Amber Skye Forbes

Writing Words With the Tips of My Toes

The Importance of Learning How to Self-Edit

I’m not going to claim to be an expert self-editor. All I know is that I did a really good job at content editing part of my book and the synopsis, and all I had was one beta reader (I seriously took a huge leap of faith going for AEC Stellar, didn’t I?). I also want to mention that when I refer to self-editing, I am referring to being able to edit your own content so that way all you need afterward is beta readers that you do not have to go back to fifteen million times, or a freelance editor you don’t have to keep paying thousands of dollars for.

Beta readers can become time consuming, especially if you have your manuscript out to several of them at once and they all have entire tomes of flaws pointed out to you. Then you have to fix it and re-send it to them again, where they whittle their complaints down to entire notebook-fulls; then you have to send out again, then again. Granted, this process probably only applies to beginning writers, but that is why I stressed the importance of freelance editors in a previous post of mine. You want to learn from them once (or twice) so you don’t have to keep going back to them or your beta readers. But if you have to keep going back to your beta readers for the content of your story before even getting to the nitty gritty sentence structure, then you’re not learning what you should be learning and finishing that manuscript is going to become ridiculously time consuming.

Freelance editors can be ridiculously expensive. Some charge $4 a page for one service and $6 a page for another, so that’s thousands of dollars right there. There are ones who are cheaper, but you often want those ones recommended to you. Granted, they are worth it the first time and some offer to read it again for half off or free of charge, but if you haven’t learned from them and have to keep going back for every book you write, you’re wasting money. You only want to have to pay them for your first book and first book only–if your beta readers aren’t sufficient enough, that is. A good freelance editor will function as a teacher to teach you how to self-edit so that you can bring yourself to the point where you only need beta readers to wipe away excess dirt instead of them having constantly point out major flaws in your writing that will take whole re-writes to fix.

Never undermine the importance of being able to edit the major stuff yourself: plot holes that take entire re-writes to fix, being able to edit the pacing of the book yourself, character development, plot and sub-plot development, making sure something develops in every chapter, being able to know what your gut is telling you when something is wrong. These are things that you want to learn how to self-edit on your own that way when you get to beta readers you find your novel doesn’t need an entire overhaul to fix what they point out. Or so you’re not spending monstrous amounts of money on a freelance editor.

But how do you know that you’ve learned to self-edit? If your beta readers, assuming you have good ones, aren’t tearing your next manuscript apart. Or the freelance editor you decided to hire for your next book isn’t charging you so much because said editor discovered it doesn’t need as much work as your previous one. Or if your gut isn’t sending you alarm bells. For some, self-editing is a gift, and for others it is an acquired skill through experience. The point being is that you want to eventually bring yourself to the point where you are a strong self-editor not having to heavily rely on beta readers or freelance editors–as Georgia McBride taught me.

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12 comments on “The Importance of Learning How to Self-Edit

  1. Charles Yallowitz
    May 3, 2013

    I’m still learning this. I can’t afford a freelance editor, so I’ve been struggling to do it myself and with beta readers. Would you say a freelance editor is 100% necessary or can a beginning author get away with self-editing and beta readers for the first book? I’ve spent over 10 years editing and testing out my first book without a freelance editor, but I’m still told it’s necessary for success.

    • amberskyef
      May 3, 2013

      I don’t think it always has to be necessary, but I know if I didn’t have one (and she did it for free) I’d still be struggling because I was never lucky with beta readers. I know people who stumble across beta readers who have a natural gift for editing but aren’t freelance editors. I was never the one to stumble across one. You can find ones who charge only a dollar a page. I found one willing to give me a discount for .75 cents a page, but she was recommended, so the cheaper ones I wouldn’t jump for unless recommended. Some charge more because it is their full-time job and some don’t charge as much because it’s only part-time for them. I think it depends on what your gut is telling you. If your first book is still struggling with beta readers, then it wouldn’t hurt to have even just one chapter looked at by a freelance editor (because if you allow yourself to learn really well from this one chapter, you would be amazed at what you could do with the rest of the book).

      • Charles Yallowitz
        May 3, 2013

        Well, the first book is already out, so I technically got beta readers that way. Prior to that I had a lot of people read it over. One went through with a fine tooth comb for grammar, spelling, and continuity. The others were varying degrees of helpful. I’ve noticed that a lot of non-official editors either adore the book to be nice or rip it to shreds to do the ‘tough love’ thing. I ended up reading books and analyzing other authors styles to help with a few problems. Every freelance editor that’s been recommended to me would cost part of my son’s college fund. It isn’t a perfect answer, but self-publishing on Amazon allows you to upload revised versions if you get told about a lot of typos and errors.

  2. amberskyef
    May 3, 2013

    Hey, if that worked for you, keep doing it. My writing was great, but my storytelling really needed help, which was where my freelance editor stepped in. My beta readers could not do what she did. They merely told me how I could fix the chapter already written. They never gave me suggestions to make a brand new chapter that could be much stronger. So when that first chapter got edited, I got it right in one re-write, and that is when I really began to learn how to self-edit.

  3. nikkibausch
    May 3, 2013

    Well, I decided to get a professional/creative writing certificate for this reason. In the writing certificate program at my university, you can choose to focus on editing and career-centered writing. I haven’t finished the program yet, but ever since starting it last year, I’ve found it a lot easier to notice mistakes and self-edit my own work. I’ve never approached a freelance editor, to be honest. I’d consider working as a freelance editor as a career one day–to throw on top my other freelance activities (modeling, translating, travel writing), but I feel like I would need to wait until after I’ve actually published something in a literary journal of merit or even sold a book. I feel like it would be important to look for an editor for your work who has at least been published or has a lot of experience working for major publishers or literary magazines though, because there are plenty of people out there who can say they are professional editors and charge you a ridiculous amount, but if they have little or no experience actually selling their writing, then what good would it do for your work?

    • amberskyef
      May 3, 2013

      I am a freelance editor myself, but I am recommended to others. While I haven’t sold my work prior to being contracted with AEC, I did lots of editorial type internships, my biggest being an intern for Georgia McBride. My first client actually received a recommendation from her. I don’t look to see if they’re writers or not. Just because you’re a great writer doesn’t mean you’ll be a great editor, and vice-versa, so I look for editing experience and where you got that from. I don’t care if your a bestseller. If I don’t see that you’ve done some editing prior to your business, I’m not going to go with you until I get some creds.

      • nikkibausch
        May 3, 2013

        I listed off a potential freelance editor having worked for a literary magazine or publisher as well. At least, in my opinion, I would want someone with experience, especially if they are charging $6 per page.

      • amberskyef
        May 3, 2013

        Oh, yeah. I’d also want one who doesn’t want the entire payment upfront. I found one who charged a dollar per page and she was excellent at copy editing, but she was also an intern for the same person I interned for.

      • nikkibausch
        May 3, 2013

        I still don’t know if I will hire an editor in the future for my current book though, since I am technically work-shopping it in the creative writing courses for my certificate program. It’s a seems a little unnecessary when I already have an editor for a local lit. mag, an established author, and 20 people reading it and pointing out what needs to be changed and what should stay.

      • amberskyef
        May 3, 2013

        In that case, you might not even need one. I’m not a creative writing major and don’t want to be one (for reasons I’ll explain in a later post), so I only have myself, my publishing team, and a few select readers to rely on.

      • nikkibausch
        May 3, 2013

        I’m not a creative writing major either. Half of the “hipster” type girls I went to high school with decided they would go to a rather expensive private university and major in Creative writing and only that. Well, they did that and now they are all waiting tables and working at Starbucks. I envisioned that particular thing happening to myself, so I didn’t major in Creative Writing and I didn’t go to a private university. I went to a state university with a smaller price tag, intending to major in nursing and minor in psychology, get some working experience, and then go back and work my way to nurse practitioner with a second master’s in psychology so I could do counseling and women’s health related work. But I realized early on the nursing field wasn’t for me, and so I switched my major to German (which I had prior knowledge of) and now I am living in Europe. I’m just doing either a professional writing or creative writing certificate–whichever happens to work out the best with the classes I’m taking/what is available for me to take, since because of my major I’ve had to spend a lot of my university career abroad in Europe and the appropriate writing certificate courses are not always available.

  4. Pingback: Editing the Story | The Claire Violet Thorpe Express

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