Here’s the smartest advice I received when working on my first book, although I didn’t believe it at first: no matter how good your writing is, make sure you hire a professional editor. Some of the advice came from folks who are free-lance editors, and I thought they just wanted the business. While I’m a good writer, I fully intended to have several extra pairs of eyes objectively proof my work because you can never have too many proof readers … but a copy editor?
Surprise! Turns out I needed professional editing as much as I needed the proof reading. I counted a total of seven (!) edited, revised manuscripts in my files. Here are three major types of revisions I encountered in the process of working with my editor.
- Revisions that clarified content. While you may be overly familiar with your book’s subject matter (after all, you’re the “expert”), the same may not be true of your audience. The semantics and examples you use may not be clear to those who read your book. That’s why it helps to have an editor review your work – s/he offers an objective perspective on behalf of the reader.
- Revisions that made the content flow better. I was used to speaking and writing about my book’s content in a certain way and developed a pattern on how I introduced the subject matter and supporting evidence. So I was floored when my editor suggested changing the placement of such content. As a result, the rationale for my book’s premise wasn’t all contained in the book’s preface and introduction as I had written it but spaced – more appropriately – throughout the book. Another lesson here: be aware of the difference between the spoken and written word. You may not be able to simply transfer a verbal presentation into a written piece without some adjustment.
- Revisions that painted a stronger picture. My editor prodded me to include more stories based on my experience to better illustrate the book’s core messages and engage readers. She also suggested more dynamic, descriptive language. For example:
- [Original text] “What is truly frightening is that angry customers can turn into crusaders on a mission who use every opportunity to express their dissatisfaction and displeasure to others.”
- [Edited text] “What is truly frightening is that angry customers can turn into crusaders on a mission – vocal, human megaphones who use every opportunity to express their dissatisfaction and displeasure to others.”
Collaborating with my editor was a positive and sometimes painful process. Like most writers, I’m protective of my words. My written work is a creative, unique expression of who I am, and I guard it closely – especially from potential criticism. A good editor, however, is professionally objective in helping an author polish the written word to improve a book’s readability and ultimate message.
I don’t mean to discourage anyone interested in getting published. The reality is your book is not only your product, but a reflection of your professional and personal brand. Do whatever it takes to ensure a quality product and favorable brand impression.