I sat in the Opium Den this morning, studying the revision letter my editor sent me about my twenty-first novel, The Good Father, which will be published next spring. As usual, my editor had a bunch of suggestions and I could see that she was right on target on every point except one (and she might turn out to be right about that one, too). I felt so fortunate that I have her skilled, objective eye to look at my work. Even though she loved the book, she saw ways to make it better. My latest release, The Midwife’s Confession, is a perfect example of how her input improved a story and I’ve sung her praises on this blog before.
But this post isn’t about my editor. It’s about the lack of editing of so many of the novels being self published today. I’m not talking about those out-of-print backlist books many published authors are making available as e-books, much to the joy of their readers. I’ve published my backlist in ebook format myself. These books were well edited when they were first released and they’re ready for their return to prime time. But I worry that the ease of self publishing is seducing writers into publishing books before they’re ready.
I thought my first novel, Private Relations, was perfect when I finished it. I’d worked on it for years. I’d polished every word and solicited the feedback of several friends, which I took to heart as I wrote draft after draft. I then tried to find a publisher and spent a miserable year reading rejection letters—and wow, did that book deserve to be rejected! Even though I thought it was perfect, it was actually a mess in great need of an editor. The grammar and punctuation weren’t my problem; it was my structure and pacing that were in desperate need of help. Fortunately, I found an agent with editorial skills and she helped me whip it into good enough shape to sell. But if I’d written that book in 2010 and spent a year getting rejected, I am one hundred percent certain I would have given up on traditional publishing and self published the book myself, adding one more mess of a book to the other unedited books that are pouring into the market. I doubt it would have found an audience, except among creative writing teachers looking for examples of How Not to Write a Novel.
All this is to say, if you’re writing a book you plan to self publish, please hire a freelance editor to help you. Be open to his or her suggestions and take your time as you revise. This isn’t a race. You want your name attached to something wonderful, right? Give your work the best chance possible to find its readers and leave them begging for more.