I am a professional freelance editor. People hire me to read their work and point out what isn’t working, what needs to be cut, what needs to be expanded upon. They pay me to check for grammar, spelling, syntax, verb tenses, and so on. I know how to edit a novel, and dare I say, I am good at it. As long as it’s someone else’s work.
It is nearly impossible to apply the same objectivity to my work that I can to someone else’s. I know how I want things to sound, what I want certain moments to convey, but without a fresh eye from another, professional reader, I cannot be sure that I accomplish what I set out to do.
If you’ve read around on tips for writers, you’ll see time and again that asking friends and family for help is not the best way to gain productive editorial advice. This is not to say that their feedback is useless. When I’ve asked family and friends to read for me, I’ve asked them to read as, well, readers, not editors. I want to know when they wanted to put the book down. What didn’t you believe? I can go back to that spot and do some of the editorial work myself, once I have a second-hand view of where to look.
On the other hand, what made you want to keep reading, to recommend this book to a friend once you’d finished it (if it was finish-able)? I, for one, thrive on positive feedback. If someone tells me my writing is good, I will continue to improve it.
Still, there is no substitute for a real, honest-to-goodness editor. Someone who has been trained to look for pacing, voice, realistic dialogue. Someone who is nitpicky about the little things like the way you use certain words (and the way you spell them). There are tons and tons of freelance editors out there today, waiting to offer their years of experience and guidance.
But that’s an investment, you think. One that may not come back to me if my book doesn’t sell.
Absolutely. Hiring an outside editor is no guarantee that your book is going to be on the shelves at Barnes and Noble anytime soon. But it is most certainly a guarantee that you will become a better writer in the process.