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a:Five Reasons Why You Need a Professional Editor


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Fiction-Therapy-WU-header-525x295.jpgA well-edited novel will stand out from the crowd and command attention—and even help boost sales. Professional editing will not only correct errors, it can clear away the clutter, tighten up the plot, invigorate characters, and strengthen the author’s voice.

In last months’ article, I concentrated on how to find a good editor to help you improve your novel and on what makes a good editor. But why bother with an editor in the first place? Do you really need an editor

This time, I outline five reasons why I—as an editor—think you should hire a professional to edit your novel.

  1. Investing in editing is money well-spent

Editing is like housework, it goes unnoticed unless it’s not done.

Professional editing is an indispensable—not just a desirable—part of a novel’s journey to publication. Editing can make all the difference to getting a novel noticed by a prospective publisher and audience alike. An editor will make sure the reader remembers the dazzling plot and characterisation, and not the problems with grammar. Authors need editors, just as editors need authors. It takes teamwork to craft a polished and captivating work that could become tomorrow’s bestseller.

  1. Honest, objective feedback

Lots of authors ask friends to take a look at their novel. Most people are flattered by the request and are happy to help.

While any feedback is welcome and can help improve the manuscript, friends tend to give a lot of positive feedback and encouragement. They can gloss over some of the novel’s shortcomings to avoid causing offence. And there could be those who are just a little bit jealous and who will gladly recount a whole list of failings.

Professional editors, on the other hand, are experienced at giving criticism. They are systematic and thorough, covering not only familiar issues of grammar and punctuation but also matters of style, pacing, dialogue, plot twists, and fact checking (to name but a few). Above all, the feedback they give is honest and objective.

Like the author, editors want your readers to be focussed on the narrative and not be distracted by misspelt words or absent apostrophes.

  1. Editors work together with authors

Authors are proud of their work. They have spent many hours perfecting the text, gone to great lengths to check the spelling, grammar and punctuation, and reacted to comments and corrections from their beta readers.

But that’s unlikely to be enough.

Friends and beta readers will do their best, but they have their work, family and other obligations to consider. They can probably only get to your book in their spare time, reading a chapter or two a night.

Professional editors, however, will spend their entire working day on a single novel. And the next day too. And the next, until they have a thorough understanding of the work. They are, therefore, in a much better position to point out contradictions in the characters’ behaviour, inconsistencies in syntax, and irregularities in the flow and formatting.

None of this is done in isolation. Editor and author have to work together. It’s the editor’s job to be honest with the author when suggesting improvements (such as rewriting, restructuring, or cutting sections) while respecting the author’s message, meaning, tone, and style. Both author and editor have a shared interest in producing a work that gets—and keeps—the reader’s attention. What’s more, with experience and knowledge of the book-selling market, an editor can suggest ways to take the novel in a direction that might better attract the eye of a publisher or agent.

  1. An editor is a sounding board

Authors often pour their deepest feelings, and even secrets, into their novels. And, for that reason, they are often cautious about who reads their early drafts. They put a lot of thought into selecting beta readers, and they do this with some trepidation: friends could spot some of the more autobiographical elements in the novel, or they might think they recognise aspects of themselves in the characters (however tenuous). Some might even wonder why they’re not featured.

In such cases, authors can benefit from the impartial opinion of an editor. By taking a bird’s eye view of the novel, the editor can identify those elements that work and those that don’t, and suggest the necessary changes. While the editor will get to know you throughout the editing process, especially in the case of developmental editing, they are not concerned with your private life. Friends and family can wait till they read the finished novel to discuss your personal touches.

  1. Editing is a skill

It can be tempting to ask a friend to edit your book. Someone who is not an editor but who is good with language and is prepared to do the job for little or no cost.

The issue here is one of thoroughness. Editing is a profession like any other. Editors do much more than simply spotting errors in the text. They see it as their job to help the author produce a work that will keep the reader turning page after page of your novel.

Professional editors will often follow career development courses, especially if they’re members of the major editing associations around the world who encourage continuing professional development. These organizations are also good places to find a reputable editor to fit your needs. I’m a member of the Chartered Institute for Editing and Proofreading (CIEP), and there is the Editorial Freelancers Association (EFA) and ACES, the Society for Editing.

If you haven’t already worked with an editor, it might be worth a try. Many offer a free sample edit of the first few pages of your novel, which can help you see the editor’s style and make sure that it fits with how you personally want to work.

How has your writing improved from working with an editor? And, if you haven’t yet worked with an editor, what is it that puts you off?

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About Jim Dempsey

Jim Dempsey (he/him) is a book editor who specializes in detailed analysis and editing of novel manuscripts through his company, Novel Gazing. He has worked as an editor for more than 20 years. He has a master’s degree in creative writing and is a professional member of the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading and is a trustee of the Arkbound Foundation. Jim is fascinated by the similarities between fiction and psychotherapy, since both investigate the human condition, the things that make us uniquely human. He explores this at The Fiction Therapist website. If you have a specific concern with your novel, send an email to jim [at] thefictiontherapist.com, or visit the website to ask for a free sample edit. You can follow Jim on Instagram @the_fiction_therapist.

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