Tip of The Day #15: Authors, don't ask your friends to grow up to be editors.
With the advent of self publishing, many authors ask the question, "Why pay an editor when I have trusty friends who can do my editing?" This question is best answered with a true story. This is the story of the Friend Among Friends.
I once had a friend who was very literate and a talented storyteller. Her life's dream was to write a novel and have her work published. Encouraged by our book review group to follow her dream, she wrote a story and distributed the manuscript among us. She asked that each of us make comments and share our opinions before she submitted her work to a publisher.
Several months later she and I were having a companionable lunch when I asked how her book was progressing. She looked at me and said, "Of all the people who have read my manuscript, you were the only one who made corrections or gave me any critical advice to improve it. Thank you."
I was stunned and puzzled. Among our friends were several who had been college professors. All considered themselves very well read and literate. I sincerely believed I was the least qualified in our group to offer editorial advice, but she had asked, so I'd done it. I was the only friend among a sea of friends who was willing to criticize one of our own.
So...who among you is willing to risk a friendship at the expense of honest criticism? Fewer than you would think. Friends, and women friends in particular, are most apt to encourage and offer praise than suggest improvement. No one wants to hurt their friends' feelings by being too critical.
There's also the question of whether your friends have an analytic personality or not. It takes someone with an analytic viewpoint to determine why a plot is weak or what is lacking in a character's development. Of all the women in our book review group, I was the only one with a degree in diagnostic science. My aptitude was much more in the verbal spectrum, but for reasons unrelated to this post, I majored in math and science. Per my college education, I developed an analytic approach to life.
An editor who charges for her services is more interested in helping you produce your very best work than protecting a friendship. After all, if she does a poor job of editing, she will soon be out of business. Chemistry between an author and his or her editor is important. The business aspect of the relationship comes first, however.
All of the "big houses" in the publishing world are chock full of editors. It is a foregone conclusion that a manuscript accepted by a publishing house will be edited by a person the author has never met. Why should self publishing and independent publishing be any different?
Before asking a friend or relative to edit your book ask yourself, "What is my motivation?" If your motivation is simply to tell a story and have others read it, that's fine. Be aware, however, that readers and reviewers are ruthless. They do not accept grammatical mistakes, errors in syntax, or a rambling plot. They will happily vilify you in public forums, give you less than perfect reviews, and destroy your carefully constructed characters whom they consider to be poorly developed. Self editing and friendship editing is not for the faint of heart.
If your motivation is to write a great book that is worthy of being entered into competition and will be read for years, hire an editor. he or she will analyze your manuscript for flaws in plot, character development, word echos, and finally, grammar. The best editors are born, not made. They have a natural eye for what works and what doesn't. They are not necessarily writers, because writing is a different skill set entirely.
Let your friends be friends. When they edit your book and it gets panned for poor grammar or sentence structure, they are hurt as much as you are. Don't ask them to stick their neck out for you. You can always pay an editor to go to the chopping block.
And don't even get me started on editing software...