a writer's blog

The Importance of Being One’s Editor

collateral tales

collateral tales

From time to time, I will also be blogging about self-editing. Why? Because I think it has become important, as of late. Two major causes, here: lazy publishers and self-publishing. I’ll come back to self-publishing in later posts; here I will focus on lazy publishers.

If you approach a publisher with stuff that has potential and it turns out you hit on one of the lazies out there, which seems to become more likely by the minute, one of two things will happen. In scenario A, your stuff needs some editing AND isn’t good enough to go to the printing presses: you’ll collect one more rejection slip, and that’s it. In scenario B, your stuff needs some editing AND it’s good enough to go to the printing presses: you’ll get a contract and your work gets published. Both scenarios are bad for you. They’re scary, actually. Let me explain.

What’s bad in the first scenario is not the rejection slip. You’ll get used to these. They’re a sort of writer’s trophy. What’s bad is that an opportunity is wasted for either party only because those who are supposed to give a shit don’t. This used to be a two-step process once, whereas the first step would be to send the manuscript back with some notes to the effect that the text has some potential, but needs more work, along with pointing out the major flaws and challenges. The second step would be, of course, to put your text into the polishing machine of professional editing—if you managed to improve on your text and have it accepted the second time around.

What’s bad in the second scenario is that your text is hustled more or less straight to the printing presses but isn’t as good as it could be. Be all you can be, right? Think of it as being fit for military duty and then sent straight to the foxholes without any training. (And yes, you’ll meet more atheists there than you might expect.) Think about the implications. Even if your work wouldn’t just tank, it could have been way more successful, in terms of sales figures, reviews, or both. It’s money not earned, it’s reputation not gained. Is that the best you can do for your text? Or for yourself, for that matter?

If you’ve picked up some decent self-editing skills, this will pay in several ways. First, it might lift your manuscript right over the acceptance threshold. Second, you’ve obtained a feeling for what’s possible in the improvement department, so you might insist on some decent professional editing when negotiating a contract. Third, for the same reason, you’ve becoming less obnoxious when it comes to editors actually improving on your holy text—believe me, writing is one thing, editing another.

I’ll get back to that.

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