Writers want to write good books. Publishers want to publish good books. Readers want to read good books. Quality is something everyone aspires to, both in consuming and producing. No one wants to eat a half-cooked hamburger and no one wants to make one. It’s the same with writing.
Part of writing a good book is a difficult process. Even after “finishing” the book, i.e, the first draft, a writer still has a plenty of work to do. Unfortunately, this is the point where the writer can’t work alone. Every writer is naturally prejudiced towards his own work. The direction of the prejudice can vary, either in favor of the author or against him. There are two types of editing writers.
The first type is the “my writing is perfect, so it only needs a little editing to polish it up” kind. The other type is the “oh, my writing is terrible, it will never be any good” kind. Both are a problem. Personally, I lean towards the second type. Given the opportunity and time, I would have twenty drafts of every story I ever wrote and I’d still be trying to improve them.
This is where other people come in. You’ve already done the part that no-one else can do; pulled a story out of your imagination. After that, you’ll need help. The readers don’t have a clue what your story is about, except for what they can see on paper. That means they can be easily confused when the writer throws plots, details, or people into the story without explaining them. New authors often forget they haven’t explained something; they already know all the details, so a chapter can make sense to them and still be a dizzying maze to a reader.
After the plot problems are fixed, you have the spelling and grammatical errors. Those HAVE to be fixed, no ifs-and-or-buts. The ones that are intentional, most often used in dialogue, can stay; everything else goes.
At the very end, the “tone” of the book has to be inspected. The tone is the narrative attitude, the way the characters talk, the consistency in both description and action. All of these things should be steady, not varying throughout the book. If the narrative begins in a friendly, conversational tone, it should stay that way throughout the book. If the narrative gradually starts to sound “bardic” or “records-keeper”, it probably needs a rewrite, to even out this error in tone.
All of this, however, I’ve already said before in other posts. So, you ask…why did I bother bringing it all up again? Most of the other posts have been recent enough that I don’t need to recap. True.
The question is; how to do the best job of all of this. I’m coming very close to finishing several books and short stories, close enough to feel ready to send them to a publisher. I might even publish my short stories myself, rather than send them to a magazine.
Now, one of the best things you can do for your book is to hire an editor. It improves it in many ways, not least by providing a non-biased reader. The editor can provide many services, not least important of which is an general opinion (usually called a manuscript critique). The best aspect of an editor, after the actual editing benefits, is that many agents and publishers appreciate a book which has already been edited. There are many reasons for this, but the one that is most important to writers is that the agent assumes that if the writer will pay to have his book edited, he actually cares about how good it is.
There’s one really big problem here, though. An editor costs money. Quite a bit of money. To have my first novel edited by a free-lance editor would cost me in the area of 2-3,000 dollars. That price would include the full edit, from grammar checks to manuscript critique. (the manuscript critique alone costs several hundred, a more affordable price) Much as I love my writing and would like to do my best, I don’t HAVE three grand to spend. On anything.
So, what the heck to do? For the present, I am just going to be as hard on my writing as possible and rely on my beta-readers to help me fix the problems that slip through.