This seems to be the question many writers ask—as they contemplate whether or not their manuscript needs to be edited. Actually, oftentimes writers come to the publishing process believing their manuscript only needs to be proofread. At most, they may think it needs a line edit plus a proofread. The truth is, taking either approach is a big mistake. And as I consider this, I am not only thinking about it as an editor, but as a fellow writer.
Why We Need Editing
When I’ve shared some of my vignettes with others, I’ve been told that my writing is good—powerful, beautiful, engaging, and deep have been some of the words spoken to describe my writing. Yet, although I am both a writer and an editor, I would never presume to put my work into the world without going through a full editing process. And that is not because my writing isn’t good.
The main reason is that when I am writing, I lose objectivity. I am with my thoughts, perceptions, experience, and my creative process. In my own little world. I lose sight of whether I’ve missed something, glossed over an important moment, over-simplified my perceptions about an experience, or become redundant. I am not unique—this happens to everyone. We get close to our writing. It becomes a part of us. We are in the process of birthing something into the world, and we become attached.
Without the help of an expert who can look at what I’ve written objectively and with the intention to make my good writing great writing, or at the least, better writing, I run the risk of birthing something into the world that is significantly less than it could have been. The editing process gives me the opportunity to add more dimension, more depth and breadth, and to improve my craft.
A Conversation with My Editor
I recently had a conversation with one of my fellow editors, the person who is editing my manuscript and is also a fellow writer. We talked about the idea of skipping the editing process or, at a minimum, only having a manuscript go through proofreading. Both of us, who care deeply about our craft, expressed how we would never do so. Putting a blog post out into the world without having it edited is okay for me to do (although it might be even better to have my blog posts edited as well). But to consider putting a book into the world without having it completely edited (at a minimum, going through a development edit, line edit, and a proofread) is unthinkable. We came to the conclusion that neither of us could do it.
So how do we convince writers that they too need to have their manuscripts go through, at a minimum, a three-part editing process? This is a tough question with no easy answer. The best answer I can come up with is that I would never say to someone to do as I say and not what I do. No, in this case, I say, “Do as I do!”
Past Writer-Editor Relationships
Using an editor is nothing new. Going back as far as the 1800s, we can find examples of famous author-editor relationships. These writers, who continue to be read, enjoyed, studied, and highly regarded, spent time honing their craft with the help of an editor. Here are seven of the most well-known in the last two centuries, according to Flavorwire.com:
- Max Perkins and Ernest Hemingway.
- Ezra Pound and T.S. Eliot.
- Thomas Wentworth Higginson and Emily Dickinson.
- Edgar Allan Poe and Rufus Wilmot Griswold.
- Charles Dickens and Edward Bulwer-Lytton.
- Franz Kafka and Max Brod.
- Michael Pietsch and David Foster Wallace.
In the past, when a traditional publisher invested in a book, an editor or editing team was assigned to ensure that the book was the best it could be. Even today, when someone is traditionally published, the process includes assignment to an editor (or editors) for EVERY book they publish, no matter how famous or accomplished the writer.
When I look in the pages of my favorite books, some of which have been New York Times Bestsellers, I can see credit given to their editors, either in the authors’ acknowledgments or on their copyright page. The better the writer, the more they understand the value of editing.
But What About Today?
Yet, in today’s world of self-publishing, authors often believe it’s unnecessary. Whether it’s the cost involved (editing will be an author’s most expensive investment, if they are not being traditionally published), or an author’s desire to get their book out as soon as possible, they seem convinced that this is a step they can skip. Nothing could be further from the truth.
No matter how someone is planning to publish, it is critically important that the author accept the same responsibility taken by traditional publishers: to invest in their book with quality editing. As a hybrid indie publisher myself, I can say that I will not entertain publishing a book unless it goes through the editing process. That is my commitment to bringing quality books into the world.
If you are reading this post and plan to author a book, think very seriously about the importance of investing time and money in the editing process. An eye-catching, attention-grabbing cover and a layout that illuminates your writing are essential, but if the words are less than stellar, your readership will be left unsatisfied. Most likely, they won’t be around when you publish a subsequent book.
A quote by Tom Stoppard hangs in my office.
“Words are sacred. They deserve respect. If you get the right ones, in the right order, you can nudge the world a little.”
Isn’t that why we put books into the world? To nudge others? If so, and if we believe words deserve our respect, if we intend to be impeccable with our words, as Don Miguel Ruiz says, then it is our responsibility, our duty, to do everything we can to make them the best they can be. Not only are we respecting our words, but we are respecting those whose lives we want to touch. In the end, it is our readership that we are serving, and they deserve our best.