Why Do We Edit?

Editing is often described as the most painful part of the process that transforms a manuscript into a book. The immortal Stephen King implores his fellow writers, “Kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings.” This might be pushing the metaphor a little too far, but it’s not terribly far beyond the mark. But we don’t edit because it’s hard (self-punishment without purpose is not the name of our game). We edit because our first drafts are not always our best drafts.


As self-publishing author Lori Lesko puts it, “The good news about self publishing is you get to do everything yourself. The bad news about self publishing is you get to do everything yourself.” And there you have it: self-publishing authors have to kill their darlings, and they can’t hire a contract killer to do so.

Or can they?

Lest this extended metaphor evolve past the point of no return into the plot for someone’s next crime fiction thriller, here’s the lie to that last statement: It is entirely possible, feasible, and relatively easy to not do everything yourself—and as an ardent and independent self-publishing author, you can even do so while maintaining your independence and your self-respect. We may edit ourselves because we sense the inevitability of our own mistakes—one or two slips of the fingers on the keyboard as we toil away—but we look for others to edit our work, too, because we’re not always the most objective observers about our own wrting. We look for a third-party editor because, when you or I have spent six months or a year staring at the pixels on our computer screens, it becomes difficult to pick out the plot hole on page 60 or the typing error on page 115.

Editors aren’t a luxury we indulge in; they’re a necessity. Guy Kawasaki, a self-publishing author and entrepreneur of Stanford and U.C. Davis extraction, writes that all successful self-publishing authors “learn that the key to a great book is editing—grinding, buffing, and polishing—not writing.” He’s not just referring to a book’s inherent strengths and weaknesses—its objective existence as a great book or a not-great book—but about perception and reception. As a business founder and entrepreneur, Kawasaki recognizes the value in being taken seriously, and the business and social capital an author can—and must—create by doing so in order to move books off of virtual or physical store shelves and into people’s hands. Editing, he postulates, is the way to make this happen.


And he’s not wrong.

Perception, we’re often told, is reality. And while there might be some exceptions, it’s a general rule that readers are turned off by poor cover design, poor formatting, and poor editing. These factors and others collectively create the reader’s perception of a book’s professionalism, polish, and ultimately its value. Thus, a poorly edited book is likely to lose readers, while a well-edited book is likely to draw more potential readers by virtue of its good reputation.

The long and the short of it is:

  • Editing is important, both in terms of fixing small-scale issues and resolving large-scale difficulties, to selling books;
  • We cannot objectively edit our own work, and those in our immediate social circle often don’t have the experience or expertise to step in and fill the void;
  • Therefore, paying for professional editing services may be necessary, and it doesn’t have to break the bank or encroach on your independence.

As you set off to determine whether or not hiring a professional editor is something you need to do (and is something you can afford to do), take your time. There are plenty of options out there—everything from independent editors who advertise their availability online to professional editors who work with and are vetted by companies like Outskirts Press. Because the market for true and deep copyediting has diversified in recent years, the costs are much lower than they used to be, and there are a lot more options in terms of choosing what kinds of feedback you want to receive. The key is to do your due diligence in terms of research, and to trust your instincts when you get in touch with potential editors. You’ll get a sense rather quickly for when an editor is just in it to pay the bills, and when an editor is a true advocate for your book!


One thought on “Why Do We Edit?

  1. This answered a lot of my questions. Now I am assured that I will find a good editor or editors for my book which I am working on finishing. Thank you for this good article.

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