At a writer’s conference last year, I attended a course taught by a well-known author. The course had nothing to do with editing, but at some point during the class, the author complained about the edits he’d recently received from his publishing house’s editor. He claimed he accepted none of the edits, sent the manuscript back, and told the editor to use his original. He went on to say that we really shouldn’t even need an editor if we are thorough in our rewrites and self-edits.
As a writer and an editor, I respectfully disagree with his advice. A good editor is paramount to a good manuscript. I don’t care how many times a writer rewrites, revises, or proofreads, he or she still needs an editor.
There are different types of editors offering various services from developmental editing (working alongside an author as they write their story) to proofreading (putting that final polish on the manuscript). The best type of editor is one with whom an author builds a relationship over a period of time. Editors get to know an author’s writing style and voice, strengths and weaknesses. A good editor can make a manuscript shine. When an author and an editor hit their stride together, they can elevate a story from a manuscript to an award-winning novel.
Here are a few examples of passages before and after editing.
Before: Where were the other riders? Just then, the faint outline of Imelda and David Beringer atop their cantering horses reappeared over the crest of the hill.
In this scene, the reader already knows this is a scene taking place on horseback. It is redundant to say they are “atop their cantering horses.”
After: Where were the other riders? Just then, the faint outline of Imelda and David Beringer reappeared over the crest of the hill.
Before: Hanging back, Isabella stood just in front of the grand house, staring up at the many windows above her. She turned at the pattering of horses’ hooves behind her just in time to see the figures of Lord Bromby and Mr. Hobby riding toward her.
The word just is repeated in the second sentence. The phrase, the figures of is not needed either.
After: Hanging back, Isabella stood in front of the grand house, staring up at the many windows above her. She turned at the pattering of horses’ hooves just in time to see Lord Bromby and Mr. Hobby riding toward her.
Before: Isabella pushed herself off of the chair and stood with David’s helping arm. They trailed out of the hot drawing room and into an adjoining room. David helped Isabella to a green velvet settee, where he released her arm. She lowered herself onto the velvet and leaned against a cushion. Aunt Lydia sat on her left side and Imelda sat on her right and patted her hand.
Although not bad, this section is a little wordy, repeating the material of the settee and using the word room twice in the same sentence. The sentences need tightening.
After: Isabella pushed herself off the chair and stood with David’s helping arm. They walked from the hot drawing room into an adjoining one. David helped Isabella to a green velvet settee, where he released her arm. She lowered herself and leaned against a cushion. Aunt Lydia sat on her left side. Imelda sat on her right and patted her hand.
As an acquisitions editor for Pelican Book Group, I am sometimes amazed at the state of submitted manuscripts. Typos aside, it is not unusual to see unedited stories filled with poor sentence structure, repetitive segments, and grammatical errors. Whether a manuscript is clean or cluttered is often a deciding factor in the saturated publishing world. Once a story is accepted for publication, it goes through at least three rounds of edits (and that’s for a manuscript that is relatively error-free).
The poor quality of some self-published books is one of the main reasons self-publishing has garnered a bad reputation. In the quest to cut costs, authors may rush to publish before the manuscript is ready. Although some readers may not mind, others will simply stop reading the book.
Your hard work deserves the best shot possible at a wide audience. One way to make your work stand out is to hire a professional editor. It could mean the difference between a non-seller and a best-seller.
(Published first on Common Sense Marketing Strategies Blog)
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