Agent Tweet: “There’s no editor to muck things up.” I disagree with this. I speak from experience, having read self published stuff that needs an editor.
Why This Matters: Oh my, how this hits home with me – especially now, that I’m getting feedback from my first real battery of beta readers – you know, the ones who don’t owe you any compliments, and haven’t sat at your Inner Circle Writer’s Meetings and listened to you drone about your wonderful vision for your tale, and who you want to star in the movie when Hollywood inevitably comes knocking at your door. Getting solid feedback on your WIP (work in progress) is a huge part of the journey toward getting published; and the more hard-core the feedback, the more you realize that you can’t go down that editing road alone.
But even beta readers are not editors. Unless you hit on a very savvy beta reader who happens to be an editor in real life (which I figure is the publishing world’s version of winnning the lottery), you’re not going to get the real, bare-knuckles, literary fistfight you need from a beta reader. And your manuscript certainly won’t achieve it’s highest level of greatness from purely your own edits.
An excellent example of this is, I think, The Inheritance Cycle by Christopher Paolini. You’re probably already familiar with the teenager-turned-bestselling-author who created the four volume series about dragonrider Eragon. I know quite a few people who are entirely enamored with this series – very savvy, well-read, creative people whom I love and admire. But on this one point – the literary worth of the Inheritance Cycle – we do not see eye to eye.
If you’ve read the entire Inheritance Cycle – congratulations. You are to be commended for doing what I could not. You have endured a long, wandering, detail-obsessed, superfluous tale whose verbosity would have made Charles Dickens cower. (Incidentally, I am very much a Charles Dickens fan. Just sayin’.) For my part, I could not get halfway through the first book. I just couldn’t. I felt as though I was trying to read tar, or eat taffy that has the annoying habit of never dissolving in your mouth.
Please do not misunderstand me. At rock bottom, I do think Paolini is a very talented young man – but a talent unleashed a little too soon, and with too little mastery of his inherent skills. His original book, Eragon, was self-published – and I think it shows, loud and clear. He gave too free a reign to his natural gifts, while his inherent weaknesses were never strengthened. Though he did eventually find a publisher, Eragon was left largely in it’s original form, thereby dooming the remaining three volumes to only build on – and thus magnify – the structural weaknesses of the first book. (I’ve had readers tell me they were able to skip entire chapters of book four without ever once losing the thread of the main action. The only other book of which I’ve heard such a disheartening assessment was Moby Dick.) The truly brilliant work that the Inheritance Cycle could have been never happened – because the tale went straight from a seventeen-year-old brain to a public audience, without a professional edit to bring discipline and precision to his overall work.
Which, of course, brings us back to the original Agent Tweet – that an editor really is NOT there to “muck up” your story. They are there to help. Since an editor is not emotionally tangled up in the tale (which we, as authors of our own stories, inevitably are), they have the objectivity to see structural issues in your tale that you cannot see – things that obscure the overall message of your book, that dim its brightness, or undermine its emotional punch.
Even if you do self-publish, you still want to enlist the help of a reputable editor, such as Sirra Edits – and she is by no means the only capable editor available to self-pubbed authors today. Check out the web, find someone willing to take on your novel and give it the spit-polish it deserves. Making your novel the absolute best it can be is, after all, the only way to stand out in an increasingly-chaotic publishing crowd.