Do not edit your own work.
It’s a mistake that many authors make. They think that they know their own works so well that they can edit their own work. They’ve lived with their work since the very first moment of its conception and have seen it through the creative process every moment since. Of course, they’d be the best person to do the edits, right?
The fact that an author is so familiar with his or her own work actually makes them the least likely person to catch any errors that linger among the prose.
Errors are there. I promise. Not because you’re a bad writer, but because everybody makes them. Everybody. Every author you see on the shelves and Barnes & Noble makes them. I make them. That’s what editors are for. To catch them.
Think about it. You’ve read and re-read your work dozens of times, maybe hundreds. And the mistakes are still there. You didn’t see them the first time you went through it, and you didn’t see them any time you’ve read through it after that.
You need fresh eyes to catch mistakes that your brain has trained itself to ignore. It’s not a sign of weakness or bad writing. It’s just the way the brain works. As good as you might be, you are human, with a human brain and all of the pitfalls that come with it.
For example, I first wrote a screenplay called Sudan many years ago. Maybe as many as fifteen. Maybe more. Lately, I’ve been going through my older work and publishing some things that have been gathering dust for far too long. History Fair was written in 2003 but sat around doing nothing until I published it earlier this year. Now it’s available at B&N.com, as a paperback, Kindle, Nook and Smashwords. I think I’ve sold 2. But it’s done and finished, and I can put a check on the “done” list.
Same thing with the Sudan screenplay. I’ve lived with it for a long time, and I want to chalk it up as done. I want to tie up that loose end. So, I took it out of mothballs this week, dusted it off, and am determined to publish it as soon as possible. I’ve spent most of this week reading it, revising it, formatting it, and making it publish-ready.
I’ve heard other authors talking about having beta readers go over their work. I generally haven’t taken much stock in that because I figured it was basically giving away their work for free.
I am corrected.
I asked a couple of people I know to beta read Sudan for me before I ship it out. And I’m glad I did. It tought me a valuable lesson.
Despite spending so much time with Sudan this week, there were scores of mistakes that I missed. The formatting was off in some parts and there were far more grammatical errors than I’d care to admit. There were even a dozen instances where the main character’s name wasn’t capitalized. The more mistakes they made, the more embarrassed I became. I was ready to publish Sudan as it was. Had I done that, I would have shown the world a script with lots of errors in it.
As embarrassing as it is to admit that there were so many mistakes in a book that I thought was finished, I decided to use it to illustrate to you that even the best of us make mistakes. And we miss them. It’s not just you. It’s not just me. We all do it.
So, please. Do not attempt to edit your own work. Hire a proper editor. I know that there are so many out there, and it’s hard to know who’s affordable, and who’s going to be worth the money.
If there’s an editor you’re thinking of hiring, don’t just look at his or her website. Don’t just look at testimonials from their past clients. Glowing testemonials are good, but they’re not enough. You need to see for yourself what their work looks like.
Go down their client list and google books they’ve edited. Look for those books on Amazon and use the “Look inside” feature. You’ll be able to read a good chunk of the book. And, as you read, look for errors. Look for content and formatting. Look for typos. Look for anything you want your editor to catch.
Are there errors? Are there typos? Does the book flow easily? Is it properly formatted? Seriously. Read it over with a fine-toothed comb. Don’t be kind. Don’t be generous and let little errors slide. Because if there are errors in that book, there will be errors in yours.
And don’t just look at one book. Go down the list. Read samples on all of them. Look for errors. Do your homework. There’s a lot more to an editor than what their website and testimonials say. There’s more to an editor than price. There’s even more to an editor than whether or not you like them. An editor can be the nicest person on the planet, but that doesn’t mean that he or she is qualified to edit your book.
If you find errors in books that an editor worked on, skip that person. It’s worth the time and effort to find someone who will do a good job for you.
If, like me, you decide to have someone beta read your work, listen to what they say. If you ask someone for an opinion, take it seriously when they give it to you.
Thanks to my beta, my wonderful, beautiful and talented daughter Thea, Sudan will not be published today. There are errors to correct and some updating to be done. There are elements of everyday life that we take for granted today that didn’t even exist a decade ago. To ignore them would be a disservice to the work. I can’t be in such a hurry to publish that I overlook the responsibility of fixing it.
Same thing with you. Don’t be so eager to publish that you rush the process. Don’t be so intimidated by finding an editor that you skip it. Don’t make the mistake of thinking you can edit your own work. You owe it to yourself, your work and your reputation to put out the best possible effort you can manage.
Take the time. Make the effort. Do it right.