I just completed my sixth novel in six years.
Yes, you read that correctly. Six years ago I quit my job and began in earnest to tackle my lifelong dream of becoming a writer. Since then, I've penned six novels and a screenplay. I've sold and published two of those novels, eHuman Dawn and eHuman Deception, and am currently polishing and preparing my historical fantasy trilogy for submission to publishing houses. Over the years I've read a lot about best practices for authors just starting out and while I still have a long way to go before I consider myself an expert at this writer's life, the one thing I've learned above all things is the importance of new authors to hire an editor before submitting any manuscript for consideration.
Many people ask me why I would spend the money. Shouldn't I just write the novel and then have the publisher worry about editing? Absolutely not. The most obvious reason that an editor helps find all those grammatical errors we just can't see ourselves while reading our story for the thousandth time. Too many typos turn an agent off. Then why not just have a friend do it for you? There are many reasons why this isn't the best idea, even if the friend is an editor themselves, but the most important one is that friends have a hard time telling you that your writing might suck. They make the best readers and cheerleaders, but when it comes to getting down to the nitty-gritty and looking for the places where your plot fails, or dialogue that is too cheesy, or those aspects of the world you've built that are unclear, nothing is better than a professional editor whom you've paid to become your partner on your journey towards publication.
I used a writing service for my first novels but this time around I found my editor on Upwork and it has been the best experience on so many levels. Here's a quick list of why I will ALWAYS pay for an editor for this stage of project, even when I'm totally famous and have publishing houses knocking at my door (insert winking emoji here).
1. An editor finds those errors you can't see. I already mentioned this, but it's true. During my editing phase I found hundreds of errors. My editor found hundreds more. I'm a world builder and I love to research, plot and tell a story, but have several grammatical deficiencies. Commas and verb tenses being two of my weakest links. Rather than take yet another English class and hope that somehow I turn into my Auntie Susan, (the greatest grammar queen I know) I find having an editor on my team much more practical. A book may have just one name on it as the author, but in reality a team of people bring us our stories. My team consists of myself, my cheerleader friend, and now, a wonderful editor.
2. An editor asks the hard questions...like why? My cheerleader friend who read my novels first asked questions as well, but the editor has the freedom to go deeper and address the lesser aspects of the story. Which scenes are weak? Why did I write what I did? Was that conversation really important? She let me know when plot points seemed out of character or unnecessary to the story arc. My latest trilogy is historical fantasy and my editor found dates and events that weren't consistent throughout the story line as well as names for historical sites that differed from book to book. Did I mean "The Valley of the Kings", or "The Valley of Kings?" She provided clarification of the system of magic I've created and verified that indeed it was consistent, sweeping and believable.
3. An editor can also be a cheerleader. I knew my best friend liked it, but really, would anyone else? The editor was the second person to read the trilogy and while her critical feedback was fantastic, her praise is what gives me the courage to continue. A long time ago I went to a pitch workshop and a man presented his story to the audience. It started off with a great western plot and I was totally into it, until the last line, where he mentioned a child born inside of a pumpkin who would save the day. What? How did he get from the wild west to a savior born inside a pumpkin? Since then, I've used the term "pumpkin child" for any of those plot points that really don't belong. I had a lot of them in my early days as a writer. Being a work of historical fantasy, there was a great possibility that these novels would contain a passel of "pumpkin children." Hiring an editor to give me honest feedback was critical. When she read the trilogy and loved every aspect of it, I knew it was "pumpkin child" free, which now gives me the courage to go forward and submit it to agents. As matter of fact, her final words for the project were exactly the ones I needed--she said I hit it out of the ballpark. When a friend says that, I glow. When a total stranger with editorial experience who reads hundreds of novels in a year says that, I know I'm on the right track.
4. An editor teaches you. In the end, each time I have a novel professionally edited, it is like a basic grammar class. I do learn what my weaknesses are and I try to improve them. The first novel I wrote had over 1000 errors in it. This time, each novel had about 100. Next time, it'll be even better because when an editor makes a correction over and over, it becomes obvious and I make sure I don't repeat the error in the next novel. For example, in this trilogy I used the word sigh so much, it's actually unbelievable. I'd had no idea until she pointed it out, over and over again. Why so much sighing? Perhaps because the voice inside of my head sighs constantly in bewilderment at the state of the world around me. But my characters certainly didn't need to sigh six times in a conversation. How did I not see that? Who knows, but my editor did and in the process of correcting it, I discovered all sorts of new ways to show disdain. I'll never be an editor myself, but I'm a much better writer than I was six years ago, and my work with professional editors has been key to the learning experience.
So if you've written a novel and are gearing up to submit it to agents, please, please, please spend the time and money with an editor first. Going to self-publish on Amazon you say? Then please, please, please spend the time and money with an editor first. Trust me, they are the partner every storyteller needs to bring more magic into the world.