It takes you a while as a writer to understand the importance of editing. Your book is your baby and you have spent a considerable amount of time shaping it and making it what you want. You have a well-thought-out vision, you’re madly in love with your characters and you know exactly where your writing excels. It takes time to write a book. It takes a big emotional investment too. You’ve drafted and re-drafted, copy and pasted, proofread, fixed plot holes. Your work is done, right? Your masterpiece is finished and perfect but is your book ready for publishing?
Most likely, no. You need an editor.
An editor’s job is, as you might have guessed, to edit your manuscript. It comes as no surprise that much of an editor’s time is spent deleting those words you pored over for days with no mercy. That’s because an editor is someone with expertise in writing AND reading, who comes at your manuscript from a distance. Unlike the writer, the editor has no emotional investment. They will delete a whole character because they add nothing to the story — a character who tells a brilliant joke at one point and, because of that, you can’t imagine your book without them, but the truth is, they add nothing. Moreover, they probably detract from the story. An editor tidies up your paragraphs when you’re seemingly poetic rant about the midnight sky gets over the top. It keeps your work concise and focused. Editors are masters of literary language, their keen eye will identify genuine literature from overindulgence. A good editor has an innate ability to figure out what you want to say and how you want to say it and keeps your writing in check whenever you deviate from this yourself. This is why it’s important to find an editor that specialises in your genre/style.
A good editor will also identify where you are lacking. Just as a writer can get attached to a redundant character or overplay a description, they may be so involved in their work that they miss out on possibilities to expand and shine. There may be places where character development is insufficient or missed possibilities to describe places and situations to better capture the reader that an editor will identify and ask you to fix. Editing a book means there will be painful cuts but also joyous rewrites and an opportunity to look at the plot in a different way. Editors work in a very wholesome manner in that they examine your story in chunks, plot by plot firstly, but then, also, as an integrated whole. What editors experience as they read in “real time” may become different once they finish the whole story.
Writers often see editors with reluctance, as if editors were enemies of their creative impulses and gatekeepers of their artistic expression. It couldn’t be further from the truth. An editor is your best friend. Sure, an editor won’t be the kind of friend you only go out with to have a beer and who will pat your back no matter what. An editor is your real life-long friend who will call you out when you are out of line and who will catch you when you fall, help dust you off and send you on your merry publishing way. From a distance, your editor is able to analyse your book with greater clarity but that doesn’t mean they don’t care about your manuscript and they won’t put their heart into it. You will hardly find an editor who wouldn’t go above and beyond to get your book in tip-top shape for publishing. They will go over your first fifty-pages with the finest tooth comb you’ve ever seen to make sure these are as close to perfection as possible, as they know this is where you will have your chance to capture readers and publishers alike.
Many experienced writers won’t need an editor until they have found representation. Time and experience teach writers to avoid their own traps, not to mention their drafts get neater from the start. However, experienced writers are more than likely already represented or in a position themselves of hiring an editor. If you’re a relatively young writer and you are trying to get your book published either via mainstream or self-publishing, an editor is not a luxury but a necessity. The last thing you want is your hard work thrown to the back of the slush pile because your first chapter was filled with backstory, your main characters was a hapless chap or your metaphors kept failing. Although hiring an editor is no guarantee that your book will be published mainstream, it will increase your chances because editors know what works and what doesn’t and know how the publishing market works. If you are looking into self-publishing, then an editor is a worthwhile investment. You will gain insight that you otherwise wouldn’t. Likewise, if you are going to go all out and self-publish, you may as well end up with a finished product you will be proud of and your readers will appreciate. Moreover, in self-publishing, it’s easy to fall prey of self-indulgence and vanity. A good editor will always steer you away from your ego and allow your real talent to flourish.
Is it costly to hire an editor? Yes! It’s not easy to find a good editor. They have a combination of skills which means they are highly valuable. Finding a good freelance editor may be difficult but the impact they can have on your work and the improvement they can bring is worth their weight in gold.