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Self-editing and professional editing are often considered to be interchangeable. One is done by the writer, the other by an actual editor. If you don’t have the funds to hire a professional, you do it yourself. Right?
Right. Except it doesn’t quite work that way. Self-editing and professional editing actually complement each other rather than take each other’s place.
Ideally, you want to self-edit to the best of your ability first, then hand your treasured manuscript over to a professional who will help you lift it to the next level. That high-up place you’re not able to reach without extra oxygen support.
What I mean by a professional editor here is either someone you hire yourself (this applies to self-publishing authors) or an in-house editor at a publishing house (for those who seek to pursue the traditional publishing route).
So this topic is relevant for all writers alike, no matter which type of publishing floats your boat.
Now that we’re clear on the technical terms, let me share 4 reasons why it pays off to allow self-editing and professional editing to be friends, rather than frenemies.
The writing process is composed of several steps, and while self-editing and professional editing go through the same motions, they are not one and the same stage.
Self-editing is done by you, the writer, to make your manuscript as good as you can possibly make it. The reason this is a separate step in the writing process is that you are the only one who holds all the crucial information needed to make changes to your early draft.
First drafts are riddled with plot holes and inconsistencies as well as potential. That’s the way they’re meant to be because it takes time to get to know your characters and your world to the point where everything will make sense.
Just imagine a painter creating a rough sketch, then handing it to a more experienced artist and asking for a critique on the end result. That’s not going to help much. If the painter takes the time to make the painting as well as he knows how to, however, the teacher can then show him ways to enhance what he’s made or to fix areas that may not have gone so well.
So it’s crucial that you fill in the skeleton that is the first draft before handing it to an editor if you want feedback that will help you lift your writing to the next level.
As long as your manuscript is in skeleton state, your editor will only be able to point you in the direction of adding muscles to the story: things you’re already aware of yourself.
Once you’ve added as much as the muscles and skin as you can, and perhaps even a piece of clothing or two, a professional editor will be able to help you really move forward. If you’re unsure where the heck to find the remaining muscles or clothing, your editor will be able to help you because now they know what kind of cloth and tissue you’re looking for.
You may be afraid that being the writer and all, you’re too close to your story to be able to self-edit with success.
I say that all depends on what your goal is. If you want your manuscript to be the best it can possibly be after self-editing, then I think you’re right. You’re too close to the story to achieve that.
But luckily, that’s never the objective! The only goal in self-editing your book is to make it as good as you can make it with the tools you have at your disposal. That means your own mind, hands and keyboard, but also help in the form of checklists, writing communities and beta readers.
Because your writing voice will be infused in your story at that point, your editor should be able to quickly pick up on the tone and atmosphere you’re going for and help you amplify them.
By playing all your cards before approaching a publishing professional, you make sure they understand the purpose of the story as well as the characters within it. This allows them to add to what’s already there, rather than make the most of the bare foundation that has yet to become a full-blown building.
This also ensures that you don’t risk your editor wanting to go in a different direction than you. If all you have to share is an outline, there’s a lot of wiggle room left. The building could become a shed, but also a palace or a poolhouse.
But if you present a townhouse with some leakage issues, the editor won’t even think of suggesting that your house become a shed. They’ll focus on fixing the leakage and making sure the house is decorated in a way that fits your style.
Just as with any process, the steps within the writing process follow a specific order for the best results. And because of that, self-editing should always precede professional editing.
You may decide that you want some extra help to make sure the big picture is all good before moving on to the details. Great! I encourage you to hire a professional editor to help you with developmental editing, so you can be confident you have a solid foundation to build on.
But even so, self-edit the big picture first, then hire a professional. Then, once you’re happy with the foundation, move on to self-editing the details. (This works for both indie authors and writers who want to be traditionally published, by the way.)
Remember the painter who tried to get feedback on his rough sketch as if it were a completed painting? Imagine he actually paid for that advice. Not only would he not be happy with the feedback, but he would also be out a hefty sum of money.
And once his painting was done, he would have to pay that sum again to get the feedback he needed in the first place. And he may do so if he has the funds, but maybe he doesn’t have enough because he spent it on his first attempt at feedback. That would be such a shame because he had the means to get what he was looking for, but because of misinformation, he missed out on it.
Hiring a professional editor is by no means a cheap enterprise, so please don’t take it lightly. Make sure you’re hiring someone who can help you by asking for a sample edit, and make sure you self-edit to the best of your ability to avoid ending up like that poor painter.
If you’re looking to get published by a publisher, keep in mind that professional editing is a free and non-negotiable part of the book deal.
The main point that I want to drive home here is that the combined forces of self-editing and professional editing will increase your chances of publishing a successful book.
In the case of a self-published book, the importance of thorough self-editing followed by professional support lies in creating a quality product that will be taken seriously by your future readers.
While you don’t have to jump through the hoops required for traditional publishing, self-publishing is by no means the easy option. Self-publishing a book is basically like running a small business, so make sure you know what you’re getting into before diving in head-first.
After all, the same combination of writer’s efforts + a professional editor’s expertise exists no matter which publishing route you choose.
When you get a book deal with a publisher, the in-house editor will expect your manuscript to meet a certain standard. And they’ll need to know that you’re as invested in your book as they will be. Because if you don’t care enough about your story to make it the best you can, why should they?
If you submit your first draft to an agent or publisher for consideration without self-editing, they will be able to tell. Trust me. Throughout my time working at a children’s book publisher and during my time as an editing student, I’ve seen my fair share of slush piles, and it was always incredibly clear when someone had put in the time and effort to self-edit.
Not only will a self-edited manuscript bring about a sigh of relief in the editor who assesses it, but it will also make them much more likely to keep reading beyond the first page.
So by nurturing your manuscript before submitting, you increase your chances of being taken into consideration.
So remember: the key to success lies in the combination of self-editing and professional editing. Self-editing first, to solidify what you have to work with and allow the professional to lift your writing to the next level. If you don’t, they won’t be able to do more than point out that your skeleton needs flesh, or your rough sketch is in dire need of paint.
Don’t deny yourself the chance to turn your first draft into a fantastic book. Give it the TLC it deserves and don’t skip any steps in its beauty routine.
Are you ready to take your manuscript to the next level? I’m here to help you make the process easier.
If you currently have an early draft and are looking to self-edit, grab your free copy of the Self-Editing Checklist or hop over to my free mini-course to set yourself up for Self-Editing Success.
Already done self-editing, or looking for someone to help you make sure your foundation is secure? Request a sample edit right here.
Join the free self-editing community. You can even download it as an app.