Really, Editing Is Important: With a Case Study

So you’ve finished your novel, and you’re proud of it, quite reasonably so, I’m sure. What’s the next step? Send it to an agent? Self publish?

Nice dream, but no.

The next step is a critique, some rewrites, some reviews. Then we can talk edits and then publication steps like agents or self publishing.

Ah, but maybe this isn’t your first novel. You think you’ve got all the steps down and this time you don’t need anyone else to review your work.


Trust me, really. Get a critique, get an edit.

While it seems that more and more best-sellers are not being fully edited by the publishers, this is to their detriment and is in no way something that you should emulate.

If you have sharp eyes for grammar and typos, you’ll find errors in any book. I remember reading Anne McCaffery’s Freedom series at one point and being quite frustrated because one of the characters kept changing rank mid book. That’s something an editor should catch. It’s nice if the author can catch it, but being your story, sometimes you know what should be there and errors just slip past. It happens. That’s what editors are for. And they’ll in turn miss a few things. The trick isn’t to get clean copy, though it’s a nice dream, but to get as close as humanly possible.

But if your book is riddled with errors, typos, plot holes, inconsistent character descriptions… well, big name authors seem to pull if off without losing sales, but you shouldn’t do it. Really. In an era of self publication when people are suddenly able and willing to publish any old thing off their computer without any review, the amount of absolute garbage out there is appalling. And so much of it could be so much better.

We’re not just talking typos and description errors either. A good editor will point out when the first three chapters really should be one, or half of one. When the middle of the book drags on too long, an editor should point that out. When the climax of the book just doesn’t climax, yeah, the editor should be catching that too. Or the critique group, or the agent before even considering sending it to a publisher, or someone at the publishing company. Someone should be catching these things, and commenting on them, and then authors get to fix them. Because the author can’t always see it by themselves, no matter how experienced an author they are.

Need an example for that one? Not a problem. I apologize if this goes long, but it’s an old favorite of mine, rant wise.

A book series gets popular, starts making a lot of money, and suddenly the author’s words can’t be touched, should be left as is, because clearly he or she is doing something right. No one wants to mess with the goose that laid the golden egg. Except those first books did great after being edited, and the later ones need it too. And the perfect example is Harry Potter.

Now some reading this will be scandalized, some will have never read it, and some won’t care. That’s fine. But I’ve considered the whole thing far more than I should, being an editor and learning the craft at a time when that series was the hottest thing ever. Still is really, given how much money everyone involved has made. But one of the first things that hit me when I finished book 7 was that it needed an editor.

Not a copy editor, a developmental editor. And looking back, the problem started somewhere around book 4. The stories kept getting longer. Not inherently a problem. It happens and can be done very well. But it wasn’t good in these cases. Book 5 has a plot that could be solved by a five minute conversation and some adults acting like adults (well, let’s be honest, all the books could save a lot of ink if the adults acted like adults). Book 6 has to drag out weak material for a full year, a flaw of the story structure of the novels, but if it were shorter then the whole arc of the story would move smoother. And book 7? That one could be cut in half and still work. It’s got these deep emotional scenes that move characters sideways and the story nowhere. Those novels weren’t character driven until  those last few books. They were plot driven novels. And at the end they were still plot driven novels, bogged down by character growth that went nowhere.

All of these things a good editor would point out well before a novel reached the publishing stage, but J. K. Rowling was raking in money. Why mess with a good thing?

That question exists because publishers are just out to make money. They don’t buy books because they’re amazing or new or interesting. They buy books they think will sell, and hopefully sell well. If they know your book will sell like crazy, which was a given by the time J. K. Rowling’s fifth book came out, then why put any effort into it?

Well, maybe to the publisher it doesn’t matter. And maybe a lot of readers will buy some of these books no matter what. Goodness knows J. K. Rowling isn’t the only best-selling author with a book or three out there that should have never made it past a developmental editor, let alone a copy editor. The real question is, does it matter to you? Does your book mean enough to you that you want it to be the best book it can be? Or does it just matter that it gets out there in some form and maybe someone will read it anyway?

Those are the questions you have to ask yourself before you publish, however you publish.

Personally, I’d rather make the best book I can, edit it well, review, critique, and then publish. That way, when someone does decide to buy it, they won’t get bogged down in dumb errors and just might recommend it to their friends. Because it’s those recommendations that sell your book in the long run.

So, anyone else got an example of a big name book that really should have gotten edited before it was published? Or a small one? Let’s talk about it. Maybe we’ll learn something while we poke at the holes.


Really, Editing Is Important: With a Case Study — 1 Comment

  1. You are very right. My favorite Harry Potter is the second one which she kept fairly short, didn’t have the back story to start and MOVED. 3 was OK, but 4 on are JUST TOO LONG; and they have the same damn plot of Harry and Ron fight, Hermione is in the middle, everyone emotes, they get back together and are fine. and I have said this for years. The other one that comes immediately to mind is Robert Heinlein’s later works where the publishers just said hell yeah publish it as is. (Friday for example which I found godawful).
    Ebooks have gotten better, but there are some that still just grate on my nerves, like “ridding their horses”, etc, etc, etc.
    My gramma would be flipping over and over in her grave.

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