Here at Affordable Editing Services, we read a lot of published books (both printed and electronic). And we find lots of errors. This is especially true for self-published works. The question is why?
Here are some thoughts. First, the writer introduced the errors—that’s likely because the writer was more interested in telling the story (fiction or non-fiction); and second, the editor(s) didn’t catch the errors. Again, why? There are a number of possible answers. One might involve a large workload an editor is carrying, so he or she skims rather than proofreads. Another might be that different editors employ different sets of “rules”. Yet another reason might be that only one set of eyes actually checked the work. Stealing from the old adage that “two heads are better than one”, two sets of eyes are better than one.
And by the way, the above applies whether it’s a blog, a 4-page newsletter, a pamphlet or a full-size book.
Why do you need an editor?
In the first place, you’re too close to the material. It’s a forest and trees thing. Text that might seem really clear to you, might not be clear to your audience. And how many times have you put some writing aside, only to come back to it a few weeks later and see all the mistakes (e.g., typos) that just leap off the page. An editor can usually find all or most of these.
One role that an editor might play is objective constructive collaborator. It can be hugely effective to get some honest feedback and possibly some new ideas. Do you have a strong opening, supported by well-researched text, with an ending that’s appropriate to the text (rather than one that seems to be just running out of steam)?
An editor can help answer some of the following questions. How will the reader absorb the text? Will the reader “get it”? Do the words communicate the message? Is the flow smooth? Does each chapter or section connect to the next in a logical way—is there continuity, consistency, cohesiveness? Is the tone or writing style right for the target audience? Is there excess text that could use some pruning?
As important as all of these are, an editor can help assure that the reason for the work being written in the first place is fulfilled by the author. An effective editor will point out weaknesses and/or suggest ideas for strengthening some parts of the text (e.g., adding examples or personal stories). It’s a matter of reviewing both the big picture and the smallest details (e.g., spelling, grammar). The goal is for your reader to see in the material what you intended the reader to see. Did you effectively communicate your message?
When do you need an editor?
There are at least three places in the writing process where an editor can be a valuable ally: 1) in the developmental or planning stage, 2) during the writing stage, and 3) when the final draft is complete.
In stage 1, topics that might be covered include: the purpose of the book; if it’s fiction, who the main characters are; if it’s non-fiction, there should be an outline of subjects to be covered; the intended market; the voice of the writer (e.g., first person or third person); and any other topics that are relevant to the particular work.
In stage 2, the goal is to provide immediate feedback on early chapters. This is to assure that the material gets good traction before going any further. It’s a matter of getting in a writing groove and being on track. Another valuable service an editor may provide is working with an author to overcome obstacles (e.g., writer’s block). Often, just a dialog is enough to break the logjam.
In stage 3, an editor may serve as a virtual reader, reading the entire manuscript from beginning to end, and looking for some of the items mentioned above (e.g., flow, continuity). It’s one last chance to polish the manuscript and make it the best it can be. This especially true if you intend to submit your work to a literary agent or directly to a publisher. In this crowded marketplace, one look at a poorly-crafted text will usually be sufficient cause for rejection.
A good analogy might be a sculpture, where the artist chisels away to excess material to reveal the design, while an assistant might polish the work to make the final product reflect the artist’s intentions. Ultimately, the work you publish, or have published, reflects on you. An editor’s goal is to bring out the best in your work, and make you look good.
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