I was on a panel recently and one of the questions involved the value of having an editor. I was surprised how strongly I felt about my answer at the time, so I figured I'd share my thoughts here on the blog.
Everyone needs an editor. Everyone. Whether you're being traditionally published or self-publishing, the one thing your book needs more than a kick-ass cover or a blurb from that NYT bestselling author is a ruthless editor. I'm not talking about hiring someone to correct your spelling and punctuation - I'm talking about someone who will make you question the value of every single paragraph and the position of every single word.
When I turned in the first draft of my first novel Dirty Little Secrets, I'd already gone through several rounds of revisions with my agent and I thought it was a pretty perfect book. By the time I got my first round of edits back from my editor, I was wondering why in the world they bought the book in the first place. She obviously hated it. Between the multi-page, single-spaced edit letter and the insanely marked up copy, it felt like there was nothing left of the original story. So I called my best writing friend and cried into the phone at the unfairness of it all, at the impossibility of making the changes that she wanted, about the possibility of giving back the advance and just forgetting the whole thing. I put the edit letter away for a couple of days, and when I finally got the courage up to take another peek at it, I had to admit that the suggestion at the top of the second page had some merit. After a few days, I was ready to read and really look at the whole thing and I had to grudgingly admit that almost everything she said was going to make the book better than I'd ever imagined. There was only one suggestion that I didn't take - she suggested that YA readers were going to want a 'wrap up' chapter so that they'd get a sense of what happened after the last scene. In my mind, the book ended at a certain point in my head, so I stood my ground. You know what? She was right. So right, that I wrote an 'After' chapter and put it on my website to answer all of the reader mail I got wanting to know what happened after the last page.
The next two books I wrote with my editor followed a similar pattern. By the time we got through ripping apart characters and timelines, swapping chapters and rewriting (and rewriting and rewriting) endings, they were unrecognizable from the drafts I turned in, and you know what? They were MUCH better for it. I often think her name should be on the front of my book along with mine.
I'm not against self-publishing. Many of my friends have decided to go that route for different reasons, and that's great. What I am against is an author finishing a draft, running it through some rudimentary copy edits and putting it online as a finished work. Without a second set of eyes that is invested in making your book the best in can be, it's not finished. You need to analyze every aspect of your story and be prepared to change everything in order to make it better. And you can't do that in a vacuum. And if you are doing it in a vacuum, you're doing it wrong IMHO and shortchanging your readers. Handing your story to a ruthless editor who will make you question everything has nothing to do with keeping 'control' of your work. It's about making that work the best it can be.