes perfect.
The next step is to face the music. Have an editor carve into your masterpiece to see what it’s really made of. The true benefit of working with an editor comes when he points out hidden POV issues, character inconsistencies, plot holes, or any number of other deeper questions that can’t be thoroughly addressed during a critique or a read-through.
Then, once you get your edits back, a whole new world of possibilities serenades you from those red marks. They promise a better manuscript for your readers, and with each correction you make, you unlock more experience that will shape all of your future writing endeavors.
The price of a good edit should be high. It’s an investment. If you hire a great editor, you’re basically paying for a college-level (or sometimes higher) course in writing that focuses specifically on your writing. But it’s absolutely worth it. You work with purpose on enhancing your strengths and overcoming your weaknesses.
By the end, you’ve leveled up, sometimes exponentially more than if you’d just stuck to writing, conferencing, and reading books on craft. The best part? It’s easier to write better the first time, the next time.
4. Agents, publishers, and even readers can tell when a book has been well-edited.
Unless you’re writing purely for your own gratification, you’ve got an audience to satisfy and please. If you’re aiming for traditional publication, that audience is much larger because you’ve got a slew of people to convince before you can even land a publishing contract. And even if you self-publish the whole way, your readers are more likely educated people than not.
Unless you’re writing purely for your own gratification, you’ve got an audience to satisfy and please.
That means they recognize when a plot does or doesn’t make sense. They know when a character makes a move that doesn’t fit with how you’ve portrayed her. They understand when a story is great, even if they can’t always put their finger on why. As the author, you owe it to them to create the perfect storm of awesome, and an editor can help ensure you achieve it.
It’s even more crucial to have an edit done if you plan to pitch to agents and publishers. Because they receive dozens or sometimes even hundreds of queries and submissions per week, they’re looking for any reason at all to reject you. A great edit will safeguard you against every single one of those reasons (as they pertain to your manuscript quality).
By now, you can see how important an editor is to your writing, both in the short term and in the long term. If I haven’t convinced you, what questions do you have about why you should or shouldn’t hire an editor?
For those of you who agree with me, what reasons did I miss? Share in the comments below.
And hire an editor.
Meet the Author
Ben Wolf is the Editor-In-Chief and Founder of Splickety Publishing Group. If you liked this story, get a copy of his award-winning debut action/adventure novel Blood for Blood, the story of what might happen if a vampire got saved. It’s available for purchase through amazon.com and through his website, benwolf.com. You can also follow him on twitter: @1BenWolf.