verb [with obj.]
prepare (written material) for publication by correcting, condensing, or otherwise modifying it.
Doesn’t sound so complicated, does it? But the mere twelve words that comprise that definition represent a myriad of fine skills of which most people aren’t aware. Correcting. Condensing. Modifying. Each of these verbs is loaded.
If you’re a writer—even an excellent one—you know (I hope!) that no manuscript can become a respected or beloved book without an exemplary editor. Yet I often encounter authors who have little to no understanding of why quality editing takes so long and is typically the single biggest—and most vital—investment you’ll make as a self-publishing author. If you're unsure yourself, perhaps the following analogy will give a clearer perspective.
Imagine assembling a group of actors for a play you’ve been dying to produce. You believe in each of the performers wholeheartedly; you likewise love the script. You figure the combination of talented people and well-written scenes can’t go wrong, so you skip rehearsals and go right to opening night.
Can you envision the chaos that ensues?
Just as you as a director wouldn’t debut a performance without having rehearsed it many times over, neither should you as a writer consider publishing your book without the same mindset. Here’s what I mean:
Your manuscript is much like a stage production, and that production will never be flawless and engaging without honing every aspect of it over a dedicated period of time. The rehearsals allow for:
• determining who (or what) belongs where (and when)
• if the lines work together well
• which props are necessary
• if the flow is consistent and appropriate
• how the pieces work together to create the whole
You oversee these elements of “your baby” as the director from each spoken line and unspoken action to the overall unfolding of the story from start to finish. As such, you may change, add, or delete a line or tweak a scene many times before it feels just right to you. Ideas will come to you for perfecting it as you work with the material, sometimes sporadically and unexpectedly. You’re grateful for the months of rehearsal to get it just right before a live audience passes judgment on it.
Sound an awful lot like producing a book? It should, because a book is no different.
When you hire a professional editor, he or she is tasked with fine-tuning your content from the smallest detail all the way to the big picture … and this job takes time. We as editors must consider every word, every sentence, every paragraph, every chapter; we are responsible for numerous decisions that make the material come together cohesively, consistently, logically, and beautifully. While you naturally expect your editor to make your book fantastic, you may not realize the level at which every component of your content requires thoughtful attention, expertise, understanding, and respect for you and your audience … and that each commands those qualities over multiple reads—or rehearsals—before it all coheres superbly.
Exemplary editing is invaluable and therefore demands substantial financial and time investment to achieve the result your manuscript merits … and you as the author should understand precisely what that investment entails. Without appropriate understanding, you likely won't appreciate the expense, duration, or resulting benefit of this phase of your book's production. No one wants to spend money without believing it's worth it—you deserve to know how your labor of love is cultivated for the literary stage and its audience.
In Part Two of this post, I’ll give you a backstage pass for access to all the aspects a truly professional editor must focus on in order to produce an impeccable book for you, so stay tuned …
Until then, 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.