Wednesday 27 June 2012

Going beyond perfection – everyone needs an editor

There are beta-readers, critique groups and even literary consultancies that offer full editorial services for a fee. Many self-publishers are now realising the necessity of getting their work properly edited. But if the work is going to be edited anyway, why bother doing it yourself first?
Yes, it is one of the harsh facts about the business. You think you have got your text perfect. Then an editor comes along and wants you to do more. I personally edit my work about 18 times, looking at something different each time. So, how can I make it any better? Can I offer anything in response to editorial comment?
I probably can, actually. The time my typescript stays with the editor gives me  the opportunity to obtain some distance from the text and in that time I also continue to develop as a writer. The closer you get to your 10,000 hours – the amount of time anyone needs to learn a craft properly – the more rapidly this process takes place. I now find myself editing published work as I read it out loud.
Obviously, your work must be pretty good already if you want a major publishing house to take it on. They don’t have all that much time or budget for remedial editorial work, despite their job-title. But if you’re paying an editor why not expect her to do all of the work?
The problem is that even paid editors only have so much time and so much editorial energy. I notice when my students give in work that is so riddled with punctuation and formatting mistakes that I run out of time to look at the more subtle improvements that could be made – the sort of improvement that will turn a good text into a great text.
I once looked at a self-published book for a publisher, to see whether they could / should take it on. I advised against it. Although the story was good it would have taken about £6,000 worth of editorial work to fix the writing.          
Also, we often get too close to our own writing. We sometimes can’t see a glaring fault whilst we tinker with parts that only need a little polish. We are convinced that a section is perfect but sometimes precisely that part needs a substantial amount of work.
It’s important therefore, that you get your text as good as you possibly can. Then leave your editor the space to make some magic happen.   

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