Writing is not a lonely profession. Any author is frequently advised to seek assistance, be it from critique groups, beta readers or fully-fledged editors. Such advice is well-founded, because a fresh eye can assist with everything from overarching plot inconsistencies to the ever-curse that is the Hated Typo.
Editors in particular are much sought-after. The upsurge in independent publishing and small presses over the past decade has corresponded with a rise in people selling their services, sometimes at incredibly high prices, in order to give manuscripts a helping hand. It’s an oft-repeated adage among indy publishers that if you don’t shell out a bit of cash to have someone at least semi-professional look over your work, you’re doomed to failure even before you click “publish.”
I’m not here to question such received wisdom. Indeed, I think anyone seriously considering getting into independent publishing would do well to seek the assistance of a well-recommended editor. I’ve used one before, paying him over £250 for a reasonably thorough comb-through of one of my older attempts at a novel. I don’t feel the money was wasted, but at the same time it’s never fun pouring cash into something when the back of your mind is telling you that – despite all the advice – it isn’t worth it and you can do fine without the “pro” help.
The conundrum of paying an editor was thankfully one I recently managed to circumvent. You may remember that a few months back I had the honour of landing my first ever professionally-paid piece of short fiction with wargaming giants Games Workshop (or, more accurately, their publishing wing, Black Library). Boyhood dreams were swiftly swept aside by nervous waiting after I sent the first draft of my commissioned piece off for assessment by Black Library’s in-house editors.
This really was crunch time. Editing is famously one of the most painful processes involved in writing, and I couldn’t kick the feeling that I’d totally mucked up and the draft I received back would be so edit-heavy it’d be barely recognisable.
When it did eventually reappear in my inbox one afternoon there certainly were plenty of “red lines,” as the phrase goes. But what surprised me, after reading through all the suggested changes, was that there were no major overhauls. There was certainly a lot of work to be done, and my rooky effort required a lot of tightening up, but in everything my editor was polite, encouraging and, above all, his suggestions were extremely relevant. My second draft turned out so much better thanks to this. I couldn’t have done it alone.
The fact that I was getting a comprehensive, free editing service from my publisher was a huge bonus. What was even more surprising than my near-painless first encounter with a professional in-house editor was the realisation that not all writers react so well to relevant criticism. Editors and writers are symbiotic creatures, and the successes of one breeds off of the other. Criticisms by professional editors are only levelled at manuscripts with an eye towards assisting the writer in improving on them. It’s certainly nothing personal, though seemingly that’s a fact that can be lost on some writers, new and old alike. Maybe I’m biased because my first proper editorial run went so smoothly, but it helps to think of writing as a boat with two oars. As the writer, you’re only going to go round in circles if you pull in the opposite direction to the editor. He/she will be aware of that fact as well, so give and take is important. Ultimately, all great books are team efforts, and the writer who is able to build a close working relationship with a good editor is privileged indeed. One day I hope to benefit from that on a more permanent basis.