When I first began to write it was all about getting the best sentence down on paper (laptop/PC). Because that’s where I thought that writing a book starts. And it does, depending on the type of writer that you are. I pantsed my first novel, sitting down to write with a mere scene in my head, re-reading what I wrote the day before and allowing my fingers to do the talking for each new scene. Some writers are plotters and plan out their novels scene by scene before they start writing, and this works brilliantly for many writers too.
Whatever our chosen method of writing that all important first draft, we always end up in the same place after we type THE END. Editing. Or more specifically, self-editing. This stage is the writer’s polish stage. It could take one or five or ten drafts for a writer to reach that stage where he knows he can do no more. That the manuscript is finally at the stage where it needs to move on to the next level in its gestation.
Hiring a good editor is of paramount importance especially for a newbie writer. Some experienced writers may choose to skip the editor stage, but this is after years of experience where they are able to say ‘Yes, I have this, I can do this without an editor’.
So what is the difference between your own revisions of your manuscript and the editing process with your editor? Incredibly, there’s a tonne of difference. Believe me, you won’t want to skip hiring a good editor because you may think you have it sussed.
This is where too many new writers make their biggest mistake. Whether it’s arrogance, ignorance or personal choice, some writers skip this stage. IMHO it’s a huge mistake. My first experience with a proper experienced editor taught me so much about writing, about how to think about the stages your novel follows, about conflict and character arcs. (Thank you Annetta!) It was a real eye-opening experience.
It made me realise that writing is a very insular experience. You’re sitting down with your creativity and producing something you made up all by yourself. There will be flaws. Lots of them. Stuff will be missing (it’s there in your head, you just haven’t made it accessible to the reader yet, that’s all). Sometimes you will find you’ve mixed things up. Scenes change, characters change, motivations change, and maybe you’ve not followed them through. Trust me, much of this you cannot see for yourself because you are too close to the story. You know everything, understand everything, characters, world, plot, mystery, history. You’re so close you can so easily miss something important.
And your editor’s job is to ensure you get the world in your head down on paper properly. Your editor is there to help you fill in the gaps, smooth out your story arc, ensure you are engaging the reader sufficiently. Of course, your editor is also there to help you make conscious decisions on prose and maybe you will even end up killing a few darlings, but in the end you will have a cleaner, tighter, more professional piece of work to give to your readers.
Note: your editor is not there to rewrite your work, or to write in scenes and chapters for you. Be very wary. Should your editor begin to do this, you are completely within your rights to stop and review the process and your contract because no professional editor should take it upon themselves to add text or to change characters or plot. Suggestions may be made for the betterment of your story, and its up to the author to decide how to use those suggestions to tighten up the story. It is crucial you find a professional editor that you can work well with.
Because, at the end of the day your readers matter the most. Don’t cheat them by publishing a half done novel. Take pride in your work, be professional in what you present to the world.
My advice? No matter what, hire a good editor. Going to release late? Doesn’t matter… Get that editor and you’ll be so happy you did.
Oh and it doesn’t end there. After you and your editor are done, get yourself a proofreader. Every book deserves a final once over by a pair of eagle eyes who will catch the things you missed. After all that fixing and polishing, the write and the editor are now too close to the manuscript. Small things will get lost in the mix, missing words, missing punctuation, wrong words used etc. your proofreader brings fresh eyes to your project, finding all those little errors that were missed along the way.
The best part of writing as a career is that we are all constantly learning about writing as a craft. So it makes perfect sense that part of our learning experience should come from the people we seek out to help us bring our work to as close to perfection as possible.