If you’ve spent a great deal of time working on a project, it can be easy to fall into the trap of believing that it’s perfect. Unfortunately, this can hold you back and stop you from getting your book published if you’re sending it out to publishers and agents without getting a second opinion from a real editor.
Getting a friend or family member to look over your work is a start, as they’ll be able to offer the fresh eye that your work is looking for, but sometimes there are as many negatives to this as there are positives.
There’s a strong chance that unless your friend or family member is an editor or English teacher of some sort, they’ll be no more skilled than you in terms of spotting errors. That, or they may think they are encouraging you by sparing your feelings even if there are a large number of mistakes, in which case you are no better than when you started. On the flip side, if they return your work covered in red scribbles, ‘suggestions’ and ‘helpful comments’, it can dent your confidence.
So, should you take your work to a real editor? In a word, yes. You’re unlikely to procure their services for free, but if you’re truly interested in taking your work to the next level, with the end goal of publication, you should expect there to be some monetary outlay along the way.
An editor will be an independent, impartial third-party who will painstakingly go through your book page by page, correcting everything from the small, obvious mistakes of misplaced commas and missing apostrophes, to offering larger-scale advice on how your book could be improved. This could range from how your characters develop, to tidying up any confusing plotlines.
More than this, however, they will be stern enough to advise you when to ‘kill your darlings’. A phrase coined by William Faulkner, it means when writing, you should consider that your own particular favourite passages, words, sentences, and even characters might be better off in the bin.
Why? Flowery prose, unintentional humour (which diminishes dramatic impact), and repetition and overuse of certain words and phrases can alienate your reader. They might seem wonderful to you, the writer, but they are more than likely to exasperate others. The same advice may seem patronising coming from a friend, but when it comes from a professional editor, you are more likely to take the message on board.
While traditional publishing houses may see your work and tell you to change this, that, and everything else or you won’t be published, small self-publishing outlets will guide you through the editing process, advising you what would be best to take out or change.
For the most part, they won’t hack your work to pieces – after all, it is your work that you wish to publish yourself – but it is in your own interest to listen to expert editors with years of experience under their belts, who will do their best to take your book as far as it can go, by making it the best that you want it to be.
Remember, even editors use editors.