“Do I Need to Get My Manuscript Edited?”
— SPOILER: YES —
In this world, nothing is certain, except death, taxes, and silly writing mistakes. Resist all you want, but the more you struggle, the worse you’ll make things for yourself. Constantly worry about death? That’ll cause ulcers—or worse. Refuse to pay the taxman? Sooner or later, he will come a-knocking . . . with a hydraulic door blaster. Set to do some “editing” solo? The more times you stumble through your manuscript searching for shortcomings, the less likely you’ll be to find ’em—and truth be told, there are probably a good many things you don’t know to look for in the first place. Pushing back against the (pen-swinging, bill-wielding) editor is natural. Think of it as teen rebellion. Spirited. Respectable. But ultimately growing up is mandatory, nonetheless, and every writer’s rite of passage is making peace with the process.
Though you may now know as much, you’ve still got questions. Reservations. Extant hopes of chance escape. We’re here to answer, comfort, and securely block the exits, thereby saving your life (as an author).
Here are some of the most common questions we hear from clients (in so many words) . . .
“I’m already good at what I do, so why would I want some stuffy schmo to hinder my whole vision?”
You’re no doubt right about being good at what you do. The thing is, your skill set is different than that of an editor who’s been trained to zoom in and pull back, considering details manuscript-wide. Their seeming stuffiness is an asset, too. Beautiful as your book may be, the editor isn’t emotionally invested—a good thing. (Love is blinding, you know.) For the same reason that a lawyer will hire their own lawyer (or a masseuse their own masseuse), editors who also write—most—employ their very own editors and place great value upon the partnership.
Excellent editors will share your vision, doing everything in their power to ensure that others get a chance to appreciate it. What now is yours alone may be a gift for the world, but you need a crew. Indeed, you are a solo act, but even those need scintillating sound technicians, don’t they?
“Doesn’t a publisher proofread books for free before they go to print?”
That would be correct. And the White House has a full gym, so you can hold off on exercising until you’re inaugurated.
Sarcasm aside, landing a literary agent is insanely difficult. As it turns out, a lot of people have the idea to write a book, and “slush pile” is a striking understatement. (More like “Mt. Mush.”) Your average agent receives thousands of submissions per year, and they’ll only end up running with a liberal ten of them. We don’t say this to discourage you, however. You know your book is far above average, and soon you’ll score a major boost by hiring an expert.
“Wouldn’t an agent see past minor mistakes to my story’s pith forthwith?”
Following up on our answer above, the agent, as a busy breed, will find all dilettantes distasteful . . . so, if and when their door does open—wide enough for a sheaf (no foot)—you shouldn’t be banking on charity.
What you do deliver had better be flawless because even the smallest mistake may be enough to warrant dismissal. As you venture down the rabbit hole of prospective publication, regard your could-be agent with caution. You’re dealing with the Queen of Hearts, whose action (when vexed) is always the same.
Nothing wrong with that, though. We all subscribe to the law of least resistance, consciously or not. Equipped with truly endless options, why would an agent pick a title that doesn’t pass the smell test?
Deliver red roses—again: red roses—as paint-dripping white ones won’t do.
“Why in the world is it so expensive? Am I being hustled here?”
On the contrary, you’re more likely to be getting shortchanged when editing comes too cheap. Professional editing requires a huge investment of time and a great deal of knowledge (which also requires time to accrue and maintain). There’s much more going on than a machinelike scan. In addition to pinpointing superficial mistakes, editors must:
- Rewrite text, improving clarity
- Isolate/eliminate illogical material
- Provide structural/developmental advice (depending on the commission)
- Determine the suitability of terms/references as they relate to the intended audience and/or subject
- Reduce redundancy and promote variety (diction/sentence structure/plot)
- Improve the story’s pace, balance, and general POV
- Uproot (subconscious) prejudice
- Compile a style sheet for the manuscript to help ensure absolute consistency (both in terms of plot and mechanics)
- Carefully adhere to a Bible-size style guide (The Associated Press Stylebook [600+ pages], The Chicago Manual of Style [1,000+ pages], etc.)
- Format the document (in line with industry standards), often laboring for hours to undo an author’s hard (but flawed) work
- Provide feedback, suggestions, and explanations to the author via notes—a long, laborious, laudable process
- Field the author’s questions upon delivery, tune up additional content, and recommend next steps
- Confirm that titles and page numbers match with the TOC
- Review the front matter, back matter, footnotes, endnotes, and bibliography
- Triple-check everything, from the spelling of Tallahassee (right) to the assertion that it’s west of Woodville (wrong); an editor is the ultimate skeptic, untrusting till “The End . . .”
Having scoured your manuscript (multiple times) and having run it through powerful editing programs (not the rinky-dink Microsoft Word spellchecker), your exhausted editor will present you with much more than a marked-up manuscript. The service is, rather, obstetric. The gift? An unblemished newborn babe.
The price tag may still make you blanch, but know that you’re making a vital investment—a vital investment that’s rarely regretted and one well worth its cost.
“Can I bypass editing if my plan is to simply self-publish?”
Herein lies the peril of can. The question, of course, can start with can but really should start with should.
There are many reasons that self-publishing may be the right path for your writing career—creative control, better returns (per unit), unique advertising opportunities—but, no, the net’s not a “digital dust box.” Should that be your headspace, take leave of it.
Not all books get “picked up,” but if you don’t consider your manuscript good enough for traditional publication, then you shouldn’t consider it good enough to sell online either. (Not yet, anyway.) Online shoppers are human too, and they worked just as hard for their book-buying greenbacks. What’s more, you’re shouting, “This is me” (to family and friends and enemies and strangers strewn about this rock). So, are you sloppy? Slapdash? Slipshod? Shoddy? Slack or plain shambolic? Are you prudent? Practical? Precise? Well-put-together? Proper?
Know that your book will speak for itself—for better or rough-draft worse.
It’s also good to remember that self-publishing can represent a springboard to the stars. Agents (and publishers) are happy to quarterback books that are already selling, but for a book to do well online, it needs to be every bit as professional as your standard (physical) specimen.
In conclusion, making sure there’s absolutely no confusion: editing is just as important for self-published titles. Perhaps more so.
“Wouldn’t several amateur edits equate to one by a pro?”
Unfortunately, it doesn’t matter how many crinkle-cuts you add to the bowl. Chips are chips, not caviar.
That said, it’s always good to put your book in the hands of some beta-readers. All the better when those readers are writers themselves. Remember, though, there are no free lunches—certainly none with sturgeon roe—so consider swapping manuscripts with a fellow quill-driver. The time it takes you to read their book and put together a sleek critique may well be worth the feedback that you’re fed back in return.
Forcing your half-baked manuscript on friends and fam is fine—your life—but don’t expect a great deal of help. They’re neither slaves nor specialists. The skinny: if someone managed to do exactly what you needed them to, they’d surely deserve a fat check.
“What if I spend the money and I still don’t find my book a home?”
What if you devote endless time and resources to raising your child right, and they still wind up a slacker? Lay such questions (and worries) to rest, for all you can do is your very best.
It’s not what people want to hear pre-debut, but virtually no one sells their first book. Why? Because they’ve loads to learn . . . and editing will positively open one’s eyes. (Think Clockwork Orange.) So, yes, it’s highly likely that your manuscript will not be placed. But slim are the chances you’ll feel as if you wasted your time or dime.
Just because Granny’s got a pincushion, it doesn’t mean that she can perform acupuncture. Be wary of crosscuts, and recognize that to capitalize on your talent, you’ll need to allocate capital to those with an eye for more than capitalization. Furthermore, you won’t want to deliver your editor a manuscript that’s rife with basic blunders. (Why have ’em chasing minnows when they could be frying bigger fish?) Indeed, it’s wise to take things slowly. Don’t rush in . . . but don’t rush off, for here at Specter Services, we always go above and beyond, providing more and charging less. Our supernatural author support is your key to earthly success.