In Part One of this blog post, I illustrated how publishing a book without quality editing is like debuting a play without any rehearsal … a certain recipe for chaos and disaster!
No production—be it play, recital, or book—can greet an audience with pride and confidence if the producer hasn’t given it proper attention in the form of numerous run-throughs. These practice sessions allow for mistakes to be corrected, elements to be refined, cohesiveness to bloom. If you’re a writer, this is where your professional editor is indispensable.
As you prepare to pay hundreds—or, more likely, thousands—of dollars on top-notch developmental editing, copyediting, and proofreading, it’s important for you to understand why the investment is one of the biggest and most important you’ll make in your book project. And as promised, this post will be day one of your backstage pass to uncover just what you’re paying that editor to do for you …
Also known as substantive editing, this is the granddaddy of the editing process, the stage where your editor is looking at every aspect of your book to ensure its readability. Due to its many levels, this is an enormous task and one that most people gravely underestimate, which leads to the questions:
• Why is it so complex?
• Why does it cost so much?
• Why does it often take months to complete this phase?
Let’s take a peek behind the curtain …
When we as editors receive your manuscript, it’s usually formatted into distinct chapters with some or all front and back matter (Contents, Dedication, Acknowledgements, etc.). As fiction requires a complete read before big-picture analysis can be assessed (plot, characters, story arc, etc.), we’ll use non-fiction for purposes of this article; to keep it as simple as possible, we'll isolate a single chapter to uncover the secret transformation strategies employed by the experts.
Though all editors work differently and there’s no one “right” way to work through a manuscript, a typical leap into a book project begins with reading the chapter to get a feel for the material, the tone, the structure, and the flow. Once we've done that, we must address the following questions:
• Does it feel disjointed anywhere? If so, where, and how can it be rectified?
• Does it make sense? If not, what does it need to be clearer?
• Do I (and therefore another reader) connect to the writer’s voice and presentation of content? If not, what does the material need to accomplish that?
• Are there areas that need filling out? If so, what’s lacking? What research or further writing needs to be done by the author (or me) to achieve completion of the content?
• Does it need a lot of work mechanics-wise (grammar, punctuation, etc.)?
• Does all of the material reflect the theme of the chapter? If not, does some belong in another chapter? Which one?
• Do paragraphs flow appropriately from one to the next? If not, what is necessary to create the proper flow?
• Is there content that doesn't work where it is and should be moved to another part of the chapter? If so, where? Or should it be deleted completely?
• Do I believe I can learn/be inspired/get motivated/feel better by the content? If not, why? What additions are necessary to achieve this goal?
Now imagine the editor answers yes to only half of these questions (keeping in mind that there are usually opportunities for improvement in most or all of them, at least to some degree, somewhere within the chapter). Realize each question is multi-layered and applies to various parts of the chapter; add to it that not one is typically clear cut and simple to answer.
Now picture the thoughtful attention and numerous reads it entails to augment, rearrange, fine-tune, and make notes for the author with regard to all but the mechanics (we’ll dive into this in Part Three). Then consider sending it to the author for feedback and/or approval and then revisiting the chapter afterward; there’s always more refining to perform with the author’s input, which is normal and expected. He or she often sees the gaps, inconsistencies, or problems in the text with fresh eyes—thanks to the editor’s work—so it’s back for yet another round … and that's oftentimes just for starters.
Whew! With this level of attention required for merely one chapter, are you beginning to understand why copious hours of expertise, reflection, and analysis are necessary to polish an entire manuscript to perfection?
You’re not only paying your editor to create the best book possible from your manuscript, you’re also paying for that editor’s professional judgment on every aspect of your content. And that discernment must be applied to the big picture of the book as a whole, its cohesive chapters, and the mechanics of the sentences and words chosen to create those chapters. Which brings us to copyediting …
Stay tuned for Part Three of “Why Quality Editing Is Crucial When You Self-Publish,” where I share the role of copyediting in the production of your labor of love. It’s juicy stuff you don’t want to miss if you’re a writer striving to self-publish your book!
Until then, please share your editing concerns or success stories in the comment box below … I'd love to hear from you! :-)
Write from the heart,
Stacey Aaronson is a professional Book Doctor who takes self-publishing authors by the hand and transforms their manuscript into the book they've dreamed of—from impeccable editing and proofreading to engaging, audience-targeted cover and interior design—rivaling or exceeding a traditional house publication.