It happens every time. OK, nearly every time.
I unwrap the book-size package and am soon holding the dream-come-true from one of our Beachside Writers workshop students: the memoir that they’ve worked on for years, finally out.
I’m so proud of them. And, a few pages into it, so wishing they had found an editor — or four. Because as I read along, I am suddenly jolted by by an extra word. Or by four spaces after a period instead of one. Or by a writers’ negligence in putting an apostrophe in the wrong place.
You get the idea.
If you’re going to invest the time, energy and money into a book, be willing to invest in a good editor.
Even then, your book will still have errors. All of my twenty books have had errors. Anytime flawed human beings have their manuscripts edited by flawed human beings, imperfection is assured. Still, discipline yourself, humble yourself and bring in others to create the cleanest book you can.
Why doesn’t that happen?
- By the time you get to the final edit of a book, you’re so physically tired and mentally drained that any goals of perfection fell by the wayside three meltdowns ago.
- Your eyes are so focused on the finish line — I just want this thing done! — that you miss the barriers right in front of you. Editing/fact-checking a book is the literary equivalent of running track and field’s steeplechase event: in your deepest fatigue, you still have to jump barriers — and splash into a water pit — lap after lap.
- You can’t afford—or aren’t willing to pay for—an editor.
- You can’t find such an editor.
- You subconsciously know an editor will find lots of errors and you can’t take the humiliation.
I get it. This is not the fun part. But here are some solutions:
- Go into it with your eyes open, understanding that when you’re done with a second or third draft, you’re not nearly done. I remember building a kitchen add-on, my first project of this caliber. When I had the space all framed in, I famously said, “Almost done now!” A contractor friend politely pointed out that I wasn’t even half done. Trim work takes way longer than you think.
- Edit and fact-check along the way so there’s less to do at the end. It takes discipline, I know. But every weed you don’t pluck by hand in April is a field of weeds you need to take a gas-powered string trimmer to come August. Put another way: better to floss regularly than think you can go at it diligently the night before your cleaning appointment — and fool your dentist.
- When setting up long-range deadlines for the book, leave ample time for editing your manuscript yourself and bringing in others to help. Yes, that’s others, as in more than one. I’ve had up to six people read my manuscripts before I send them to the publisher. My reasoning? Pay now or pay later. I’d rather be humiliated midway through the process in front of a few people than embarrassed at the end in front of thousands.
- Hire a professional editor if possible. If not, seek out friends and acquaintances who you think will do a good job. They needn’t be writers themselves, though, of course, that’s a plus. But, for my needs, they need to be “detail” people who know language, play well with others and, amid their surgical incisions, put on an occasional happy face to remind me I’m not a total loser.
- To find an editor, start talking to people. Editors are hard to find; it’s not like ordering a pizza. But if you just start talking, texting and e-mailing people, you’ll find someone.
- Be willing to spend some money. I’m always amazed at the number of writers who cringe at the idea of paying someone to edit their manuscript. And yet they’d pay someone to mow their lawn, clean their gutters or change the oil in their car. I generally pay someone $100 to $500, depending on the project. I also have friends who refuse to accept money, and who wind up with gift certificates or a dinner out instead. But to not expect to pay someone is to undervalue the worth of your project — and their time.
- Consider going the print-on-demand route. I call it “grace personified.” You have chance after chance to be forgiven the errors of your ways, in that you can can make fix after fix once the book is initially released.
You’ll never produce a perfect book. And that’s OK. We’re imperfect people. But at least put in the effort — and perhaps money — to try.