At the bottom of this post is a list of recent articles on the importance of editing. Anyone wishing to skip over the author's opinion on the matter may scroll down to the list.
The Part About Assumptions
Many writers assume that when a publisher buys their book, they'll receive world-class editing to whip their work into world-class shape. And to be fair, that sometimes still happens, even in these disrupted times. But that assumption doesn't take into account the fact that most writers won't sell their manuscripts in the first place. The vast majority will never acquire representation, and the vast majority of those who do won't find a publisher. That much hasn't changed since "The Golden Age of Big Publishing." What has changed is the number of contracts being offered to new writers. That number has shrunk.
Of those writers who continue to beat their heads against that wall, some will be chosen (passive voice deliberate). They are most likely to be chosen if their book is already a) really, really good, and/or b) really well-suited to one or another publishing sub-genre. And even really, really good books go begging. Some fall prey to the exigencies of the market, others to the whims of narrowing editorial tastes (as agent Jenny Bent reveals here). Of those who are not chosen, some will give up, some will continue to fill drawers with "failed" manuscripts, and some will publish their books themselves.
The chosen ones will face smaller advances, increasingly predatory agency and publishing contracts, shrinking shelf space, nearly or entirely absent marketing and promotion, and publishers who will overprice the electronic edition, scaring away potential readers. And guess what? They may or may not get the stellar editing they were hoping for.
The Part About Editing, and the Part About Self-Publishing
Whether you're publishing your own book or looking for a traditional publisher to shepherd it, editing can make or break it. As a traditionally published author you won't have a choice of editors, but you also won't have to pay directly for editing. You will pay in the amount of cover price your publishing company makes vs. your very small advance and your very small royalties.
Here at the Occupy Publishing camp (on the Internet, no-one can see your tents), we've noticed a double standard where indifferent editing is concerned. Readers who might not notice or care overmuch about a few typos in a Big 6 book are excoriating indie authors for minor errors. And it has to be said that not all the errors they find are minor; far too many self-published books hit the virtual shelves in dire need of proofreading, formatting, and editing.
If you decide to publish your own book, you face doing for yourself or hiring done everything a publisher would have done for you (including the things you dreamed a publisher would do for you, but which they very likely would not have done). Among those is engaging the services of an editor—possibly the same freelancer your publisher would have hired.This is tricky territory to negotiate. The Internet woods are full of editors, and not all of them are good. Not all of the good ones are suited to what you write. I gave birth to mine, and I highly recommend her editing talents, but let's face it, most writers are not going to go to that kind of trouble.
As a self-published author, you can shop for editors, but you will pay professional rates for their work. You can rely on friends to be alpha- and beta-readers, and that may be helpful, but you'll be fortunate indeed to get first-class editing out of them. If you know an editor well enough, you can negotiate rates and/or barter for services. You can learn to self-edit, which won't obviate the need for an outside editor, but will ensure she has less to do, and gets less of your money.
Here's a smattering of recent intertubes activity on the subject of editing, presented for your education and entertainment. I hope they'll help you make an informed choice about the editing for your books. Please note that there are articles listed below that are not in the original Occupy Publishing post.
The multi-talented Marti McKenna tells you when it's time to Let the Writer Write
Chris Robley, writing on BookBaby, tells you How to Edit While you Write
Guy reveals The Evil Secret to All Writing: Editing is Everything
Karin Cox, guesting on David Gaughran's Let's Get Digital, offers up Self-Editing: Back to Basics, Part I
Self-Publishing Review tells you Where to Find an Editor for a Self-Published Book
Phil Athans says Self-Published E-Books Are Losing Readers Due To Bad Editing
And less recent, but no less valuable, a couple of archived articles from the excellent Alan Rinzler:
Fear of Editors
When Do You Need an Editor?
What did I miss? Please comment if you've found other good articles on editing, or books you've found helpful.
And here's an article I wrote for my editing clients on self-editing, soon to be part of a book. I hope you enjoy it.