Too many editors spoil the manuscript


So you’ve finally finished your magnum opus, your great American novel, the book that is going to change English literature forever. And you want said manuscript to be the best that it can be before you send it off to be abused, laughed at and soundly rejected, so that you can eventually self-publish it. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that. I once sent a query to an agent for my manuscript Everybody Knows This is Nowhere and got my form rejection letter 24 months later. So I understand not wanting to spend the rest of your life writing queries that are answered with Xeroxed “thanks but no thanks” letters.)

But if you do decide to go the self-publishing route, I beg you: hire a real editor. Someone you have to pay. Not necessarily me, but a professional. Please.

Recently a friend told me about another friend’s self-published book that was really pretty good — except for the editing. Friend 2 told friend 1 that he’d had five different people edit the book, which always results in inconsistency, stylistic differences and dueling conventions. It’s the equivalent of the five blind men describing the elephant — one says it’s like a tree, one says it’s like a rope, one says it’s like a boat, and so on.

It’s okay to have several different people critique your work. When it comes to the final edit and spit-shine, however, one is essential — but one with training, references and experience.

Even if you don’t self-publish, it wouldn’t hurt you to part with some cash to have a professional editor polish up your masterwork. Agents and publishers are inundated with submissions. According to the Foreword Publishing Insider blog, there are now only six conglomerate publishers in the U.S. One-hundred thirty-two million manuscripts (that’s 132 followed by six zeroes, folks) are submitted to them and the small publishers each year. In 2008, 275,232 books were published, 47,541 of them fiction titles.

Luckily for you, dear reader, the vast majority of submissions are terrible. (Not yours or mine, thank goodness.) A fun side-note: bad writers are getting bolder and bolder, acting as if they’re entitled to be published, like the ultra-tin-eared “singers” who are highlighted during initial American Idol auditions. These deluded egomaniacs are convinced they’re absolutely brilliant, it’s just that the industry people are too dumb to see it. (Yeah. That’s why they make millions of dollars in the industry — because they don’t recognize talent.)

One agent I follow on Twitter tweeted about a writer who virtually stalked her, forcing her to forgo her usual polite “no thank you”:

“So, the guy who replied to my form rejection that I hadn’t read the book got a reply. I did read it and even checked his site. He then went to his site and clocked how long I’d spent there. It was about 15 seconds, so ‘clearly I hadn’t really read it.’ I figured why not and said ‘I read enough. I don’t think your writing is very good.’ I’m pretty sure I’ve never actually said that to a querier before ever.”

So if your manuscript is a blizzard of typos, inconsistencies, factual errors and grammatical boo-boos, your chances, which are slim to begin with, dwindle down to nothing.

You want to give editors and agents every opportunity not to reject your manuscript. Start by hiring an editor.  Oh, yeah, and don’t be a jerk.

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