The Value of an Editor
So, I get to the point in my novel Dust and Sand where I have read each chapter ten times, where I have read the whole thing through another two or three, and I'm sure I've ironed out every possible mistake. There can't be any more in there! I've picked out typos, incorrect word usage, missing words, repeated words, everything. The human genome has not been examined as closely as this novel. It's ready. People can read it.
However, I know from experience that this feeling is a peculiar version of false hope. When I released my free eBook Deep Echoes, I felt exactly the same way. And I was a fool to do so: one of my first readers contacted me to say I'd swapped the two main characters' names half a dozen times. Then, when I re-read Deep Echoes after this, I found a bunch more mistakes, a horribly galling and awful sensation.
Having learned my lesson, I decided to hire an editor for Dust and Sand. I sent it off and twiddled my thumbs (i.e. worked like crazy on other projects). A couple of months passed. Then my editor replied, her efforts sitting in an email, a carefully-combed through Word document.
I opened it up, expecting a few minor plot points but nothing major. My main characters weren't similar enough that I'd repeat the naming mistake again! I read through it. There, on the second page, my editor pointed out that Dust somehow knows a character has scars without ever looking at them.
Somehow, I'd missed that in every single reading. Which just goes to show that, no matter how many times you've read a piece, there will always be mistakes in your writing, things which your mind glosses over without consideration: of course Dust knows that character is scarred, my foolish brain went, because I know that character is scarred.
The edit was full of tips like that, such as my anachronistic usage of some words and an almost-frustrated lecture on how little I know about horses (clue: I know sod all about horses). My editor also considered the whole of the plot, made some interesting suggestions, many of which I took. They were invaluable, and I am so grateful that they helped make Dust and Sand as brilliant as I think it is now (and, hopefully, the agents reading the manuscript will feel the same way!).
There are some mistakes and problems which an author cannot see for themselves: in writing, you cocoon yourself in you world, in your characters. Whilst that helps creation, it hinders objective analysis. Friends and family can only do so much for you as well: a brilliant beta reader can give you broad themes, maybe delve into the particulars of a piece if they are dedicated, but they will not put in the work to find out whether 'egghead' was a word in the 19th Century (hint: it wasn't). They will not explain parts of geography for you, which they themselves have learned to be sure in the point they're making.
An editor is an expense, and one I understand many can't afford. I would implore you, though, to seriously consider whether you could tighten your belt for a few months and splash out on one. Because a good editor, a dedicated soul who loves stories and will put their heart into helping you make yours shine, is worth eating Ramen noodles and tins of sweetcorn for a few months.
Sean is a writer, a gamer, a project manager and also a bit of a self-deprecating self-aggrandizer. In his spare time, he just about manages to sleep.
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