Seven Reasons Why a Novelist Needs a Freelance Editor

Now that Nanowrimo is over, thousands of people across the country have a completed novel in their hands (or at least on their hard drives). Maybe you’re one of these people. If you are, congratulations! Completing any piece of writing is a major achievement…especially a full-length novel. That takes dedication and focus of the highest order.

Look at what you’ve written and ask yourself: Is what I’ve written error-free? Is it clear? Is this something I’m proud to let other people read, or do I want to just take it outside and burn it?

Before you get out the matches, let me suggest something to you. What you’ve written may just be publishable, although it probably isn’t right this minute. After all, this is just your first draft. As the great Ernest Hemingway said, “The first draft of anything is shit.” You’ll most likely need to read over what you’ve written and make revisions as you go through. That second draft will look better than the first. I promise.

Even then, though, you’re not really ready to send the book off to a publisher…or even to self-publish. You need a professional editor to look over your first or second (or even your third) draft. Why? Here are several reasons.

1) Everyone makes mistakes.

Everyone. Period. You likely had some spelling errors in the early drafts of your book that you just didn’t catch. This happened to me with my first book, Shadows of Things to Come (now known as Unyoked).

I wrote it, read through it, edited it and edited it again, and then I self-published it. And–wouldn’t you know?—when I read it again, I found MORE errors that I didn’t catch in the first three read-throughs. Mortifying.

Why did this happen? Simply because I was too close to the darn thing. I knew what I wanted to say, so my brain automatically corrected all the mistakes I came across while I was reading through it. It took me years of setting the book aside to get enough distance from it so that I could actually catch those mistakes.

Remember, I’m a professional editor. I didn’t think I needed to hire anyone else to edit my book. Yeah, right!

 2) Your friends won’t tell you the truth.

No…They’re not going to intentionally lie to you, but let’s face it—they’re your friends. If they read your book at all, of course they’re going to gush about it and tell you how absolutely wonderful it is. And it very well may be. But it’s likely still not publishable.

Unless your very best friends are professional editors doing pro bono work, you really need to look for a second opinion. Your friends aren’t likely going to notice that you’ve put a zipper on your Civil War hero’s uniform pants or that you’ve got your female CEO talking on a cell phone in 1977. Not that they won’t know these are inconsistencies. They probably will just be too engrossed in your story to remember that these are anachronisms.

A good professional editor won’t be so charmed. She/he is trained to pick apart every single detail of a manuscript to make sure it is accurate…even in fiction. There is such a thing as a suspension of disbelief, but that only goes so far.

3) You might not know the difference between their, they’re, and there.

Well, maybe you do…but what about the difference between effect and affect? How about regardless/irregardless? Spell check won’t help you with any of those (with the exception of irregardless) because they’re not spelled incorrectly. They just might be USED incorrectly. A professional human editor can tell the difference, and he/she will help YOU tell the difference.

Even if you’re intent on self-publishing, errors like these and those listed in points 1 and 2 can make you look like an amateur and can drive reviews and book sales down. That’s one of the main complaints about self-published books. They don’t look like they’ve been edited. Don’t let that happen to your book!

4) You don’t know what backstory is and why you might not want to use it.

Backstory is everything that happened to your characters before the action of your story starts that might affect your story present. If done correctly, backstory can add a wonderful depth to your story, but most authors (especially first-timers) don’t know how to control it. They just let the backstory creep in to their novels and interrupt the flow of the action, seriously disrupting the story world for both the author and the reader. This is a big no-no.

In fact, in recent years, this has become such a problem that publishing professionals like agent Donald Maas are recommending that backstory not be used at all in novels. How much backstory is too much? It depends, of course, on the novel, but if this is the first one you’ve ever written, you’re likely not going to have a good idea of whether your backstory is hurting, or helping, your novel.

 5) In-house editors won’t have the time to help you improve your writing.

Don’t even think that the in-house editor who works in the publishing house that has acquired your novel (if this happens) will give you a tutorial on backstory…or any of the other common problems that occur in novel development. That editor just doesn’t have the time. He/she has a mountain of other books to edit and strict deadlines to meet. It’s just not possible for that editor to be your writing coach and mentor.

A freelance editor can be, though. You have to be very careful when you’re selecting a freelance editor to ensure that he/she offers this extra service. I do, but some don’t. And those who do will often charge an extra fee. Most of the time, I add this service in for my clients free of charge…unless they want extensive coaching. Then I charge a nominal additional fee.

6) In-house editors won’t even see your writing if it has spelling errors.

If you haven’t checked to make sure you’re using “they’re”, “there”, and “their” correctly, you can forget point number five entirely. Your novel won’t even make into the hands of the publishing agency’s copyeditor. It will probably only make it to the bottom of the slush pile.

Acquisitions editors—and many agents these days—are looking for any reason at all to toss your submission into the trash can. They’re not cruel and heartless. They’re just overworked. And this economy is hitting them just as hard as it is everyone else, so they have to be especially careful to only spend money on the very best manuscripts they can find (unless your name is Paris Hilton, and then you’ve got an automatic book deal).

The fact is: Publishing your book will cost the publisher money. They’re more likely to spend money on a book when it looks like the author has taken a lot of time and great care to make it the best that it can be.

7) You don’t know everything there is to know about publishing.

You don’t, especially if you’re a first-time author. And a good freelance editor does know everything about publishing…or at least they know enough about it to help you through the process.

Do you know what a query letter is? Do you know whether or not you need an agent? Do you know how to submit a proposal that will rise above all the others?

Are you self-publishing? Do you know how to do that? Do you know which company to use…and which to stay away from at all costs? Freelance editors will be able to help you answer all these questions and more.

You’ve dedicated so much time and effort to completing your book. Don’t let it fade into oblivion by not giving it every chance to succeed. Getting your book professionally edited will give you a leg up over your competition, and it may even help you hurdle over the slush pile.

I’m currently offering an exclusive 25% discount for all new e-newsletter subscribers, good for any editing service.


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