Karen invited me to answer this question on her blog. This is my humble opinion, but since copy editing is also my business, you’re right to be somewhat skeptical of my answer. There will be authors who disagree with me. But if you research the topic, you’ll find I’m not the only one—writers included!—who feels this way.
First, let me assure you wholeheartedly—You Are the Expert on Your Book.
Not me, nor any other editor. You. You wrote it, you’ve revised it (hopefully), you’ve researched it—they’re your ideas and hard work. A copy editor’s job is to ensure, to the best of her ability, that the manuscript (MS) contains no errors, that it has been written as well as possible, and that you shine like the star you are. After all, you finished writing an entire MS! Do you know how marvelous that is? Do you realize how many “writers” start a book—or more than one—and never finish? <Applause>
So, you may ask, “If I’m such a wonderful expert, why do I need you?” Great question!
It’s because you are such an expert on your MS that you are physically incapable of finding all the errors. Be honest. Can you look at your MS objectively? Can a new mother—after nine months of pregnancy and hours of hard, sweaty labor—impartially see the wrinkled, scaly, misshapen being just introduced to her? No. Only the unbiased eyes of another can detect the flaws while still appreciating the baby for the miracle it is.
You are welcome—and definitely encouraged!—to use all the revision techniques you can find: read your MS aloud; read it backward, word by word or paragraph by paragraph; search for the “ly” adverbs, the “to be” verbs, and the “could/would”s to see if they’re necessary. Have at least two beta readers give you their feedback, be involved in a critique or writers’ group, and put your MS away for several weeks before reviewing a final time and running a concluding spell check.
If you don’t want to bother with all that work, definitely hire a professional copy editor. And if you do take the time to accomplish those tasks, hire a professional copy editor anyway. Trust me; inevitably, there will be something you missed. On an important marketing promotion for myself, which I pored over for hours, I missed “PalPal Accepted.”
Your eyes will read what you believe you wrote or wanted to write. A copy editor will read what you actually wrote.
Perhaps after publishing without an editor, you will be lucky to find only simple errors, like inconsistent use of toward/towards, overuse of a pet word or action, or a “he” that should have been “her.” Or it might be something much worse, like a character name change missed half the time, stating that Harlem is downtown from the Planetarium in New York City, or misspelling your own name or the title. Don’t think it can’t happen to you! These are real-life examples from MSS I’ve copy edited.
You spent a lot of time, hard work, and sleepless nights on your MS. Whether you’re self publishing or submitting to an agent or publisher, don’t you want it to be the best it can be?
Copy editing is not a luxury or an unnecessary expense. It’s an investment. High-quality material results in higher sales. And good editing doesn’t have to cost a fortune. There are many professional, affordable editors available.
Want to know more about Susan Uttendorfsky and Adirondack Editing? ClickHERE.