So, you think you can write, huh? Well, I did too. Until I wrote my first manuscript and sent it to every editor, publishing house, and friend of a friend that knew someone who’s sister worked for something to do with books.
Then I accepted that while I have a brain overcrowded with all sorts of ideas for books and I was an A student in my English, Creative Writing, and English Lit classes through college, there are still things that I do wrong. VERY wrong. I won’t say what they are because some things aren’t worth saying.
No matter how great a writer you are, you will miss something. It may be grammatical. It may not. It may simply be something about your characters that rings false, or perhaps a hole in the setting or action that needs further embellishment. If you’re lucky enough to have a lot of writer friends that will read and edit your work for free, great. But don’t rely on that–and don’t rely on critique groups either. Why?
Critique groups are a wonderful place to vet ideas, plot lines, and general story concepts. They will slightly help you with grammatical problems and sometimes will be hesitant to give you the deep critique needed to make your story shine enough to gain a publisher’s interest. I love my critique groups because they allow me to try out a story but I also know they might not get as gritty as needed. They don’t want to be too harsh. Friends have the same desire not to offend that critique groups do.
A good editor sees a lot of manuscripts and can very quickly tell you the good…and the bad. As much as we all love our work, it is the BAD that you need to hear the most. That’s what has to be fixed. Most editors can do this in a way that helps you progress as a writer, yet still not be ugly. They really want you to succeed and your achievements help them as well. Who doesn’t want to be the editor for the next bestselling author? And personally, I’d rather hear the bad news BEFORE it gets into print rather than get all the nasty reviews afterward.
Recently, an editor and friend read one of my manuscripts and very quickly pointed out that my hero was a real jerk. It was humorous and kindly said (she does it for a living so can break the news without breaking my enthusiasm). I thought I was painting a character that had gone through some bad things and while grumpy–was still a great and loveable guy. Wrong. He came off really mean, crude, and almost lecherous. I was bowled over by her observation and read through it again. She was right! He was a real pain in the behind! My readers would hate him. So I did a few rewrites and tada–nice guy comes through.
Over the past couple of years, she’s managed to prevent me from making a lot of similar mistakes in story. One time I had grown tired of my heroe reaching out to shake hands with people, so I worded it “he passed a hand to the man” –just to change things up. Her comment–I still laugh about this one–“oooh, that must have hurt!” It was a gentle reminder that body parts can’t act on their own so shouldn’t be written as if they did.
I am a much better writer as a result of this assistance and while some may think they don’t need edits–or it’s a sign of a poor writer, I’d say “Do you also think you can fly a plane without instruction?”
If you want to get published, put the very best work possible in front of an agent or publishing house. An editor can help you do that. Don’t be afraid to use one. Especially if you write non-fiction. Your idea and how you tell it is critical. Getting help is nothing to be ashamed of.
If you intend to self-publish–don’t even think about doing so until you’ve had a freelance editor clean it up. Never rush to publish something that’s not perfectly clean.
Lastly–if an editor gives you advice, take the time to read it with an open mind. Set your personal feelings aside and review their comments/findings as if you were a reader that saw the material for the first time. Don’t be defensive but if their recommendations don’t work for you–you don’t have to change the work. After all, it IS yours.
If there are any editors or publishers out there that disagree, feel free to speak up.