by Marcus A. Nannini
If, as an author, you cannot accept criticism, you are in deep trouble. If you believe every sentence you have strung together into a book is critical to the book, you are in even deeper trouble.
Being capable of working with an editor is essential, but a successful writer must first be competent enough to be an effective self-editor. Once you are reasonably proficient at self-editing, you are in a position to hire a professional editor with whom you can work with in an efficient and word/cost-proficient manner.
There’s no answer to the question: How many times do I need to edit my paragraph, chapter or book? It depends, in part, on how much time passes between your first draft and the self-editing. The closer in time, the greater the need to continue the editing process, for I believe the passage of time allows the book to “cure,” much like a good wine needs to age.
Personally, I edit constantly. However, I find it very fruitful to let the manuscript or article sit around for a few days, perhaps even a week, before conducting a detailed self-edit. A little breathing room goes a long way and forces me to more carefully read the words, since they are not as fresh in my mind as when first written. Once you can perform a disciplined self-edit, it will be money well spent to engage a professional editor. You do not want to pay someone to get hung up on typos and funky structure issues you should have weeded out yourself.
Whether you find your editor through a reference or as the result of an extensive Google search does not matter. What matters is assuring yourself that the editor of your choice will meet the goals you have established. A great editor of technical books is not likely to be the right editor for your historical romance novel. Choosing your editor is of critical importance, so be certain you are completely comfortable with her/him and that your mutual expectations match up. Engage in a bit of Q&A before committing.
A couple of small tips: The cover page of your manuscript should not include the word “by” between the title and your name. This would be a tipoff you that are an amateur and could put off certain editors. Be absolutely certain the that upper-right header bears your name and the name of the manuscript on every page for the same reason. Of course, you need to include page numbers and you might consider including the word count on the cover. [This is easily deleted when the manuscript goes final.]
Editing is specific to the book, but not personally directed at the author, so do not take an editor’s remarks and suggestions personally. Once you understand and accept what is involved in the editing process, you can truly polish your book and get your money’s worth from a professional editor.
Because my books always have military elements, I employ a military editor in addition to a content editor. I have not employed a typo editor because I also have a cadre of beta readers. Between my editors, my betas, and myself, typos are almost always caught.
A caveat here: When you are making numerous changes due to editorial, beta, or your own input, there’s a very real chance that you are creating new typos or grammatical catastrophes. I have learned to keep a list of the places I am making changes; when I have finished said changes, I read through them again. I always find some manner of new mistake, sometimes simply for the reason that I entered the changes too quickly. Always return to your manuscript after you have made changes.
My background is in journalism. As a result, I learned to live with editors very early on. I’m not saying I liked them, but once I sat back and examined what they were saying, I grew to appreciate them, despite the fact they could certainly be argumentative. Again, editing is not directed at you personally; the goal is to create a better product.
It is never easy to hear criticism of your golden words. If your first emotion is to close yourself off and ignore it, try not to do that. Instead, take a few deep breaths, perhaps take ten minutes to meditate, and then consider the criticism. Most of the time, an editor’s opinion is well-founded, so start from the premise that you must be willing to make some changes. Approach your work from the point-of-view of the editor, and perhaps you’ll realize there’s a better way to phrase the words in question. Or maybe the words are superfluous to the story, hamper the flow, and aren’t necessary at all. When editing, remember the importance of pacing the story.
It’s also possible that you will need to rework a paragraph or two as you realize the point you were trying to make is not coming across. Understanding your work from a different point-of-view generally makes a better final product. So suck in your gut, push yourself a few inches further away from the laptop screen, and open your perspective. Never let anger or vanity get in the way. Be open, always.
I still occasionally become argumentative with an editor, but each and every time, I pull back and consider what she/he is saying, as perhaps there’s some merit to the suggestion. In fact, there’s almost always merit there, so get your money’s worth and be willing to reconsider the passage in question. Never make a knee-jerk reaction. The whole point of employing an editor is to make the best final product you can create. Patience and composure are required.
Keep an open mind, consider the suggestions or criticisms being offered, and write yourself a better book.
Marcus Nannini began his journalistic career when he published his own newspaper in the sixth grade, charging 25 cents for the privilege of reading the only printed copy of each edition. During his undergraduate years, Nannini was a paid reporter and worked three semesters as the research assistant for journalism professor and published author Richard Stocks Carlson, Ph.D. Nannini is a life-long history buff with a particular interest in World War II and the Pearl Harbor attack. His continuing curiosity over several Japanese aerial photographs and the turtling of the U.S.S. Oklahoma lead him to write Chameleons, first as a screenplay and now as a full-length novel.