The Power of Editing

If there’s one lesson I’ve learned through the course of publishing my book, it is the value of editing.  I didn’t hire a professional editor for my book.  Like most self-published authors, the price tag scared me.  Publishing a book is an uncertain thing and you really don’t know whether you will make any money at it.  The statistics are downright frightening.  Then again, I think there is a lot more to the statistics than just numbers, but that is for another post.

The point I want to make here is that it’s a little like the old adage that plagues teenagers everywhere: I need a job to get a car, but I need a car to get a job.  Editing is like that.  You need to sell books to pay for editing, but you aren’t going to sell any books if you don’t edit.  I really mean that.  Now, you can self-edit, but I’ve learned that is only going to get you so far.  I have been extremely blessed with several beta readers.  So far, I’ve had about a dozen people read my book, looking for typos, weird spots, plot holes, and the like.  Without them, I would be screwed.  But, as invaluable as they are, they still won’t get you as far as you need to go.

You see, you have blind spots.  There are things about your writing that you completely lack the ability to see.  Sometimes they are simple things.  I have this infuriating tendency to leave out articles (i.e. a/an, the) and small prepositions (e.g. to, at, of).  I type right along and my brain skips the words, which means my fingers do too.  The result is a manuscript that is littered with sentences that are missing these wily beasts.  And you know what happens when I proof?  Yep.  I often don’t see that they’re missing.  My eyes just skip right over without picking up the fact that they weren’t there.

My beta readers were a tremendous help in pointing those things out.  They also pointed out squirrelly sentences, and they pointed out areas that didn’t flow well.  They pointed out things that confused them.  But you know what else?  One of my readers is a diehard mystery reader.  That means he hated the areas of reflection and revelation – he wanted action.  One of my readers loves character stories.  That means she generally disagreed with the mystery lover.  One reader believed that I should have taken more time building out the environment.  Yet another thought one character was flat and another thought a completely different character was flat, but she was fine with the first character.

Long story short?  Virtually none of my beta readers agreed with one another.

That means that you have to discern what needs changing and what doesn’t.  And I should remind you that you are the least objective person on the planet when it comes to making decisions about your book.  Your book is your baby.  You have conceived it through a whole lot of blood, sweat, and tears.  Yes, I know that’s cliché, but it’s true.

Now, let’s throw in the fact that your readers don’t want to hurt your feelings.  They know how important your book is to you and they are going to treat you with kid gloves.  Granted, I was blessed with readers who were willing to tell me the truth.  AND I was willing to hear it.  Some authors say they want the truth, but they are afraid of it.  Those authors get all defensive when they receive negative remarks and that will kill any hope you have of your readers feeling the freedom to be honest.  If your readers can’t be honest, then you are wasting their time and yours.  Don’t do that.  Put on your big boy/girl pants and take it gracefully.  They are trying to help you.

Anyway, there is still more to it.  Your beta readers will not catch everything.  They just won’t.  Period.  End of story.  Nothing more to say on that one.  They. Will. Not. Catch. Everything.  Of course, neither will a professional editor, but at least they do that kind of thing for a living.

Guess what?  There’s still more.  One (yes, just one) of my readers pointed out that it seemed like I used the word little a lot.  I started counting them and she was right.  I’m a tech geek at heart, so I wrote a little program that would spin through the manuscript and count the number of times I used each word.  Oh my gosh.  I mean, Oh My Gosh.  I used the word little nearly three-hundred times.  Little is an adjective.  That means every frigging thing was little.  My characters felt a little confused or a little scared.  Or Andy’s child body was little.  Little, little, little everywhere.  Holy crap.  And I didn’t see it, but one of my readers did.

You see, there are little, overused words and phrases that we type all the time and we don’t even realize it.  Those are our blind spots.  We cannot self-edit our own blind spots.  We can’t do it because we don’t see them.  That’s why they’re called blind spots.

One last point is that it took a huge amount of work and an army of readers to catch less stuff than a professional editor would likely have caught.  I (and my readers) have spent so many hours digging through my book.  Collectively, I can’t even fathom how many hours went into it.  And it was all because I didn’t want to spend the money on editing.  Well, I’ve learned my lesson.  I will still use beta readers in the future: I think they are hugely important.  But they don’t replace an actual editor, and they shouldn’t be bogged down with typos and poorly constructed sentences.  They have a much more important job than that.  They should be there to tell me ways that my book can be improved.

So use an editor.  Please.  Learn from my mistakes.  That’s really what I’m trying to do here.  I want to be completely authentic because I believe that is what helps people.  Sugar coated, watered down niceties don’t help anyone.  I want to show you all the battles I fight, and I want to show my victories as well as my losses.  Maybe that will scare some of you off from reading my book, but I hope not.  I’m hoping that it will show you that these battles can be won.

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  1. #1 by The Writer's Codex on August 18, 2012 - 8:35 pm

    well written and a little fitting for anyone going the route you went; I will be going through a publishing house if at all possible, but if I have to, I will be certain to use an editor. It only makes sense, then again, I haven’t seen the price tage yet.

  2. #2 by Mike E. Miller on August 19, 2012 - 7:16 am

    Thanks for the comment. As an example, Createspace’s rates run from $120 + $0.012 per word up to $220 + $0.022 per word. So, for an 80,000 word book, you would pay between $1,100 and $2,000.

  3. #3 by lindabloodworth on August 23, 2012 - 2:39 pm

    Great advice! Really appreciate this kind of post that can help anyone starting out.

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