Actually you do, if you’re an author, or plan on becoming one.
Let me tell you a story. Are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin…
Once upon a time a would-be author decided to write a novel. She wrote and wrote and wrote, and after the end of a lot of words she sat back and viewed her full-length manuscript with satisfaction. Believing it done and not in need of any further fiddling, she sent it off to a variety of agents. Then she proceeded to watch the ‘thanks, but no thanks’ letters roll in.
Undeterred, she came across an ebook self-publishing site and thought all her Christmases had come at once. No need to bother with all those query letters and rejections – she could simply upload her manuscript and wait for the reviews.
Only – they they weren't quite what she hoped for. Don’t get me wrong, she had her fair share of good reviews. But there were also a significant amount of reviewers who said they enjoyed the story but it was littered with errors. One kindly reviewer even took the trouble to contact the author privately and list them so the author could remove them.
Okay! It was me! Looking back, I was so naïve and ignorant. Of course I knew what an editor was – he/she was the person who sat behind a desk at a newspaper company and decided what could or couldn’t be printed. I vaguely understood that publishing houses employed editors, but I was self-published so I didn't think I had access to one. And even after I unpublished my novel and paid a professional to edit it, I still didn’t get the full picture. I didn’t realise there are different kinds of editors. Before you employ someone to edit your manuscript, make sure you know what you need and what you are paying for.
There are several types of editors for fiction. The three main ones are:
Developmental/content/structural (they can often go by a variety of names) editors look at plot, sub-plots, plot holes, story development major inconsistencies, character development, pacing, voice, tone and readability. They may well do some research to check any salient facts are correct. In essence, this type of editing looks at your story as a whole and how it hangs together.
Copy editors do not offer suggestions for changing the actual content of your story. For instance, they wouldn’t suggest changing the motive of your villain for murdering one of your main characters. Instead they will look at your story when you are happy that you won’t be making any more major changes. These editors look at clunky sentences, word choices, punctuation, grammar, repetitive wording (I love to use ‘was’ and ‘that’ in my writing), dialogue tags and much more.
Proofreaders are the last stage in the editing process. When they read your manuscript they will be looking for typos, spelling mistakes, missing or incorrect punctuation.
Editing does overlap. Copy editors correct typos and proof readers may well point out a plot hole and I’m not suggesting that self-published authors, most of whom have a limited or almost non-existent budget, must shell out for all three. However, an additional pair of eyes, or four, on your work is essential before you let it loose in the big world. And I don’t mean getting your mum to have a quick scan through it ‘because she reads a lot.’
I joined an online critique group (there are several out there), and this has proved invaluable in everything from pointing out major inconsistencies in my plot, to letting me know a comma is missing. I also have a bank of beta readers who I can call on to give me an honest opinion of my manuscript at whatever stage is it at, and in the early stages I need an alpha reader, rather than a beta.
Here's my earlier post on the difference between the two:
Whatever you decide, don’t do what I did – publish and be damned then regret it later.