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Why Use A Copyeditor?

by Theodora Bryant

New authors believe, for the most part, that spending money for an independent editor is like throwing their money away. I believe that if you don't have your work edited before submitting it to a publisher or agent, you're throwing away your time, your talent, and probably your chance at being published.

As a publisher, I received hundreds upon hundreds of query letters and manuscripts every year--and this to a house that only published ten titles a year! We probably held 200 manuscripts on our to-be-read shelves at any given time, and of those we felt ourselves fortunate to find two or three that were gems worth our time and money to bring out. And the common-denominator in all of the gems was that they were written well. The grammar, punctuation, spelling, capitalization and format were correct. The stories themselves might have had giant holes and would fall apart from poor foreshadowing or illogic, but time and again we'd contract these works because we could sort out the problems and see the story as a whole because we weren't continually stopped, annoyed and frustrated by the simple problem of poor mechanics.

Even seasoned, published authors need a copyeditor/substantive editor. I recently read a book by a very well-known, award-winning mystery author. I was horrified by the mistakes in this work-misspellings: "inocent" and "unoticed" for example; lack of punctuation throughout: "Besides he should have known .," for example; dropped words; and sentences that were so tangled in syntax they were almost unreadable. The worst mistake, though, came with a lost plot thread: the heroine had been dunked into the sea and her briefcase and purse lost to the depths. Several chapters and harrowing adventures later she'd been rescued, had gotten clean clothes from the Navy, and her personal items returned, which included a wallet with her identification. What? If I was horrified I can but imagine how the author must have felt. Yes, he'd made the mistakes originally, but an editor should have caught them.

No, it's not cheap, but if you plan to make writing your career I strongly suggest that you don't shortchange yourself by skipping the editing process. By working with an editor you'll learn if you're open to suggestions (and you better be because every interested agent will have suggestions for change). If you are, the editing process will also become a learning process, helping you perfect your craft. In the end, editing increases the chance that an acquisitions editor or agent will actually read your manuscript.