There has never been a better, more exciting time to be a writer. E-readers are growing in popularity and the world of publishing is exploding with new opportunities to see those books you’ve toiled so hard over get into the hands of readers. But whether you submit your polished manuscript to an agent or a publisher, or whether you decide indie publishing is for you, there is one step that all writers need to take seriously.
I buy, on average, 10 books a month, both e- and print versions, both indie and traditionally published, and in all sorts of genres. And as a reader, nothing is more likely to turn me off a book—or an author—than something that is consistently badly written.
Because I am a book editor, working with the fabulous authors who choose to publish through Carina Press, perhaps it is natural that I think editing is crucial. But talk to other published writers and I would bet most of them will tell you the same thing: an edited book is a better book.
So what value does an editor bring to a book?
It’s not just about the grammar and spelling – you’d be surprised how many people think that. As an editor that is just the last step in a long process. The first thing I do is look for manuscripts that I love, that I engage with, that I am excited by. They don’t have to be perfect, but they do have to have believable characters and voice.
If we decide to publish your book, that is when the editing really starts. Your book will go through a series of edits: developmental edits where we look at the overall work and ensure it all fits together; line edits where we go through line by line and word by word to make sure the best words are used in the most effective places; and copy edits where books are reviewed for grammar and spelling, syntax, and conformity with our style manuals.
The goal of all these edits is to take your manuscript from a great story to a great book. There are three primary goals that I strive to achieve.
- Balance: Your finished book is a labor of love. But we all sometimes have blind spots when it comes to the things we love. You might not notice non sequiturs that distract readers, or characters that say one thing and do another. As the author you know your book so well and probably don’t even see plot holes, or places where the hero’s motivation for doing something doesn’t quite make sense. An editor will look at your book’s plot and characters to make sure the information flow of the story works. Part of this is streamlining—taking out information that is unnecessary and playing with the story to ensure pacing is consistent—but the overall aim is to keep the story front and center so that the reader is pulled along into the world you have created.
- Depth: Why do characters act the way they do? Why did you have this event happen? And why did it happen here? These are some of the questions I might ask an author as I am reading. My job is to make sure there is depth to your story because depth gives meaning. This is also where I check facts to ensure the story has credibility. I might ask you to expand on a character, or even—in some cases—suggest that you change a character to make them more believable, more likeable, more edgy…take your pick of adjectives. Believe me, we don’t do this arbitrarily, but always with purpose and always bearing in mind the vision you have for your book.
- Polish: You’ve already done the hard work, the creative work. Together we have achieved balance and depth. Now we want to work with you to polish your story. Every word, every sentence, every paragraph should move your story forward in the best possible way. There should be no loose ends, no missed opportunities. Your words should be well chosen and precise and exactly right for each character and each scene without being overdone.
When you have balance, depth and polish, you have a good book. A book that flows well, that is fresh and that is true to your original voice. A book that you can be proud to publish.
Denise Nielsen is a freelance acquisition editor for Carina Press. She is open to submissions and is particularly keen to acquire new manuscripts in the contemporary, historical, gothic, and steampunk genres. Follow her on Twitter @denielsen or check out her Facebook Page Editor Denise Nielsen.