For decades writers (and readers) bemoaned the fact that so many good books remained unpublished. It seemed that the industry’s gatekeepers agents and editors and publishers didn’t even look at your work unless you had amazing pedigree or a publication list a mile long. A first-time writer had a better chance of winning the lottery than getting published.
The self-publishing revolution changed things. Publishing has never been more competitive than today, yet there have never been more opportunities for writers to publish their work. With traditional publishing houses picking up ever fewer authors, more and more writers choose to take matters into their own hands and publish their books themselves.
Why should I contact an editor?
Today, every single good book can and will find its readers. Trouble is, every single not-so-good book can, too.
Now readers (and writers) bemoan the fact that so many books end up on bookshelves that shouldn’t¦books with too many errors in spelling, grammar or punctuation; books that leave too many questions unanswered; books with unbelievable plot twists; great ideas buried in sloppily written books and unfinished ideas dressed up in well written books.
Nobody gains from publishing a book that is not yet ready. As a writer, you have worked on your book far too long and far too hard to publish prematurely. You want your readers to enjoy your work, and come back for more. Your book is important, and not only to you, and therefore it deserves detailed attention from beginning to end.
While writing is a lonely endeavor, at some point it is absolutely necessary to test the fruits of your labor. Allow your book to be read by others before you contemplate publishing. Friends and family are a good start, and so is your former English teacher or members of your writing group. But above and beyond the help they can offer, eventually your manuscript should be seen by an impartial professional: your editor.
When should I contact an editor?
It is never too early, and never too late to contact an editor. A professional editor is an experienced reader, who will go through your work with a critical eye, using that proverbial red pen. Depending on the stage of your manuscript, your editor will help you with different things.
If you are working on a rough draft of a novel, a development editor will help you with elements such as plot, character development, narrative and dialogue, continuity, pacing and overall impression. If you’re writing non-fiction, your development editor will discuss structure, pacing, argument, thesis, style and approach to make sure that your message comes across to the audience you’ve intended.
If you are sure that there are no more conceptual issues, a substantive edit will make cuts, additions, and changes on a line-by-line basis to improve the flow of your writing. At this stage your editor may cut or change words, sentences or entire paragraphs to tighten your manuscript, or take out and rearrange entire chapters to increase the impact of your pacing (fiction) or your argument (non-fiction).
Copyediting is the last stage before publication and focuses on spelling, punctuation, grammar and more technical issues such as formatting. Your copyeditor will make sure that your manuscript contains no more mistakes and fix any grammar, spelling and punctuation problems or inconsistencies. In other words, a copyeditor will make sure that Allan is always Allan, and not sometimes Allen or even Ellen.
You may think that you can edit your own work. To an extent, of course, you can. However, as a writer you know your story or your subject matter so well that, as you read your work over and over again, you will no longer notice inconsistencies and automatically fill in the gaps. And your spell-check will not pick up the difference between dye and die.
An editor is an experienced reader, which means that if your editor finds issue with a plot twist or an argument, likely many other readers will, too. Your editor can and will suggest ways to improve your manuscript. And even if you do not agree with your editor’s suggestions, know that more often than not your editor’s comments point to a word, a sentence, a paragraph, a character or an explanation in need of your attention. If your editor stumbled, other readers will, too, and you should take a second look. Before you publish.
Your editor is not a gatekeeper. Your editor is in your corner, helping you publish the best book you possibly can.
Every manuscript deserves as much.
Helga Schier, Ph.D., a former Random House editor, draws on her experience in traditional publishing when providing constructive and effective editorial services to authors of fiction and non-fiction.
A published author herself, her publications include a series of non-fiction books on current topics for young adults such as school violence and 9/11, and a book on contemporary fiction.
Her work as a translator includes the feature film The Fourth State; a coffee table book on luxury toys, Top of the World; a humorous children’s book series, The Wild Soccer Bunch; and a collection of essays about the CEO of the Bertelsmann Corporation,Reinhard Mohn: Entrepreneur, Philanthropist, Citizen.
She lives in Los Angeles with her husband and two children.