I don’t need an editor. My grammar is perfect. I’ve sweated blood on those pages and I can’t have anyone pick away at it. It’s just an e-book. Well, I have heard them before. Let us examine them seriatim.
- I don’t need an editor.
There are two points to make here. (1) You do need an editor. (2) You need to accept point number one. And an editor is not there to pick away at your writing or tongue-lash you for getting your concord or parallelism wrong like your secondary school English teacher might do. His job is not to give negative feedback but to offer fresh perspectives and improve your work. A good editor will respect your style; he will treat your work like a baby because he knows it is your baby. He will suggest improvements to language and structure without altering your style. The work of a professional editor is to ensure that what you present to the world is the best it can be. Every successful writer you have read makes use of good editors.
- I can’t afford it.
Editing costs some money – I won’t lie. How much depends on the length of the work and the amount of work required – so the better you do your own work before involving the editor the cheaper. But what you spend on editing should be seen as an investment rather than an expense. Getting an editor saves you money in terms of economics. She can check your script for errors in less time, leaving you free to focus on writing another book, marketing, optimizing your blog and doing the other things you need to do to get your material out there and become a successful writer. If you are self-publishing, you really have to find the money. Putting an unedited or poorly finished work, a piece of prose full of grammatical blunders, local malapropisms and misplaced modifiers or that switches between registers in the public arena will come back to haunt you. That is what you can’t afford.
If you really don’t have the money, your only option is to find a literary agent who will help you find a foreign publisher who will pay an editor to get the job done. In 2004, a major literary prize in Nigeria could not be awarded because the panel of judges asserted that all the short-listed works were hamstrung by “poor editing, embarrassing grammatical errors, hasty work and poor packaging” and typographical errors. Those were published works but they were produced by local publishers who, like their writers, do not realise why you need an editor.
If you are submitting to reputable publishing houses and literary agents, bear in mind that they are more likely to accept and read a piece of work that is professionally formatted and properly laid out with perfect grammar, spelling and punctuation than a “raw” manuscript. Note that there are different levels of editing and some editors offer basic grammar and punctuation checking separately from professional editing and the former costs less than the latter. Professional substantive editing often involves some developmental editing whereby the editor checks for such elements as flow, pacing, characterisation, harmony, dialogue and more. A professional editor is a teacher of good writing.
- But my writing is good enough.
No human brain is wired to generate error-free prose. If, as I strongly suspect, you’re human, there are errors, possibly one or two blunders, in that manuscript of yours, assuming it is more than a few pages. While people generally read for content, copyeditors read every word, slowly. Your copyeditor will ensure consistency and check for accuracy of references, statistics, websites and phone numbers as long as these are publicly available. He will ensure clarity. If critiquing is a part of the brief, she will spot structural problems and plot holes or the lack of anything like a plot. Yet even editors aren’t perfect. The standard for editing quality is around ninety percent. That is, when you pay an editor to edit your material, you have the right to expect him to catch nine out of every ten errors in it. Many editors exceed this standard every day and any good editor aims to.
It is mostly people new to writing who appear not to realise the importance of editing. Once they are done with writing they are full of excitement and optimism and want to send it off straight to the publisher or panel of judges after reading through on their own. They think the work is perfect, but they often get a surprise. Some expect the publishing houses to do whatever editing is needed. The established publishing houses do, but there are things to bear in mind. They receive tons of material and can only publish a few titles a year. When they accept a manuscript it takes a lot of work to get it to the bookshelf. It follows that they will not take on your work if it requires too much work, even if they like the content.
Besides, in this era of all sorts of subsidy publishing, self-publishing and print on demand, many books do not pass through the established publishing houses. From what I read online, I also doubt that most online publishers pay attention to editing. These create situations where “raw” pieces of material are released to the public and nobody wants to read them or the authors end up not being taken seriously.
Your family and friends cannot edit your work, either. Unlike the professional copyeditor they are emotionally attached and are, therefore, unlikely to be frank if they need to give negative feedbacks. The stranger-editor is better able to take a “ruthless” and professional approach to finishing your work.
- It’s just an e-book and I can make changes anytime.
Putting out a poorly finished work in any format is bad for your reputation. People will see those errors. Some will write bad reviews. Others will ask for a refund. Besides, making changes and uploading your work every other day is not a good use of your time and data.
Editing is not limited to books. For proposals, reports, articles and website content, editing is just as essential. A proposal that is full of repetition and superfluity will be pushed to the corner of the desk to be read later. It may never get read. One that is lean, factual, informative and well-presented has a good chance to deliver results.
Now we have got these visceral and one-dimensional arguments out of the way, get writing and get a good editor.