Editing & Revision: Really Actually Not Optional

Photo credit: Nick Harris1 on Flickr
So I’ve kind of written bits and pieces of this post before, but after coming across a painfully erroneous comment on a blog post earlier this week (not my own), I felt the need to say this again, in more detail. So here we go. 

If your goal is to be a successful published writer, whether self or traditionally published, then you need to take editing and revisions seriously. They’re not optional. Period. No exceptions. Done.

This means a few things.

First, it means you need critique partners and beta readers. There are loads of places to find them, particularly online, and I broke down some great CP-finding resources here, so I’m not going to go over that again. But before you even think about submitting your work somewhere or hiring an editor, please take the time to find some critique partners. I recommend at least two (three is even better, in case you need a tie-breaker), but if you can handle swapping with more, go for it.

After you’ve swapped with betas and CPs, you need to look at their notes and make changes accordingly. This is the part where you decide what you want to change and what you don’t. Remember, it’s your story, but take the time to consider every comment carefully. Sometimes I find it helps to read through it, then let it sit for a day before you dive into edits, but it’s up to you.

However many times you repeat the process is also up to you, but the point is that you get it looked at by several people and take time to make the changes you need.

The changes you’ll be making in this stage are a good thing. Your CPs will see weaknesses that you didn’t, because you’re too close to your words. They’ll point out areas that are confusing, or slow, or difficult to understand, or whatever the case may be. This serves two purposes—not only does it help your book, but it helps you learn what areas you need to work on.

As far as hiring an editor goes, I personally only think this is necessary if you’re self-publishing. But if you are self-publishing, then it’s not an option. Traditionally published books don’t hit the shelves without passing under the careful gaze of an editor for a reason—editors help you get to the core of your story and really make it shine.

Can you hire an editor before submitting to agents or a small press? Sure, if you want to. But I wouldn’t recommend it if you haven’t passed it through a couple critique partners, first.

In the end, the point is this: editing and revision are vital parts of the writing process. Even if you manage to write beautiful, gleaming first drafts, a first draft is never ready for straight publication or submissions. Some manuscripts naturally need more editing than others, but regardless, this is a step that you can’t skip. Not if you’re taking your work seriously.

What do you think? Do you agree or disagree that editing and revision are not optional? 

Twitter-sized bites: 
"If your goal is to be a successful published writer...you need to take editing & revisions seriously." (Click to tweet
Writer @Ava_Jae says editing and revisions are never optional. Do you agree or disagree? (Click to tweet)


Shay De Flory said...

Hi Ava!

Could you say more on why you feel there's not much need to hire an editor if you want to go the traditional route?
I hired an editor first then went with Beta's.
Any advice that suggests I save money, I'm all ears...


Ava Jae said...

So, this is pure 100% my opinion.

While I don't think it would hurt to hire an editor before submitting somewhere or querying, from my own personal experience and what I've seen from others, I don't think it's necessary. I think with several critique partners/beta readers and several rounds of editing (both by yourself and with CP notes), you should be able to polish your work enough to snag agent attention—and many writers have. The idea is to get your work as edited and shiny as possible before you query—then be aware that if you do get an agent, you'll probably be editing again with your agent, then several times over with editors if you get a contract.

If you want to hire an editor anyway, I'd recommend you wait until after your beta readers and CPs give you all your edits. This way, you're not paying someone to point out something that a CP could point out for you to fix for free—you're using your paid edit instead to give your work that final polish. Does that make sense?

Again, this is just my opinion. I think as long as the editor you hire knows what you're doing, it won't hurt either way. :)

Shay De Flory said...

I generally find that to be an issue. Once money is involved, you just never know. Take out money and things suddenly become more genuine.

One thing I'll say is, even after having an editor go over my first story, I'm still editing it (shhh....). This alone has made me question going through that again, especially since the edits were not glaring and ones I could have attempted solo once I let the MS sit for a bit.

Sometimes I suppose it can be easier paying someone for their time rather than finding someone, but really you just have to look harder. Also, yes, the last thing you want is to think that just because you've hired an editor, they'll be little work to do after. There's ALWAYS work to do after.

Thanks for sharing, Ava, and no worries, I won't go carving your words in stone, it's just always nice to hear a different opinion.

Jen Donohue said...

Even if you write "clean copy", having other eyes on your work is crucial. Correct sentences are great, but if nobody knows what you're talking about, you're out of luck.

Michelle Irwin said...

Thank you, thank you, thank you for this post. I was just talking with some girlfriends about the prevalence of fast-publishing I've seen in writing groups I'm part of online. There are people how announcing they've finished the draft one week and then suddenly the next week, the same person is linking to their shiny new book on Amazon O_O

I also agree with the don't need to pay if you're not self-publishing. Even if the publishers are 100% happy with everything in the book (unlikely) they're still going to have their copy-editors run over the words and if they use a different style guide to the one that the paid editor you hired before querying does, they'll just be undoing all the work you paid for.

Michelle Irwin said...

I agree wholeheartedly. I've had a number of times when I've written something that I thought was clear and I got a WTF back from a CP. A small reedit, a change of word choice and it's a cleaner, better copy. I'd be skeptical of anyone who says they write 100% clean copy though, there's always the odd incorrect word, even little ones like there/the, me/my etc which creep in.

Ava Jae said...

You're so welcome, Michelle! Thank you for sharing your thoughts, because I entirely agree. I've also seen writers self-publish much too quickly, and I've seen agents talk about queries they've received along the lines of "If I don't find representation by (date), I'm going to self-publish" which...yeah. Anyway...

As for traditional publishing, you'er right—editors you eventually work with if you sell your manuscript may very well undo a lot of the changes you made with the paid edit—unless the kind of edit you paid for was more plot-focused, rather than line-edits. I suppose it would depend. But either way, I don't think it's a necessary step in the process.

Ava Jae said...

Yes. Even the cleanest first drafts need some reworking—this is one of the writing rules that really doesn't have any exceptions.

M Kinnel said...

I wholeheartedly agree that critique partners and beta readers are necessary. I've read some things that gave me the impression the author didn't heed that advice. As many articles there are on the subject, I can't for the life of me understand how this step can be missed or ignored.

I do have a question. You said that a person "can hire an editor before submitting to agents or a small press if they want to." So, yes to critique partners and beta readers beforehand, but not necessarily so to editors? I'm well before the stages of submitting anything to an agent, etc. but I guess I assumed you had to do the editor thing as well. Hmm...good to know. On the same note, should I not worry about typos if bypassing an editor when submitting my MS?

Ava Jae said...

Critique partners are worth their weight in gold. Twice their weight, even. Definitely, absolutely not an optional step in the process.

Hiring an editor, however, depends. If you're self-publishing, then yes, you absolutely need an editor. If you're submitting to agents, however, then it's not a mandatory step—instead, you'll want to focus on going through several rounds of editing with more than one CP and by yourself. As far as typos go, you'll definitely want to go through and eliminate as many as you can, but my understanding is as long as your work isn't riddled with typos, you'll be ok. The occasional oops isn't going to kill you if the story is fantastic—but many typos, may. A few typos are normal, but many seem like carelessness.

All that being said, you can hire an editor if you want to. It's just not necessarily mandatory. And for the sake of being totally honest, I never submitted to an editor—however, I won a few query/first chapter critiques from editors, which I found helpful.

M Kinnel said...

Thanks so much for the feedback! It's so nice when someone answers your questions with straightforwardness.

Ava Jae said...

Absolutely! :)

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