So you've decided to write a novel. You have read a few ebooks from the kindle store or smashwords, and have sized up the competition. You've thought, more than once, "I can do better than that!" You have seen the meteoric rise of fiction ranging from excellent to marginal to insipid, and have even bought tickets to the inevitable movie tie-ins.
You've committed your really cool idea to word processor/notebook paper/papyrus/stone tablet. You've written multiple drafts and done the re-writes. Since you have decided to take the chance with self-publishing, you do not have the benefit of an editor provided by a publishing company, so you decide to crowd source your editing. You share it with friends and family, asking them to be your "beta readers", and they have done an admirable job catching spelling and grammar errors, and have also given valuable insights into to what works and what doesn't. Confident that you have created the best version of your novel, you release your magnum opus into the wild.
And then the reviews start coming back. Readers say things like: "the story is great, but the writing is average." "Too many typos and grammar errors for my taste." "If you've never read a book before, then this is alright." "To peer, or look around, is spelled 'peer', not 'pier'!" You realize that you may have been a little hasty in your eagerness to share your story with the world. Of course the experience I outline above is somewhat autobiographical in nature, as I just released my own self published novel, Fulcrum. Below you will find reasons that you, dear reader and/or author, need to hire someone to edit your novel.
1. You can't catch all the errors yourself.
You are too close to the subject matter; after all it came directly from your own mind. You are you too familiar with the paragraphs, sentences and general flow of your novel, and your brain, the finely tuned cognitive machine that it is, isn't doing you any favors in this regard. Your brain is very adept at making sense of nonsense without you even knowing it. For example, it only needs the first and last letters of a word in place for you to comprehend it. Even if the middle letters are a jumbled mess, your brain can still put it all together. Don't believe me? Follow this link.
If you are anything like me and have the attention span of a ferret on methamphetamine, you simply aren't going to notice that the opening sentence of your novel: "The giant bunny was much larger than the the others around him, and he did'nt know why," has a few mistakes.
2. It will be difficult for your friends/family to be completely objective.
Your friends and family have a vested interest in you, because they like you, otherwise they wouldn't be your friends (sorry family, you don't get to choose). Don't get me wrong, friends and family can be a big help in the developmental process, and I am infinitely grateful for those who helped me proofread my book. Stephen King has his wife and a few close friends read an early draft to help with the dramatic content. This is how you find out what works and what doesn't. Which character needs more development, or which dialogue is ham-fisted, etc. An editor is not your friend (though he or she might be friendly), and as such, concerns about your emotional wellbeing do not enter into the equation. It's business, nothing personal. Just like the mafia.
Enter the editor. If he is good at what he does, he will catch grammatical errors and even help with continuity errors, taking your book to the next level. For example, in a previous draft of my novel the hero was sitting on a cot being interrogated by the mysterious alien race that dwelt deep within the bowels of his space station. A paragraph later I have the hero pushing up from the floor. How can this be? Did he drop down and begin lounging on the floor right in the middle of the conversation? I had scanned my book several times to check for these very issues and completely missed this error.
3. Mistakes will irritate your readers.
We all have different thresholds for suck. For example: I like but don't love Star Wars Episode I: the Phantom Menace. Yes, the gungans are a magnificent supernova of poor judgment, and yes little "Ani" is kind of annoying (Now this is Podracing! No it isn't. You are flying a space ship, bro). The super-kinetic lightsaber fights, young obi-wan, and of course DARTH MAUL are enough to get me past the bad aspects of the movie. I guess what I am trying to say is: at the end of the day, one man's Serenity is another's Wing Commander: The Movie.
When I am reading an independent novel, I have my own threshold of errors that I am willing to accept before I start getting irritated. Misspellings don't really bother me that much, unless there are a lot of them back to back. It irks me a little when the author refers to a color value using a synonym for the word "bucket". To me, mistakes like these are part of the whole independent author "thing". When these errors start piling up, combined with a few minor continuity errors, I start thinking about quitting the book and moving on to the next one. I am not the type to leave a negative review for these reasons; I mean, come on, it's an independent novel, and I probably spent about three bucks on it. But there are people out there that will nail you to the wall for these mistakes. Bottom Line: you don't want to run off readers with simple mistakes that a good editor can fix in his sleep.
4. It will give you peace of mind.
When I first released my novel, I lived in fear of negative reviews, because deep down I knew that it had flaws, despite the many read-throughs by friends, family members, and me. Now that it has gone through the editing process, I feel so much better about my book as a product, knowing that it's the best version that it can be. I know that simple mistakes that could pull the reader out of the world in which Fulcrum takes place have been significantly reduced, if not eradicated. I can rest assured that my book will be judged on the merits of the story, not on superficial grammatical errors and typos.
I must admit I was a little arrogant during the process of creating my novel. I scoffed at other authors when I found mistakes, thinking to myself: "what is wrong with these guys? Bro, do you even proofread?" I realized afterwards how hard it is to catch every little error and repeated word; to say the least it was a humbling experience.
Hiring a good editor costs money. I chose not to hire an editor in the beginning because of the aforementioned hubris, and the fact that I simply didn't have the money on hand. As it turned out I made enough money from the sales of the first edition of Fulcrum to fund a second edition and have it edited by David Gatewood, who is the man behind the scenes of Hugh Howey's Wool series. If you don't have the money there are options out there, like kickstarter and indiegogo. I am planning on starting one of these campaigns to fund the editing of my next novel, which i am currently writing. Well, not right this moment, obviously.
What do you think? Leave me a comment below. Drop me a line! I'd love to hear from you.
*One final note - If you purchased the first edition ebook from amazon, the new version is available to you at no cost. If you have your kindle set to download book updates, it's probably already there. You'll know you have the second edition if it has the new cover. And if you purchased the paperback from amazon, you can also download the ebook at no extra charge via Kindle's matchbook program.