Not Seeing It: Editing and the Solo Author

There’s a steady back and forth about authors and editors, specifically over do all authors need all editors. Setting aside series editors and acquisitions editors, the debate focuses on the value of style/content editors and copy editors. One of the arguments for publishing with a “real” publisher, such as “Random Penguin House” or “Simeon and Shooter” is that they provide vital editorial services, and without their polishing and improvements, what authors turn out is rough on the edges at best and an unreadable mess at worst.

Some independent authors maintain that editors are unnecessary. You can have alpha and beta readers to help smooth and improve the story and to spot egregious continuity or plot errors (the “wait, four pages ago he had curly black hair and now he’s a blond?” or “In the last book you said this guy was born in 1943, so why’s he retiring at age 65 in 1977?” or “How did the hero get on the train? You left him in Shallowater, at the bar, and suddenly he’s on the train two states away?” [almost an entire chapter went astray after a formatting burp]). And alpha and beta readers tend to flag the worst and/or funniest typos. So, according to this school of thought, editors are not really necessary.

I tend to fall on the “need some sort of editor” side of the discussion. I need a copy editor. I know from painful experience that I cannot see errors on a screen. And sometimes I’ve seen something wrong for so long that my brain corrects it, even though my hands have not. I tend to get light style editing as well, to improve the flow and pacing of the text.

The problem lies in my nonfiction work. I’ll spare you the gory details, but I’m up to my elbows in the 5th rewrite of a major non-fiction piece. It has reached the point where I can no longer see what is not working. I just can’t—I’ve been pounding at this thing for so long that I’ve become blind to the problems. So the editor recommended bringing in an outside specialist.

Now, this is different from what gets done to my fiction work, because we’re taking a pretty technical piece of engineering and climatology and trying to turn it into a more popular, general work, without losing the information included. Yup, major rewrites, lopping out chunks of data and turning them into appendices and tables at the back, changing the format of the references, all that “fun” stuff.  That sort of editing costs serious $$, as you can imagine.

Part of me is fighting this tooth and claw, both from pride and because of the $$ involved. Part of me is morbidly curious to see what remains of my writing after a specialist gets through with it.