Have you ever been in the middle of a book you’re really enjoying when you catch a typo? Or maybe it’s a word that just doesn’t quite fit, or a character who you’re pretty sure had brown eyes earlier, but whose lover is suddenly talking about their beautiful baby blues?
When a writer signs a deal with Random House, Penguin or another major publisher they sign away some of the profits. In exchange, one of the most significant things a publisher has to offer is its team of professional editors. Those editors are responsible for finding holes in the book’s plot line, ensuring consistency, proofreading and copyediting.
When an author chooses to self publish, instead of going through a publishing house, they can rarely afford a full team of editors to review their book. Instead, they are often forced to wear a variety of different hats–and for many of them, editing their own book seems like a good way to save money.
But editing your own work is actually harder than it appears. As the writer, it’s difficult to achieve the distance required to notice where the plot can be strengthened. Since you know exactly what you intended to say, it’s tough to catch sections that might be confusing to a less knowledgeable reader. And, since you’ve poured sweat, blood and tears into the words, your eye is more likely to skip over typos and see what you intended to type rather than what is actually there.
A book editor does a lot more than just look for misspelled words or ensure you’re using the correct version of there, their or they’re. A good copy editor understands pacing and how sentence structure plays into foreshadowing and mood. They can point out where a chapter might benefit from an additional scene and can help choose sections that slow the reader down.
Book editors also create a style guide for each book they work on. The guide includes notes on design (for example, notating how chapter headings look, so each is set up the same way), detailed information on characters (so Stephen doesn’t become Steven and his physical attributes remain consistent) and places (how was the name of that Dwarven city spelled in chapter two?).
Of course, using an editor doesn’t guarantee your book will be error-free; but it can help cut down on the number of slip ups in your final copy, which means reducing the number of times a reader slips out of your plot line to think instead about the words rather than their meaning. And isn’t every writer’s goal to help their reader lose herself in their novel?
This is a guest post written by Melissa Breau. She is a freelance writer, editor and a cheesy romantic who likes long walks on the beach and arguing about comma placement. Her resume includes time spent at Pet Business Magazine, Columbia University Press and in the Manhattanville College Marketing Department. She has her Masters of Science in Publishing and is always willing to talk shop on twitter– @melissabreau. She is also blogging about her freelance journey over at Jargon Writer (http://www.jargonwriter.com/) –or learn more about the services she offers on her website, http://www.melissabreau.com/.