I am being chased up and down the aisles of my church by a group of elderly, white-haired ladies, all retired school teachers, all waving red pens in the air.
Why are they pursuing me? What is my crime?
I just published my first novel without first having it professionally edited. It contains spelling and grammatical errors that have sent these well-meaning women after me, one calling out incredulously, “Karen, Karen, raisin is spelled r-a-i-s-I-n, not r-a-i-s-O-n!”
The next week I read this review about my novel on Amazon’s Goodreads site: I enjoyed this book, good plot, nicely paced, etc. I read it in about 6 hours. It has a lot of typos, repeated words, wrong verb tenses etc. which I found most distracting but with a good-proof-reading it would be really quite good.
Why didn’t I have my book professionally edited? I couldn’t afford to, or at least that’s what I told myself. I worked harder on my second novel. I proofed and proofed that manuscript until I thought that if I had to read one more word in my own book I was going to cry. Finally, I thought it was ready and sent it away to be published. This one was better, even the retired school teachers agreed, but not great.
For my third and fourth novels, I spent even more time proofing them. I enlisted the help of family and friends. I hired someone who had placed an ad in a local newspaper offering her services as a proofer. Much better, and yet, the reviews all said the same thing. They were good books that, with professional editing, could have been great.
I vowed then that I would never publish another novel unless I first had it edited. I had learned a hard lesson. Proofing typos and spelling errors is one thing; line-by-line editing is another. There are intricate problems in a manuscript that only a professional editor will catch.
So for the next three years, I set money aside for editing while I wrote and proofed my fifth novel, The Unforgiving Sea. Then, before entering it in the Word Alive Press Free Publishing Contest, I sent it in to them to be professionally edited. I was a little nervous. I’d heard stories about author-editor clashes over changes to an author’s book. However, this was not the case for me. I truly enjoyed the experience. Of course this was only after I swallowed my pride. Here is my editor’s first comment, and it shocked me:
COMMENT: One of the words you overuse is “hard.” It appears over 150 times, which is quite excessive.
What? No way! Wounded, I set out to prove him wrong. I scrolled back to the beginning and reviewed my manuscript, counting the word “hard.” I surrendered at page 97. He was right.
Admittedly, I didn’t agree with all his suggestions or changes. Once, about halfway through my novel I grew so frustrated that I thought if I had to change a timeframe, add or move a paragraph, or create another expression for my favourite word “hard” I was going to jump off a ledge. (No doubt my editor was thinking about ledges too while editing my book.) Then, on page 169 and 170, there was this:
COMMENT: I know I don’t often comment on the parts of the book that are really good (despite the silences rest assured they outnumber the bad) I just wanted to point out that this is really great stuff.
COMMENT: Again, so good.
YES! Confidence buoyed, I went back to work. My editor trimmed and polished. I chiselled and rewrote when and where he suggested. My book began to shine. Confusing sections became clearer, redundant information was axed, timeframes corrected and dialogue improved till it sparkled. The suspense and intrigue, a vital ingredient in my novel, deepened to a heart-pounding intensity that would captivate a reader until the final chapter.
Having The Unforgiving Sea professionally edited lifted it to another level that would not have been reached without it. It was an exciting learning experience and one that I know has made me a better writer.
Thinking about entering your book in a publishing contest, thinking about publishing your book without first having it edited? Then I caution you. If you want to have your book elevated from good to great, if you want to be taken seriously as a writer, (if you can’t outrun a group of retired school teachers), then first have your novel professionally edited.
You can’t afford not to.
Looking for an editor to help make your manuscript shine? Contact Word Alive Press for a free sample edit and quote!
Karen V. Robichaud is the author of four novels, including Leigh Falls, Where the River Flows, Beyond Winter’s Shadow, and An Evening Sky in Autumn. Her fifth novel, The Unforgiving Sea, was shortlisted in the 2014 Word Alive Press Free Publishing Contest. She divides her time between Halifax, Nova Scotia and Fredericton, New Brunswick.