We authors do everything in our power to make our manuscripts the very best that they can be.
We try to eliminate typos and grammatical errors. We strive to ensure that John doesn’t mysteriously become Desmond, only to turn back in to John. We push ourselves to ensure that the timeline of our back-story doesn’t clash (or *gasp* contradict) with the timeline of the rest of our story.We do all of these things but we are human and we still make mistakes.
So we employ, beg, or plead for beta-readers and editors. Those people who are going to read our stories and tell us what works and what doesn’t. Those individuals who we trust to rip our precious babies apart and then help us put them back together and make them (hopefully) better. The like-minded peeps who look for all the nitpicky errors of people, place and thing, and actually enjoy telling us when we’ve done something wrong. They are the men and women who are going to say to us “why?” and “no, just no” and even “WTF is going on with this?”These people are in many ways our guardian angels, our saviors, our own personal heroes.
Because having a couple, or a few beta-readers go through our stories is essential to ensuring the success of it, in the same way that market research is essential to the success of a new product before release. An editor is going to catch a multitude of errors that we authors don’t always see. Both will tell us when a section is simply unnecessary or when we really should explain something a little bit more or a little better. You simply need to have these people as part of your team.To my mind, having another author or reviewer act as a beta-reader is the way to go. They’re going to know what works in the market and in a story, or at least have a pretty good idea. They’re going to be the most honest about telling you if something is screwy or if it simply sucks. And a good beta-reader, the really good ones, aren’t going to judge your work as it compares to their own or to the story they beta’d last month; they’ll judge the worth of your story as it stands (or doesn’t) all on its own. They’ll have good comments, be specific and be able to back up their suggestions/criticisms/concerns. You won’t just get “yeah, I liked it” back as their response.
An editor needs to be someone who is proficient, efficient and really confident with the language and all of its quirks. Whether we’re talking formatting, grammar and spelling, or even just the correct use of slang or different dialects, your editor needs to know what they’re doing. Good editing is more than just scanning for highlighted errors in a word document. It’s more than marking up a page in red ink just to see the color. We can and do edit for ourselves but having another set of eyes just makes our work better. Good editing can make or break a story, and it’s something that every author should have done by a second and maybe even third party.So why am I writing this? Why bring it up? Partially because it simply needs to be said, to be explained and to be understood - by readers, by new writers aspiring to that coveted published author status, and even by those who’ve published dozens of books, stories or poems already. Partially because as I get closer to having a manuscript finished, the realities and necessities of “the next step” in the process and journey to becoming a published author become larger in my mind.
And lastly because as my journey to becoming published has progressed I’ve made connections and friendships with other authors and we all have the same needs in common. Whether they’re newbie’s like me, ones currently celebrating their first release, or even others that have released a number of books already, I’ve become increasingly aware of the need for having that community of friends to be able to rely on.These are the people who will immediately understand when you post something on Facebook like “Just spent an hour fighting with my main character and now I need coffee” or “Woke up this morning at 4am with the BEST plot twist fully-fledged in my mind. Now it’s going to be a long day!” These are the people who are going to volunteer when I say “can someone read this chapter and tell me what’s wrong with it?” They’ll be the ones to respond when I yelp “Help!” They’ll be some of the people who will help to promote and spread word when I’ve finally got the published final copy and need to sell it. They’ll be all these things because they know what it is to be in that position, and they’ll do it even more readily if I’ve done the same for them.
Because one of the biggest things I’ve learned over the last few months, one of the biggest ideas that I’ve come to embrace close to my heart is the community idea of ‘authors-helping-authors.’ Like with so many things in life, the more you’re willing to help, the more others are willing to help you. And while yes, there will always be those who take advantage of the spirit of this concept, there will always be more who won’t. I’ve already made a number of really great writing friends. I’ve already volunteered or been asked to help read-through and do beta-reading and even a little bit of editing. And I’ve done it, happily. Because I know that these women (and men) would do the same for me, happily, when it’s my turn.So if you’re like me, if you’re writing your story and quite possibly nearing the point where you’ve got a draft finished, then I urge you to really start thinking about the next step. About whom you’ll ask and/or hire to edit your manuscript. About the people you’ll approach to ask to beta-read the story.
Writing your story may be a largely private and solo affair, but getting the story ready to actually be published... It’s sort of like that old saying “it takes a village to raise a child,” publishing your novel is not something that is (or even should be) accomplished all alone. Make connections, make friends. Develop a circle whose opinions you can trust and respect, and prove that your opinions can be treated the same. Because whether they beta-read or edit for you, whether they help with cover reveals and release blitz’s, or whether they are simply there as a sounding board or with an encouraging word when you need it, these are the wonderful people who will help you achieve your dream. And really, isn’t that the point?