Some of my best friends are editors... how to face a first edit.
The word editing can strike fear into the heart of authors. We’ve all heard stories of authors who had battles with their editors and even cases of authors being driven to suicide over artistic differences with their editor. New authors, self publishing or not, who may never have met an editor are understandably wary of scrutiny by the perception that editors are part of a rather carnivorous literary elite.
Part of the reason for this is that in the traditional publishing model the editor is employed by the publisher who has forked out good money to publish the author’s book and the publisher and editor are therefore contractually empowered to make changes whereas the author still feels emotionally immersed in the work they’ve created and may be resistant to changes. There may also be a clash between the publisher’s commercially driven decisions and an author’s artistic views.
However, there is no doubt that one of the justifiable criticisms of self-published works is that there are too many books that have not been properly edited or in some cases not edited at all. Inviting a well-meaning and well-educated friend or relative to read the typescript is not editing and their seal of approval is pretty meaningless because their objectivity will be skewed by the personal relationships involved. Unless they have relevant experience they will lack publishing knowledge. As a rule of thumb I wouldn’t engage an editor to perform heart surgery, so I wouldn’t engage a surgeon to edit my novel.
It’s helpful for a self-publishing author to know that their editor is a friend who has their best interests at heart rather than an overbearing school teacher type of character with a red pen and no patience.
A structural edit will consider strengths and weakness in the narrative. Does it flow and is it coherent to the reader? If the work is fiction are the characters credible and will readers care about the characters? Does it make sense? A structural edit will inevitably add cost to the publishing process but the reward is that the editor will help the author to achieve a better book for the reader which the reader is far more likely to recommend. At the very least authors should consider using the service of an experienced copyeditor who will deal with matters of sense, syntax, grammar, spelling, punctuation and consistency and will often identify structural flaws even if there is no structural editor engaged. An example of the distinction between a structural edit and a copyedit is that if the author has generated superfluous text as they wrestle to get to grips with the next thread of the plot or narrative the structural editor will be more likely to recommend a severe cut whereas a copyeditor is more likely to ensure that the superfluous text is properly constructed.
Inevitably, editing and especially structural editing, adds to the cost of a self-published book and new authors may be tempted to see it as an expensive chore, but it can also be an immensely rewarding exercise and a great opportunity to make a good book better. An editor who is experienced at working with self-publishing authors understands that their responsibility is as much to the author as it is to the calibre of the finished book. That may mean steering and cajoling but in the self-publishing world editors know that the author is the customer and that there isn’t room for strident self-opinionated editors with a penchant for malicious criticism. If you’re anxiously contemplating having your first book edited you may be surprised how rewarding you find the process.