There’s Editing…And Then There’s Editing

By Amy K. Nichols

This week at The Parking Lot Confessional we’re taking on that hot potato topic. You know the one.



Like the rest of you, I’ve been trying to keep up with all of the changes in the publishing industry. It’s enough to make you dizzy: ebooks and indies and models and pricing and markets and Big Six and Lulu and on and on and on.

If there’s one thing I’m holding onto in the midst of it all, it’s this:

People want to read good books.


Writers need to write good books.

I know, it’s not rocket science. But this is where things get sticky.

We writers love what we write. We coddle our novels and purr over them and think they’re oh-so-precious. We show them off to our writers groups, confident they’ll see our brilliance; but always ready with an explanation if they say that one part doesn’t quite work or a justification if they object to our using that worn-out stereotype.

If we’re really gutsy, we’ve found a couple of trusted readers who will be brutal with our work. Readers who will tell us our babies are ugly. Readers who will point out that our darling has three mouths and a foot growing out of the top of its head and that dressing it up in a pink tutu isn’t helping.

Regardless if we send our precious off to be traditionally published, or if we get accepted by an independent press or if we create our own publishing company and print our own book, one thing remains true:

Our work must be edited.

Must. As in, not optional.

What a lot of people don’t understand is there are (at least) two kinds of editing:

  • Line editing
  • Content editing

Line editing looks like this:

Wendy ran into the lake until the water reached her waste waist.

Content editing looks something like this:

Wendy watched him pull out of the driveway, still feeling his kiss on her lips. She let the sensation linger, knowing she’d never feel his kiss again. She went to the kitchen and made herself a cup of tea. [Why did she let him leave? She made a cup of tea? That’s it? This is completely out of her character and not believable.]

Most people know how to line edit. Not everyone knows how to edit content.

Enter the professional editor.

When you work with a professional, she’ll not only catch your word mishaps (waste vs. waist), she’ll also catch your content mishaps. The holes in your plot. The wobble in your pacing. The inconsistencies in your narrative voice.

You need an experienced and impartial third-party to punch holes in your book and see if it still floats. Again, not optional…unless you want your book to sink (stink?).

Back to self-publishing.

Every self-published book I’ve read — with the exception of one — lacked good content editing. I’m not talking typos here. I’m talking confusing jumps in the narrative, unbelievable plot contrivances, inconsistent narrative voice, flat characters. Things that should have been weeded out in rewrites.

Why would anyone publish a book with such obvious mistakes? My guess is authors A) think they can edit their own work, B) don’t want to pay editing fees, or C) both.

If I have one thing to say about self-publishing, it’s this:

If you want your book to be good, don’t edit it yourself.

We love our babies. We don’t see their flaws. We know our stories too well and we fill in gaps without realizing it.

Hire a professional editor.

Not a member of your writing group. Not your cousin (unless he’s a seasoned pro). Hire a professional who is unfamiliar with your work and will read it with objective eyes.

OK, I take it back. I have two things to say about self-publishing. The second is this:

Trust your editor.

I once edited a book for a self-publishing author. The book was nowhere near ready for publication when I started editing it. The author and I had worked through three drafts when she announced the book was to be published the following Tuesday. Zoinks?! This was news to me. The work still wasn’t ready and I told her so. She said we were done editing and sent it off to be printed.

She should have listened to me. It wasn’t ready.

People want to read good books. If your book is confusing or wobbly or inconsistent or just poorly written, your readers are going to notice. They’re going to put your book down and read something else.

Why squander your work? Hire an editor. If she says the book isn’t ready, the book isn’t ready. Keep working on it. Make it the best book it can be.

There is only goodness to be gained from patient and thorough editing.