I am often asked this question. It isn’t easy to answer, as any answer depends upon a variety of factors from where you are in your career to your aspirations for the future. If you find yourself unsure about how to proceed, ask yourself the following three questions:
- Do you respect your readers and want them to have the best possible experience when reading your book?
- Do you take pride in your work and want good reviews?
- Do you want your book to sell?
So the original draft is the novelist’s baby, but most would benefit immeasurably from an edit. How do you do this? Well, you have two distinct tasks that require clear and separate focus:
- Improving structure, flow, characterisation, style and technical content as well as removing inconsistencies. This is known as copy editing. It can take place alongside you as you write or afterwards, once you have completed your own revisions. It can also include fact-checking, particularly useful if you plan non-fiction work.
- Correcting grammar, punctuation and spelling and finding and fixing those pesky typos. This is known as proof-reading. It usually takes place after copy editing.
Copy editing is a widespread service. The Society of Editors and Proofreaders is one source, but there are many, many freelancers. You may find them through websites like Elance, through creative writing circles, through social media and through your writing contacts. I’d suggest that you do as much as you can to understand what sort of work they have previously undertaken before opting to work with anyone.
Indie authors are increasingly choosing to use beta readers instead. Beta readers can be friends, family, other writers, bloggers, teachers, you name it. They feedback anything that occurs to them so their work straddles both copy editing and proof reading. The huge advantage of this choice is that the writer will receive a variety of perspectives. The disadvantage is that the writer will miss the consistency in improvement that working with one editor will bring, and errors and inconsistencies will persist into the finished product. However, the process is usually a mutual one and the writer will be able to develop within a network of beta readers who increasingly understand one another’s style. I’d suggest that the beta readers aren’t exclusively friends and family, particularly if they are overly critical: in a recent interview, the award winning author Hilary Mantel suggested that the author does need to be able to stay true to their own inner writer’s voice.
So editing your manuscript is essential (and indeed a traditional publisher will expect an indie author to have done this before submitting their work.) There are different ways to do this, too. You have spent many long and lonely hours toiling to produce your novel - it deserves the finishing touches that will propel it to its best possible chance of success.