After months or years of research, plotting, writing, revising, and getting friends and family to critique your manuscript, you're ready to spring it on the world.
Wait. No, you're not. It needs an editor. Whether you're an experienced author or an English teacher or a novice novelist, you need an editor. Even editors need an editor. You are blind to your own errors now, after all that hard work. You know what you intended to say with that phrase or sentence, but your readers do not. They look at it and say, "Huh?"
This article, by author Holly Robinson (no relation to me), gives great examples of the work process of an editor. The original article ran in Huffington Post on October 9, 2014.
Publishing's Unsung Heroes: Copy Editors
"I crossed out 'Tuesday' because later you say it's Wednesday."
"She's fifty-nine here and fifty-eight on page 102. Which one?"
"If he Googles the land line, why is she answering the call on her cell phone?"
I'm going through the copy editor's remarks on my newest novel -- the one that will be published by Penguin Random House as Haven Lake in April 2015. And, once again, I can't believe all the mistakes I made in this book -- even after eight or nine revisions, two of which were done in collaboration with my savvy, brilliant editor.
Writers and readers sometimes wonder why it takes so long to publish a book with a traditional house. Here's why: every step of the process takes time.
First, you send your novel to an agent, who (you hope) likes it enough to shop it around to various suitable editors. An editor buys it (you hope) and goes through the manuscript, suggesting revisions in an editorial letter. You address her queries and suggestions, and then you send the revised manuscript back to the editor. The editor then reads through the new draft and sends it back to you with (you hope) fewer suggestions, catching a few fine points here and there, praising you or telling you to rework certain sections. You do all that and send it back.
Copy editors are worth their weight in gold, yet hardly ever garner a mention. So here it is, a shout-out to you, copy editors around the world: we writers and readers are so lucky to have you smoothing sentences and paragraphs and chapters. Thank you for all of your hard work.
And for those of you who are self-publishing books, some advice: if you have any extra funds, do yourselves a favor and hire a copy editor. Your books -- and your reputation as a writer -- will be better because of it.
Now back to my manuscript and the copy editor's bubble comments in the margin:
"It can't be Saturday here, because you said it was a school day earlier."
"Same words in previous sentence. Change here?"
As John Cleese of Monty Python would say, "My brain hurts." But it's so worth it. No manuscript will ever be perfect. But, thanks to copy editors, we can get closer.