When you're writing for fun or catharsis, self-editing will often take your writing as far as it needs to go. But if you're a writer with an eye on publishing, working with a professional copy editor can improve your publishing prospects, providing you are fully open to the process. Working with a professional editor (either one you hire or one assigned to you by the publisher) can be a stressful situation for many writers who are accustomed to flying solo, but with the right mindset, you'll enjoy a rewarding collaboration. Here are five ways to enter the process.
Mindset 1: It's as good as I can make it ... but it ain't perfect.
You'd be surprised how often I see manuscripts that have "author fatigue" written all over them, and it's clear the author has said, "Oh, that'll do." Only seek an editor when you have self-edited the heck out of your manuscript and are satisfied that you can take it no further. Copy editors love to work with manuscripts they can take from good to great, rather than manuscripts they can turn from okay to good (or from bad to readable!). However, don't hand it over with the assumption it's flawless ... because you WILL get a shock when the edited manuscript is returned. Expect there to be edits a plenty, and remember that even Hemingway needed an editor.
Mindset 2: It's great to collaborate!
As a writer, the page is your stage ... but even a one-woman show needs a crew! Think of your editor as the guy/gal in the lighting booth who's there to ensure you're looking your best. It is not in your editor's interest to steal the limelight or make you look bad, so enjoy the rare moment of creative partnership. Keep in mind that every editor is as unique as every writer, but hopefully your styles complement each other. If you continue to collaborate, the symbiosis will become stronger and the editing process will become easier.
Mindset 3: It's not about me.
The copy editor’s only objective is to make the reading of your manuscript as easy and pleasurable as possible. As tough as it seems (especially if you're paying), the editor's first loyalty is to the reader, not you! Edits are not criticisms, so try not take it personally.
Mindset 4: Every edit is a learning opportunity.
You are always free to disagree with the editor and reject any edit, but it’s often beneficial to understand the editor’s choices or recommendations. You will also learn a lot by studying the grammar, punctuation, and usage edits, which will improve your writing craft going forward.
Mindset 5: Professional editing is an investment.
Unless it's offered as part of a publishing agreement, professional editing will cost you hard-earned cash. That reality is especially harsh because writers themselves so rarely see financial rewards for their efforts. But if you feel you must hire an editor, think of the expenditure as an investment in your development as a writer, not only in terms of craft skills but also in terms of experience with professional editing, which agents and publishers appreciate. A professional edit is also an investment in your book, increasing its chances of being picked up by an agent/publisher or a reader. Hopefully, with great editing, you will see a return on your investment down the line!
One of my professional aims is to enable writers to become better self-editors so that the manuscripts they present for copyediting are as good as they can possibly be. Part of this mission involves demystifying the professional editing process, so here is the skinny on what a professional copy editor does to take a manuscript from so-so to SO GOOD!
The 5 C's of Copyediting
Lorna Partington Walsh, Wordsmith