The Importance of Professional Editing before You Self-publish

By Brenda Covert

True story: One year while celebrating my young adult daughter’s birthday at her favorite restaurant, our group sang the birthday song. Suddenly, a fashionably-dressed woman appeared at our table to wish my daughter a happy birthday and to give her an autographed copy of the woman’s book. I love books, so when we got home, I looked the gift over. The cover was well done, and the story—written for Christian women—seemed interesting, but when I began to read it, I was thoroughly disappointed! What looked like a professionally done book was self-published and riddled with punctuation and word mistakes—not misspellings, but wrong words spelled correctly. For instance, would you be familiar with the expression “mother’s raft”? Me neither. From the context, I deduced that the author meant “mother’s wrath.” There were many such errors in the first two chapters, which is as far as I got.

A good editor will notice and correct those mistakes. A good editor will also point out where an author has left a train of thought and never returned to it, used too much description, explained rather than shown a scene, and missed the boat by using clichés. (See what I did there?) A good editor is not just a comma nazi but someone familiar with your chosen genre who will work with you to improve and polish your writing. The book above was missing a good editor, and all the rave reviews in the front (likely written by family and friends, I think cynically to myself) couldn’t disguise that fact.

It’s so easy to publish e-books and print books these days that many writers, excited about having “finished” a book, hurry to self-publish and watch the dollars roll in. They don’t realize that 1) as a new, unknown author, readers won’t be clamoring for their book, 2) if their first work isn’t a stellar representation of what they can produce, they won’t develop a fan base and or gain the interest of a publishing house, and 3) a book is not truly finished until it has gone through the editing process, which is not done quickly!

You need an editor. It makes no difference whether you got straight A’s in high school English; every author needs an editor. I’m an editor, and guess what! When I write, I have editors! Even picture books require editors. Our eyes can trick us into believing we see what we intended to write rather than what we actually wrote. We need a trained set of eyes to spot what we can’t see.

Good editing will cost you. “A laborer is worthy of [her] hire,” as 1 Timothy 5:18 tells us. The saying “You get what you pay for” is also appropriate. I was the editor for a book that had been accepted for publication after it had been critiqued (for free, of course) by the author’s writing group. My edits and notes offended the author, who pointed out that both her writing group and her family had thought her work was a polished gem, which she much preferred to my pointing out inconsistencies and factually false information (that the publishing house wanted corrected)! I was doing the job I was paid to do, and doing it to the best of my ability, applying all my resources as well as plenty of time. Writing groups can be helpful, but their help cannot take the place of the work done by a good editor. Family and friends can be amazing support, but they are usually more interested in encouraging than correcting you—if the need for correction is even recognized.

So please, if you are going to self-publish a book, don’t rush into it. Be willing to work with an editor, especially if you hope to make a career out of writing. If you present your best work to readers, you’ll avoid reviews that complain of technical mistakes in your writing. Not only that, but your message will stand a better chance of reaching and resonating with its audience.

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2 thoughts on “The Importance of Professional Editing before You Self-publish

  1. Yes, Brenda! I’m a freelance children’s book editor, and I always tell my clients they need an objective and fresh eye to look at their manuscript. I tell them I’m a tough editor, but I’m on their side. I want their book to be the best it can be, so I’ll be honest. But I also tell them what’s working and what I love.

    I also tell them how brutally honest people can be on amazon reviews. Whether they want to try traditional publishing or self publishing, their manuscript needs to be strong. Most of my clients are total newbies, so they have no clue their picture book manuscript has three or four themes, too many words, words far above the 5-8 year old age range, or main characters who are too young to be interesting to that age group. One dear woman was writing a middle grade story and the main character was only 5-years-old! And he didn’t have a super power. 🙂 It took a while, but she finally saw what I was saying.

    Back to reviews (see how even I strayed? Ha!) – if someone goes ahead and self pubs their story and it’s full of mistakes or is not appropriate for the age group, people *will* scream about it on amazon. No one wants to feel they’ve wasted their money. And they’ll have poor sales. And they’ll have killed their chances for a traditional publishing house later on.

    That being said, I’ve also seen some horribly written self published books sell thousands of copies! The average reader usually doesn’t know or care about POV or too many themes or even punctuation. You just never know, huh?