Writing is a very self-involved process. You get wrapped up in your story, your characters and getting to the end. Editing is more of the same. You’re focused on pulling the story apart and putting it back together in the best order that you can find. But once you’ve battled for weeks, or possibly months, you can no longer see the wood for the trees. What you need now is a second set of eyes.
A professional editor is your next best step. Yes, it costs money – and the cost can be significant depending on which editor you pick – but for me, the advice I received was invaluable. The editor’s report may not be easy reading, they will pick up on every mistake and inconsistency, but that’s exactly what you’re paying for it. They’re completely impartial and prepared to give you constructive criticism, even if it can sometimes be hard to stomach.
For me, the hardest piece of advice was that my editor identified the killer quite early in my novel. That was quite a shock. But when I reviewed the after reading the report, I realised that my ‘subtle’ hints meant that the killer might as well have been wearing a t-shirt saying ‘I dunnit’! The editor also criticised my main character, but she was right – he was a bit of an idiot. He’s since done a lot of growing up and looks so much better for that.
All this advice came as part of a structural edit. I received a four-page report from the editor that looks at structure, characters and general style points. There were also track-changes and comments throughout the manuscript. As I said, some of it was hard to hear. After all, I’d been working on this book for years and it was still far from ready for anything. I sulked for a few days after first reading the report, frustrated that after all that work I still wasn’t ‘getting it’. But then I shook it off and got back to work. It took another year of editing – on and off due to work commitments – but when it recently went back to the same editor for a line edit, she was much more complimentary.
A line edit looks at the manuscript in more minute detail. It picks out repetition of words (you’d be amazed how many times you can repeat a word without realising), spelling, punctuation and grammar mistakes. In my case, it also picked up details that, once again, may have made it obvious how the murder was committed and also clues that might identify the killer.
Now that I’ve made the changes suggested by the editor, the book looks much stronger. And more importantly, I’ve learned from the process. I can use the advice the editor gave me to make sure I do a much better job on my second book. I’ve almost gone back to the drawing board in terms of structure – see my previous post on the card game and beat sheet (courtesy of Roz Morris in her book “Nail Your Novel: Why Writers Abandon Books and how you can Draft, Fix and Finish With Confidence”) – but also really thinking through my characters, making them active and realistic. It was only by using cards and coloured pens that I identified that my main character had gone a bit quiet in the middle of the book and was being acted upon, rather than leading the action.
So you see, the input of a professional editor is vital if you’re serious about taking your writing to publication. You need someone who is impartial, who can give your book a proper going over. Expect a few compliments – my editor pointed out that I’m technically a good writer and complimented me on writing a book while working full time – but also expect to be told the truth, however harsh it may be, about the book you’ve produced. But remember that your work needs it, and you need to deploy your thickest skin to accept the criticism.
You won’t regret it, believe me.