Ignorance might be bliss, but not when it comes to writing a novel. Regardless of how creative your story lines or how unique your characters, if the story isn’t written well, no one will read it. But how do you know if a story is well-written?
Hire an editor.
Wait a minute … aren’t editors just grammar Nazis? Couldn’t you just hire a retired English teacher for that?
No, because novels aren’t necessarily grammatically correct (especially the dialogue and internal thoughts). There are also the plot elements, character types, and fiction techniques that we’ve already discussed this year.
What if I have my friend read it? She reads at least two novels a month. She’ll know if it’s good.
Not necessarily. Unless she’s also a novelist, she won’t know about character arcs or plot transition elements, and being a voracious reader doesn’t mean she can identify them. She might know that something feels off about your manuscript, but she won’t be able to help you figure out what (or how to fix it).
Here are my top five reasons why you need to hire an editor before you submit your manuscript to anyone.
- You don’t know what you don’t know. You may have already studied fiction writing, but that doesn’t mean you’ve mastered it yet. You might not realize how often you’re telling instead of showing, and without having someone else review your manuscript, you’ll never see it. Just because you know that a story needs sensory details doesn’t mean you’re doing a good job of incorporating them. An editor will point out your weaknesses as well as give you direction on how to strengthen them.
- Only people in publishing understand publishing. As I mentioned earlier, being an avid reader doesn’t mean that a person understands what it takes for an author to get published. What worked in a book 10 years ago won’t necessarily work today. A good editor understands the market and knows what publishers are looking for in new manuscripts.
- The standards are high. When it comes to new authors, the standards are incredibly high. Already established writers can get away with breaking the rules, but new writers can’t. Just because you’ve read something in a published novel doesn’t mean a new author can get away with it. It might not be fair, but it’s the way the industry work. An editor knows those standards and will help you meet them.
- Publishers expect your best. Maybe you’ve heard stories of Hemingway or Lamott working with their publishers to fine tune and perfect their manuscripts. If you’re hoping for that type of relationship with your publisher, I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news but it doesn’t work that way anymore. Publishers have had to cut back, which means they don’t have people on staff to hold an author’s hand and walk him through the editing process. Instead, publishers (and even agents) expect manuscripts to already be clean when they receive them. Yes, an author will still have to go through a few rounds of edits after he signs a book deal, but those are to polish what the author has already spent time cleaning. An editor will help you clean up your manuscript so its ready for the next step.
- Readers want your best. If you’re going to self-publish instead of traditionally publish, editing is more important than ever because there is no safety net. If you publish without hiring an editor, readers will notice. Not only will it affect your sales, it will also open you up to the brutal world of negative book reviews. There will always be someone who doesn’t like your story and leaves you a negative review, but don’t give them any ammunition to say bad things! The better your book, the better your reviews, the better your sales – an editor can get that ball rolling in the right direction by helping you clean up your manuscript.
I’m not just saying these things because I edit novels. I recently talked with a group of agents about when and why they reject manuscripts. Here’s what two of them had to say:
“There were ONE MILLON books published in the USA for each of the last 3-4 years. The competition is greater now than ever. You need to be the complete package. You need a critique group, professional editing, and to attend a conference at every opportunity.”
“We want to find quality material we believe we can sell. Sadly, the submissions we receive are, for the most part, poorly written and unedited.”
All of that to say this – hiring an editor will increase your chances of success with agents, publishers, and readers. If you’re writing for fun, there’s no need to hire an editor. But if you want to keep writing, sell books, and make a career for yourself, you need an editor.
Come back again in two weeks to figure out what type of editing you need, then we’ll talk about how to find the right editor for your project.