I’m watching a discussion in one of the many writers’ groups on facebook at the moment. The statement being debated is along the lines of if you don’t have your book professionally edited, it will be rubbish. But nobody has yet defined professional and rubbish, or even edited, and until the goalposts are set firmly on the pitch, it’s all rather meaningless in my opinion.
In this particular discussion, professional
appears to mean "paying somebody", or indeed "paying anybody". I’ve
noticed in my alternative online life (aka facebook…) that there are a
lot of people who set themselves up as publishers and editors. Just
recently I saw an advert for a "new" publisher – the website says As a principal [sic], and to help new authors … Now what self-respecting author is going to sign up with a publisher who doesn’t understand homophones? Answer: the ones who still think that any "publisher" is better than no publisher.
Editors too. They exist in abundance on facebook, lurking in groups full of wannabe writers
and charging anywhere up to hundreds or even thousands of dollars/pounds
to "edit" your book for you. But what qualifies them to do this to any
better standard than you? Don't get me wrong, I'm sure there are a lot
of professional and highly-competent people out there; I know of
many freelance editors who come highly-rated with lots of satisfied clients,
and the resultant books are much the better for their input. But I also
know of a lot of authors who have paid out a great deal of money and
their books are still riddled with typos, errors and other problems.
There seems to be no standard to aspire to, no qualification to check -
and the only way to be sure is to ask for references and maybe even
a sample edit before you part with your money. No decent editor should refuse either of those reasonable requests.
So saying that your book will be rubbish if you haven't paid out money to have it edited, is a bit like saying if you haven't been on a cordon bleu cookery course, your dinners will be inedible. Clearly a writer needs to practise and learn their craft as does any other artist. But while there is no substitute for a fresh pair of eyes, you can learn to self-edit, if you're good at spelling and grammar and have an eye for that kind of thing. I've been lucky on my current book in that I have a fan/reader of my other books who has been going through this one with me - telling me honestly what works and what doesn't, pointing out the boring bits, the nonsensical bits and the just plain rubbish bits. He challenges me, argues with me and makes me justify (or not) what I've done. And I am so grateful for that level of input. And then I find out he used to work in publishing many years ago.
So let's rewind and rewrite to if you don’t edit your book, it may not be as good as it could be. Does that work better?