Recently I had several fellow writers call and ask me for advice. Yes me! One of the questions asked was, “Do you think having an editor is that important?” My answer, “Well it might not be for you, but it certainly is for me.”
I’ll never forget the feeling I got when I flipped through my first novel after my editor finished the initial edit. My heart started racing. Dry palms grew sweaty and I had a massive hot flash. What are all these red marks? Is she crazy? How can this manuscript have so many mistakes, I used spell check. And, what does “add a beat” mean? I can assure you the first draft of each of my novels were not charms.
Editing is not only correcting spelling, grammar, and punctuation. It’s looking for plot holes and believability. A good editor will read your work and offer advice that sometimes comes in the form of criticism. But honesty is what you need to improve your story. Since my first novel I have learned that “adding a beat” makes the story flow so much better. My editor is forever telling me to describe what the character is feeling don’t just say it, show it. It is better to scratch than to itch! Make your reader feel like they are in the characters own skin.
I am almost finished with the first re-write of novel number four, The River Keeper. During the revisions this novel has grown from 87,050 words to 97,535. I have about sixty more pages to go so The River Keeper will probably be around 100,000 words when finished. An editor pushes you to dig deeper into your imagination, to expand on your characters personalities, the way they look, and the story setting.
A good editor is not cheap, but I truly believe that if I had submitted my novels without being professionally edited they may have never been published. One of the main points in a publisher’s submission guidelines is: Make sure you have polished your work to perfection. Some publishers even say that if they find mistakes in the query they will throw your work in the trash.
Even if you are an English major and know when to use an apostrophe and when not to you still need someone to edit your work. And, that person has to be truthful and not afraid to offer constructive criticism. Don’t expect your mama to be honest with you. You know?
A writer must wear a variety of hats. She has to be creative, dream up characters that her readers love to hate or hate to love. There has to be a great story in her head and she must have the ability to put feelings down on paper. Then she has to be willing to listen to her editor. I’m not saying a writer should make every single change the editor suggests. We have to follow our own instincts but, at the same time willing to take advice.
For me the re-write is the best part of creating a novel. When I’m writing that first draft I’m fiercely trying to get the story down on paper. When I go back through the pages I have time to read between the lines and hear the voices of my characters a bit more clearly. Most of the time they have so much more to say than I originally thought.
Every writer thinks they have written the best book ever, or at least one worthy of mention in Oprah’s Book Club. But if your work is thrown out into the world without shedding a few drops of sweat, then it probably isn’t the quality it needs to be.
Whether you self-publish or find a traditional publisher you have to polish and shine your work until it glitters. No, the first draft may not be a charm, but that’s not to say the second, third or fourth won’t be. Thanks Jo for being such a wonderful, hard-nosed editor.
A man will be satisfied with good by the fruit of his words, and the deeds of a man’s hands will return to him.