“Edit your own work at your peril,” is the warning you will hear from just about every source. It’s somewhat akin to serving as your own lawyer. It can be done; it’s not recommended. Yet Amazon and other online platforms are filled with self-edited works, both in print and in ebook format, giving rise to the lament that “anyone can publish a book these days.”
Well, yes. And as with most things, that accessibility is a double-edged sword. Books that might never have found a publisher (nor deserved to) are for sale. Books that might never have found a publisher (and DID deserve to) are also for sale. Self-publishing has been sneered at by the established traditional publishers ever since it came into being. Unedited or self-edited works were held up derisively as why self-publishing was for those who couldn’t make the cut.
But self-publishing, as happens in most fledgling industries, is evolving quickly and the quality of the books, in content, in design, and yes, in writing and editing, is improving. Why? Competition and online ratings. Simply put, the market place is demanding better quality.
Why Do People Self-Edit?
Editing can be expensive, depending on the length of the work and how technical the content is. Many first (or even second or third) time authors can’t afford to pay an established editor. However, a good editor is worth their weight in gold. They are the people who make sure you look good.
Editing costs vary by the type of editing done and the quality of the editor. Many print on demand platforms offer editing services that are little more than proofing or running your manuscript through an automated program like Copyscape—and the prices reflect that. Even minimal editing of a 40,000 word manuscript will run a minimum of $350 and in most cases, higher. Full editing, copy, line, developmental, can start in the thousands.
Price is the major stopping point. The second obstacle is that you think you are pretty good at editing. You probably are… when you’re editing someone else’s work. I’m pretty good at editing. I do it for a living. I am forever finding mistakes in my own works. While a good editor won’t catch everything, she will catch a whole lot more than I will if I’m trying to self-edit. Why?
You Just Don’t See It
There’s a reason why I tell people to hire an editor: You need a fresh set of eyes to go over your work. When you’ve written something and you’re going back over it, your brain automatically fills in missing words or it skips over double words. Your brain does a lot of transitioning for you. Many times when you’re reading, you don’t even read the entire line. You’re reading the section of line that gives you the information that you need. (That’s why speed readers are so fast—they don’t actually read every word.) When you’re editing, you really need to go word by word. If you’re reading material that you’ve written yourself, your brain is filling in the gaps whether it’s a jump in logic or a jump in words or you missed an entire step in a process. Your brain fills in those gaps for you. A fresh set of eyes, whether it’s an outside editor or a beta reader, is well worth it because they’re going to find the things that you missed.
Hire the Best Editor You Can Afford
I don’t hire an “outside” editor for everything. Blog posts, articles, emails, are all on me. I would be better off hiring someone to do a copy review of my sales and nurture email campaigns. (I tend to miss putting in calls to action, which really screws sales.)
I hire an editor for my bigger projects, specifically books. They not only catch me out on goofball mistakes (you may have caught some already), but they are really good about telling me when I’ve jumped three steps ahead or need to explain something more clearly. Developmental editors are particularly useful for works of fiction, because they can find holes in the plot, note when characters are one-dimensional (or do things out of character), and pinpoint places where the plot bogs down. In non-fiction, they can often find a better overall flow for the book, shifting sections to create a more logical progression, or point out where you have left an information gap.
Low Budget to No Budget
If you can’t afford to go all in on full editing, do at least invest in a copy editor. Avoiding typos, misspellings, punctuation and grammatical errors will give your book a minimum level of professionalism that will prevent the first wave of nitpicky criticism.
If you can’t afford that, find a writing buddy. Because I write so much content, I’ll often swap work with writer/editor friends. We’ll ask each other to “take a look” because a different set of eyes will catch things that you miss.
Another way to go is to find beta readers. There are actually groups of beta readers, such as [link} who will read your book for free and give you a critique.
So, Should You Edit Your Own Work?
The simple truth is that you can’t edit your own work well. You miss things. You like certain phrases and “killing your darlings” is less likely to happen. The other side of that is our inner critic tells us that the book is no good, no one will want to read it, it plain sucks. (What? Just the voice in my head?) Having a third party opinion of the merits of your book will help silence your inner critic and possibly give you the confidence to move forward to publishing.