When you set out to write a book you start off just writing. Then, once your first draft is finished, the editing process takes over. The thing is, the editing happens regardless of which publishing route you take. Whether you want to publish traditionally (i.e. be published) or self-publish, you will need to do extensive editing on your manuscript before it is ready to go.
So, the question is: should you or shouldn’t you pay a professional editor/proofreader to look over your manuscript? I say you shouldn’t. You can find everything you need to know about grammar and spelling on the internet (if not in school, which is the ideal situation but let’s face it, doesn’t really happen anymore). You can also find there everything you need to know about story structure, character development, flow, sub-plots, devices, cliches, etc, etc, blah, blah, blah. There are courses and books on craft. As a last resort you could even read a gazillion other books that have been published and see what works for you and how the author did it. Yes, I know, radical concept, huh?
But my friend Peter Koevari makes the very good point that as authors, we will never be able to get the necessary emotional distance from our manuscripts in order to see what is good and what needs to go. Our ‘little darlings’ are famous in general for being impossible to spot and even more impossible to cut. No one wants to hurt their baby. The idea is that it makes sense to pay a professional proofreader/editor to look over our manuscript with a dispassionate eye and make sure everything flows, there are no plot holes, characters are developed, etc. They can also pick up the ever-present typos and grammatical mistakes which seem to slip past no matter what.
But does it really make sense to pay someone else to do this? Personally, I don’t think so. I think that if we want to be published it is up to us to write our novel, put it aside and then forget that we wrote it. Someone famous said this and I really can’t remember who. This way when we pick it up again, we can see the plot holes, the little darlings that need quietly dismembering or simply beheading altogether. We can see where we flipflopped from past tense to present, where we jumped POVs just because it was handy at the time and a hundred and one other things that make us cringe. No doubt they make agents and editors cringe as well but I would rather be first in line. That way I can get rid of at least some of them before anyone else sees them.
I think if you want to be published you need to take responsibility for making your manuscript publishable. At the end of the day, you should be able to do everything a proofreader does and you should do it. Quite apart from that, if you do it, it’s free.
What do you think?