Hiring a professional book editor is one of the biggest investments for the independent author, and one of the most important. I’m not talking about formatting and style issues, but copy-editing in the sense of having someone analysing the narrative for all flaws, big and small. Wixon’s Day was the first book I had professionally edited – it gave me both the confidence to publish it and the wherewithal to know that I need to edit all my books with the help of a professional. Here’s why:
Getting an outside perspective that matters
Editing and redrafting a novel can go on forever if you let it – I spent something like 6 years re-editing The Bayeux Enigma before I finally let it lie (it’s now in the hands of a book editor). You can look at your written work time and again but the things that matter to you, the countless details you’ll spend decades tweaking, are not necessarily what matter to other people.
Give your novel to friends and family, avid readers of the genre or fans of your previous work and you’ll get readers who may or may not like it but won’t necessarily quantify why in a meaningful way. Or they won’t want to, sparing your feelings. A professional book editor is suitably distanced from the work to give you genuine advice, and suitably distanced to give you a technically considered analysis of the book.
What a book editor considers
When something does or doesn’t work for a reader, it’s not their job to sit down and pull apart how it could’ve worked better. For a professional book editor, it is their job. When Wixon’s Day came back from the editor he had many suggestions that hadn’t crossed my mind. At first I was quite precious about the advice given, knowing that everything the editor picked up on I had done for a reason. In time, though, I came to realise that everything he said was true – that the way the reader would see my book and the way I saw it were two very different things.
The key here is that the book editor doesn’t just consider whether or not the book is entertaining or successful, they consider how it will work with the market. In Wixon’s Day, I tried to give the story an original edge with elements of ambiguity and angst that the editor helped me realise made the story less enjoyable, and the main character less likeable. (Some of those elements still pervade – but I tried!) Grand attempts to make a piece of fiction more than its genre should bear don’t win readers, but you can kid yourself into thinking any criticism is just one person’s opinion. A professional editor can explain why it’s not a matter of opinion, but a matter of market values. They can tell you what the reader wants.
A book editor takes the book as a whole
As well as picking up on the minor details that plague your redrafting mind, like using the same body gestures too many times or repeated expressions in dialogue, a good book editor will also take the overall story and consider elements of pace and overall plot. When you experiment with storytelling and plot devices, there are often concrete reasons that they do or don’t work, which a book editor is trained to sniff out. In Wixon’s Day this included issues such as the exact positioning of certain flashbacks, experimentation with storytelling technique (like splitting tenses), and use of new words. All things I thought made the story original and interesting, but ultimately things I came to realise detracted from the main purpose of the novel – to entertain.
Closing your all-seeing eye
The writer can’t properly consider how the plot flows or how information is received because they have too much information. I know, for instance, that a slow period of the novel will pick up pace in a chapter or so, or that these seemingly pointless details will add important information for a coming twist. The reader doesn’t, and won’t necessarily take such details so kindly – and a good book editor will pick up on this. In Wixon’s Day it was impossible for me to know how readers would understand the geography of the world I laid out, for instance, because I had it so clearly depicted in my mind. The editor was able to help me make sense of it.
Now I am grimly aware that it would be a mistake to release any of my work before hiring a professional book editor, and it’s something I am concretely working into my future publishing budget. It is also something I am putting a lot more consideration into in terms of finding the right editor for my books. But that is a matter for another post.