Orna Ross, from the Alliance of Independent Authors, said in a podcast I listened to the other day, and I paraphrase: “Stephen King has an editor. Why would an indie think s/he didn’t need an editor? It’s the biggest mistake an indie author can make.” Or something along those lines. She, with others associated with Alli, have a lot of informational podcasts. You can watch their videos on YouTube, or find them in your podcast app on your smartphone.
I’m an indie author, and I had a few issues with this. First of all, Stephen King doesn’t pay for his own editor. Not out of his own pocket, and certainly not at a loss like most of us just starting out. Secondly, when he puts out a book, a million people read it, and it more than likely will get turned into a movie. Thirdly, because we are one the outside, we don’t know how much of the editor’s advice Mr. King actually takes. Does he take plot advice? When he’s told one of his characters is reading flat, does he fix that character, or does he tell his editor to shove it?
Comparing us to Stephen King didn’t help her make her point.
Or did it?
Indie authors are in need of an editor more than probably anyone. Especially if that book is their first. Or even their second, or their third.
There are different editors out there; they range in duties from helping you plot before you even write your book (that would be more like a writing coach, but developmental editors have their say in your plot) to simply proofreading it before publication. These types of editors cost hundreds of dollars, and if you’re told you need even more than one of these kinds of editors, it can be intimidating.
I’ve always advocated that an indie author do as much as they can on their own. This isn’t just about being cheap–it’s good business. You are not only an independent author when you write a book, you need to be a self-publisher if you want people to read it. You need to know what you’re doing so you can make good choices for your business. Especially if you’re planning on doing this for the long haul.
(And you can forget about special treatment from a publishing house if you want to get traditionally published. They ask your book be as close to publishable as possible to cut editing costs. It’s not unheard of to hire an editor to edit your manuscript before you query.)
The bottom line is you need someone else to look at your stuff before you publish it. We all learn something new about writing on a daily basis, so your writing will never come out perfectly, and I don’t believe a writer can spot all their own issues. (We all learn, we never stop, so maybe Stephen King does listen to his editor.) That’s where an editor comes in.
That’s not to say you can’t substitute. If you are in a writing group, your critique partner could stand in for a developmental editor.
Maybe your friend who has an English degree and can diagram a sentence with her eyes closed can read your manuscript and look for such things such as subject/verb agreement, faulty sentence structure, and correct word usage.
Maybe your best friend is a prolific reader and can read for typos.
If you can take the criticism as how it’s supposed to be meant, not an attack on your writing, but rather an honest attempt to help you improve your work, you can learn a lot from the editors and “editors” in your life.
When you compare writing a book to having a baby–nothing could be truer. You don’t birth a baby on your own. You have an OB doctor, nurses, a doula perhaps, your partner, your mother to give you support. You don’t have a baby alone, and you don’t write and publish a book alone, either.
As for actually paying an editor, a real one who knows what they are doing, that is a decision left entirely between you and your pocketbook.
I use a paid editor, but she doesn’t do it as her day job. She’s a fabulous writer, and she’s a fabulous editor. I’ve learned a lot from her feedback, and my writing has improved a lot over the past year. But she’s busy with her own projects and a full-time job, so I’m doubting she’s going to stick with me and my writing career as she is trying to get her own off the ground. I’ll need to find someone else to edit the contemporary romance series I’m going to be publishing in the coming months.
I’ve learned a lot from beta readers and my editor. I’ve also started to read self-editing books to help me recognize my mistakes and cut unnecessary words. I’ve started outlining so my plots are tighter and there’s less chance of plot-holes. I’ve started doing character workups so I can get to know my characters before I write about them. This saves me from writing flat characters.
You are writing a book–a lot of what an editor can and will do for you, you can take into your own hands as you actively learn your craft.
An editor can help you put your best work into the world.
And that’s what we all want.
You can read a great article about editing here.