Why “Get Your Book Edited” is not always the answer

If you’ve followed me around for a bit, either here or in real life, you will know that I’m not in favour of the blanket “get your book edited” advice that’s being given to many-a beginning writer who is thinking about self-publishing.

Make no mistake. I think editors do great work and I think that editing is a necessary step of the publishing process. My opposition to the “get your book edited” advice is sometimes taken in a way that implies that I don’t care about publishing crap.

In a way, that is right. I don’t give two hoots about other people publishing crap. That’s their problem. For my own work, I definitely care. If you are publishing your work, you should care, too.

This post is not about that. This post is about what an editor can’t do.

I’m kinda glad that self-publishing wasn’t around when I completed my first novel. I would have polished the thing, sent it off to a cheap editor to tick the “get your book edited” box and published it.

Problem is: the book was crap. Oh, the grammar was fine. I’d spent a bit of time in workshops, and I knew about POV and headhopping and the avoidance thereof. I knew about adverbs and said-bookisms and the word “that”. I know not to overuse “was <verb>ing” and all that stuff. The book was still crap. It was written from the wrong POV. The plot meandered way too much, although it eventually came to some sort of point, and the main character was unpleasant besides being the wrong character to tell the story. At time I finished that book, I couldn’t see any of those things. I could write well enough at scene level, but hadn’t developed the skill to keep a meandering plot in check. Unless you spend a lot of money, like, megabucks, an editor won’t teach you this, and you NEED to learn this stuff before you publish.

Rule #1 about “get your book edited”

Only pay someone to edit a book that is worth editing. How do you decide that it is fine? Most likely, you’ll need some experience. You may need beta readers who are not your friends or your family. If you’re really desperate, you could hire a manuscript assessment service, but they don’t come cheap. The best teachers are time, patience and lots of reading.

Secondly, a huge cottage industry has sprung up around self-published writers. Services range from paid-for degrees, publishing packages with self-publishing arms of publishing houses to DIY backyard editing services. Anyone can hang out a shingle and call themselves an editor. And “everyone” does.

Rule #2 about “get your book edited”

You should not hire anyone until you can establish that the person in question has a good reputation. A good reputation, too, includes refusing work that is not yet worth editing. You should not hire anyone until you’re convinced that their service will be worth the investment.

To sum up, no I don’t think your should treat “get your book edited” as a box to tick in the great rush to publish. It’s worth stepping back and having a good long and hard look at your work. Submit to a few magazines or agents. When you start getting personal responses and requests, that’s when you can start thinking about that editor.

This thread at the Kindleboards lists regrets people have about self-publishing. While “waited too long” is a commonly-mentioned mistake, I bet my bottom dollar that these people were still submitting to publishers and agents back then. The most painful replies are the ones that say “I published too soon”. I’ve seen some of those writers get trashed, even though some of their work had been “professionally edited”. They’d simply ticked the “get your book edited” box, and found an editor who cared more about the money than telling the writer that no amount of editing would make the manuscript suitable for publication. Or an editor who was not skilled enough to determine this.

Ouch. I’d have hated that to happen to me.

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