I’m in an entrepreneurial coaching program where we’re all expected to write and self-publish a book. And, back when we had our in-person day on publishing, a number of the people in the room tried to argue that they didn’t need to hire an editor.
I can do it myself
The argument goes something like: English is my first language, I write well, and I wrote my own website/brochures/presentations/etc. I don’t need an editor – I can do it myself.
Umm, no you can’t. (Well, seeing as I don’t know you personally, maybe you can, but I wouldn’t recommend it.)
Being a decent writer is no guarantee that your work will be ready for print without a second glance. When we’re writing (especially when we’re writing to a deadline) we leave words out, leave placeholders that we promise we’ll fill later, forget to finish sentences when we move on to the next idea, and leave out significant pieces of our argument, assuming that our readers “already know that”. And that doesn’t even take typos into consideration!
Even if you go back for a second look, it’s difficult to see the tiny errors in your work, and the fact that most of us just want the process over and done with once we finish our draft means we’re more likely to skim than nitpick. We’re impatient – we think the hard part is done and just want to get this part over and done with. I know I hate looking over my own work, and this is one of the reasons I worked with an editor on my book.
As a general rule, editing is the most expensive part of the self-publishing process. However, it’s the part that turns your writing from a Word document that happens to have a nice cover into a “real” book, and our clients find that the value they get from editing is much greater than the cost of their editing services. Just some of the benefits they experience include:
Additionally, there are several things you can do to save on editing costs, such as getting your book reviewed by friends in your industry (or, better yet, friends with a background in English, teaching or writing) and letting your draft sit for a few weeks before you look over it. By sending through a manuscript that’s already had some informal editing, you’ll spend much less (and have a much quicker turnaround) on the formal stuff.
I’m getting some friends/my mum/my cat to review it
Awesome. Get your friends, your mum and your cat to read your book. Better yet, call up your high school English teacher, your boss, and the neighbour you’ve never spoken to before, but whose name you think is Betty. Or Jane.
Get as many people as possible to read your book – every review helps. Whether or not you take on their feedback, getting an outsider’s perspective is always valuable.
However, when you have a personal relationship with someone, they generally don’t want to criticise your work. They’d rather not damage the relationship.
While a good editor will be as tactful as possible, she is a paid professional whose job is to make your book as effective as possible. If that means cutting 10,000 words, reorganising your chapters, and advising you to take an entirely new angle, that’s what she’ll do. And you’ll know you’re getting the best possible advice.
There are always mistakes in edited books anyway
Yes, there are. Editors and proofreaders aren’t perfect, and there are often a range of minute details that get missed (there should be an apostrophe in that word, that hyphen should be a dash, that should be a colon, not a semicolon, etc.).
However, if those minor details got through, imagine what the book looked like before it was edited.
Readers can’t tell anyway
You’re right – readers don’t think about the editorial process. And this is the way it should be.
George Orwell once said that “good prose is like a windowpane.” It means that your words shouldn’t distract from your message. The role of an editor is to make sure they don’t, and that your message is as clear and compelling as it can be.
That being said, while readers may not notice good editing, they will notice bad editing. If your first few pages are burdened by a slew of grammatical errors and typos, or you are continually repeating yourself and going in circles, your readers are more likely to throw your book down in frustration than to keep reading.
Editing serves those readers and ensures they get their money’s worth. Good editing serves your book and gives it the best chance of competing successfully in a crowded marketplace. And good editing serves you and your reputation as an author and entrepreneur, because good editing makes you sound awesome.