Guest blog: Hear from a writer on the ups and downs of editing
Earlier this year, Samhain Publishing, which bought my first book, Venus In Blue Jeans, as well as nine others, announced that they were closing. Like most of Samhain’s authors, I was saddened. I knew many people who worked for them, a very talented bunch.
But Samhain’s closure had a more immediate effect for me. It meant that my novel Running On Empty was no longer scheduled for publication. I could have tried to find another publisher; but the chances of anyone wanting to take on the third book in a trilogy where the other two books belonged to Samhain were slim at best. I could have let it go, leaving the trilogy unfinished, but I didn’t want to do that.
My third choice—and the one with which I decided to go—was publishing the book myself. Self publishing (or “indie” publishing) is increasingly widespread. An entire industry has sprung up for authors who want to present their own, professionally produced books, including experts in art, editing, and formatting.
Self-publishing involves two main expenses—covers and editing. Of the two, beginning writers are more likely to spend on the former than the latter. They’re making a big mistake.I came to this conclusion from a unique perspective—I was a freelance copy editor myself for several years. At one time I had large chunks of the Chicago Manual of Style memorized (note to fellow copy editors—it goes away with time). No way I would edit my own stuff.
On the simplest mechanical level, you tend to read through your own errors, even your own typos. You know what’s supposed to be there, and your brain supplies it even when it’s missing. But a good editor will do a lot more than just catch your mistakes. A good editor will tell you where you’re going wrong in your story and your characters. Editors come to the book cold, without any information about your struggles to get it finished (unlike, say, critique partners). More importantly, they’re not paid to be your friend. The editor is there to provide you with a flat assessment of the weak spots in your work, along with some hints about how to fix them.That’s what you want.
My editor was brutally frank about the highs and lows of Running On Empty, my newest book.I won’t lie—some of it hurt. The pain of criticism is necessary and frequently based on your realization that your work wasn’t as perfect as you thought. When readers complain indie books are “unreadable,” they may be referring to works that haven’t received the benefit of an independent editor. I was able to produce a much better work thanks to my editor’s guidance.
Years ago, I was part of a critique group led by a well-known author. Group members ranged from rank beginners to seasoned, multi-published writers. A couple of the beginners had never been critiqued before, and they both responded with very public meltdowns. Eventually they both withdrew from the group after a loud denunciation of all of us for our lack of sympathy with their writing. Do I have to tell you that neither of those writers ever made it into print (at least so far as I know)?
Editing does cost a lot. Many editors charge by the word, and most of us write books in the 50,000 to 90,000 word range. But the investment pays off. Edited books may have weaknesses, but they’re usually things the author knowingly chose to do.
For better or worse.
(Meg Benjamin is an award-winning author of contemporary romance, including the Award of Excellence from Colorado Romance Writers. Visit her at MegBenjamin.com or facebook.com/meg.benjamin1. )