Why Every (Newbie) Author Needs an Editor

I’m a newbie novice when it comes to writing novels. Not an ounce of shame taints this admission. If I send sub-par work into the world of readers because I don’t see the need for an editor, that’s when I’ll be ashamed.

In the past fifteen months, I have completed five first drafts. This amounts to about 350,000 words. I should be getting the hang of this writing thing after all that, shouldn’t I?

If I compare the first novel with the last, the improvement is easily identifiable. To me, anyway. A professional editor might see things differently. This is the reason you should hire one before you publish your “masterpiece.”

Lucky me, I won a 25,000 word critique from the amazing Jami Gold. As full-time writer who has not sold a single story, I appreciated this windfall more than a winning Lotto ticket. After experiencing Jami’s professional white glove treatment, I can recommend her services.

What I expected

  • A thorough critique of the manuscript – written within the document so examples of the flaws were showcased
  • Advice about my characters
  • Analysis of my story structure: the first turning point at least
  • Identification of recurring writing weaknesses
  • Discussion of my overall writing voice and its effectiveness
  • Confirmation that my story premise worked
  • Discussion of the story problem and stakes

What she delivered

  • A thorough critique of the manuscript. Besides lengthy notations within the manuscript, Jami provided four pages of explanation about the larger issues – good and bad – in the story
  • Advice about my characters. She analyzed the character arc of both protagonists, discussed their shortfalls, remarked about how to improve them. In short, I saw my characters in a different spotlight after reading her comments.
  • Analysis of my story structure. Jami identified the story problem but couldn’t pinpoint my character’s driving needs. Because of this, she didn’t see the first turning point the way I had when I wrote the story. Obviously, this is an issue – with my writing, not her editing.
  • Identification of recurring writing weaknesses. Do I really need to list these? Suffice it to say that I’m still doing more telling than showing. My descriptions are over the top (quite surprising) and often unrealistically delivered. Too many participles. Not enough strong verbs. Even a grammar issue (when to use ‘the’ rather than ‘a.’)
  • Discussion of my overall writing voice and its effectiveness. My third person POV didn’t go deep enough. My characters could be heard loud and clear in only a few sentences. If I want my readers to buy in, I need to delve more deeply into the psyche of these people who tell this story.
  • Confirmation that my story premise worked. Right off the bat, Jami raved about how well I nailed this. My thanks to Larry Brooks and Kristen Lamb. I learned the importance of this from them. Looks like it penetrated my thick skull and became a part of my writing arsenal.
  • Discussion of the story problem and stakes. Again, I managed to strike it rich. Of course, the lack in my characters rubs off on the overall story problem. Since their motivations are unclear, it holds readers at arm’s length.

My revised opinion

I have seen recommendations from authors who are traditionally published. They tell you not to spend the money on an editor for your manuscript before shopping it with agents and editors. I sighed hugely when I read this advice.

Now I’m going to refute it. Time to face facts: you won’t hook an agent or editor with a manuscript that doesn’t shine. No matter how great of a writer you are or how many degrees you possess, you aren’t the best critic for your written work.

I can slash in red with the best of them (ask my sons who have experienced my unforgiving editing for more than a decade). With a critical eye, I can spot plot holes, weak characterization, telling passages and other major flaws.

No matter how much I squint, I’m too close to my own story to recognize most of these shortcomings. I know what I meant. The characters are my intimate friends so I read between the lines. I see subtext that doesn’t exist. Caricatures are the invisible woman.

If you’ve shopped your story and no one is biting, take the plunge. Spend the money on a developmental edit to ensure your manuscript is sound of structure. Look at it as an investment in your career – like workshops, craft books and conferences.

In the end, your manuscript will shine. You will learn how to write a stronger story. Best of all, your name will appear on the cover of the book you’ve envisioned. And you’ll be proud to have people read your work.

Have I convinced you? Great.

One more thing. Do you have an extra $1000 I can borrow? Really, my friend. Help me get a much-needed developmental edit on my manuscript.

What are your thoughts on critique groups, beta readers and professional edits? Do they all serve the same purpose? Do you believe spending money on an editor is a waste if you’re a newbie seeking traditional publishing?

13 thoughts on “Why Every (Newbie) Author Needs an Editor

  1. I can’t even imagine putting my book out there without having it edited. And no matter how good my writing may eventually be, I’ll never be cocky enough to think I don’t need a second pair of eyes on my work. So cool to see your experience with Jami!

    1. Kelly-
      I am finding I need help getting the character and voice right. This is what I loved about Jami’s developmental edit.
      As for another set of eyes, I wouldn’t dream of thinking a manuscript is perfect until someone as cranky about perfect conventions as myself went over it with a fine tooth comb.
      So I guess you know who to call when that’s what you want 😉

  2. Yes, Sharon, you’ve convinced me. Actually, when I first started writing this 1st draft of my first writing project, I knew that I’d need an editor. My mother thinks she’s good at it, and for school stuff she is. I’ll be sending my work to her first, but I fully intend to get a professional editor to go over my work with a fine-tooth comb. However, I didn’t realize how many types of editing there are. I will make sure I get the developmental editing.

    1. Glynis-
      I think the developmental edit is great for beginners because it checks for all the underlying issues. Line edits are perfect for people with grammar and spelling issues.
      I’m sad to realize I’m going to have to spend this money I don’t have, but I want to be published, so what can I do?
      Thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts.
      Sharon

  3. Great post, and well said. I had a beta who helped edit my first novel, but when sales didn’t start several months after it had been available, even with the addition of Amazon, I decided to bit the bullet. Found a professional who was willing to take on my manuscript piecemeal, since I’m still a student, and have to balance school supplies/tuition against what I actually have available.

    I’d gotten a couple of 5 star reviews, which sent me clear out of this world with joy. Then, I got the professional edit back. Wiped out the euphoria in a hurry. My beta editor, and readers, had completely missed a major issue in the work – I call it my “redundancy button.” Without realizing it, I covered the same material about five ways to Sunday. So, with the partial critique in hand, I’m working on the necessary revisions to eliminate as much of the redundancy as I can without destroying the series plot. And, the story is fighting me tooth and nail. But, chapter by chapter, I hope to get this beast tamed back into a smooth ride once more. (And, I’ve passed along the located issue to the beta editor, so hopefully, I can break the button for good!)

    1. Yes, we’re too close to our work and a professional editor has the experience needed to locate a problem. Even when I know a problem exists, it can be difficult for me to put my finger on it. And if I find it, I might struggle with fixing it.
      Glad to hear things are coming together with your novel.

      1. Slowly. I’m struggling with POV right now. When I stay with the initial concept, the revisions flow semi-well. When I try to change things, it feels like I’m on a 2 ton bronc without a saddle!

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