British novelist Helen Hollick, whose work is both self-published and trade-published, advises indie authors on how to choose and use an editor to improve their writing craft and the quality of their books.
To professionally edit – or not to professionally edit?
That is the question. Actually, it isn’t a question, it is an essential. No mainstream book would be published without several edits – from a full, technical edit of an early draft to a proofread of the final ready-to-print version. I often hear “I can’t afford an editor”. To be blunt, if you want to be a professional writer, use a professional editor.
What difference does an editor make?
Would you build a house without an architect? You might be happy with wonky walls and a sagging roof, but will you be able to sell this house? In the same way, your wonderful story will be marred by typos; you’re/your or hear/here; incorrect punctuation and grammar, and those missed continuity errors. Not to mention point-of-view changes, author’s voice and anachronisms! As I say in my Tips for Writers book Discovering the Diamond, which I wrote in conjunction with my editor, Jo Field, in order to assist novice writers reach their dream:
“Anyone can write a book. Not everyone can write a readable book.”
To ensure your labour of love shines to the brightest sparkle, and becomes a very readable book, an editor is essential. And no, not just your sister who is a teacher, or your friend who reads lots of books.
“Are ewe awre tht pple can mnage to reed sntncs wtht vwls? And the humen aye can Miss obvious-maid misteaks?’
What does an editor actually do?
A professional editor will pick up on the technical side of writing, and can help a novice writer span that leap from amateur to pro. I have worked with many editors during my twenty years as a published author. Most have been fabulous, a few have been – how shall I say this tactfully? – frustrating.
A good editor will:
- work with you as a team player
- suggest corrections in a constructive manner
- point out errors, but not insist on changing them
Twice now I have had an editor who decided to alter my personal style. Strictly speaking, yes, the grammar was incorrect – but I deliberately write that way. For example, “Jesamiah took the bottle of rum from the shelf, drank.” I wrote that sentence, short and sharp, indicating his need for a drink. The editor changed it to “Jesamiah took the bottle of rum from the shelf and drank.” Which gives an entirely different emotional feeling to the situation. I must add that this was not my usual editor. Jo had been unwell, so I hastily found a replacement. Big mistake. What I should have done was put the book on hold and stick with my trusted “team leader” editor. Lesson learned the hard way!
Another editor (many years ago!) altered a particular word throughout my historical fiction novel, The Kingmaking. I used “Sa” instead of “Yes” to give a feel of the past. The editor changed every “sa” to “yes”. I changed them all back.
How to find a good editor
The huge advantage about being an indie author, unlike a traditionally published one (I am both), is that we get to choose our own editors. We can have the pick of the pack, so use this advantage to full advantage!
The best way to select an editor is by word of mouth. Ask for recommendations on Twitter or on the ALLi Members' Facebook Forum. Then ask to see some of a possible editor’s work. Explain what you want: keep in mind a copy-editor or proofreader may not check for continuity errors or “head-hopping” in dialogue, for instance.
Find yourself a good editor – and treasure him or her, because a good editor transforms a good book into a great book.
“Indie #authors: why you need an #editor – top advice from a bestselling novelist via @IndieAuthorALLi http://wp.me/p44e6Y-1Hu”