So you’re done writing a piece. What next? Have you edited yet?
That’s the first step, and it’s a step that will be repeated as your own edits and the suggestions of professional editors or test readers begin to reshape the text. Editors will help you look at content AND the technical side of writing. Hiring a professional is a great second step in moving toward publication. Notice I say second step. This is because you should be editing your own work at least twice before paying anyone else to do it. You will spend a lot of money on an editor if she or he is paid to scrutinize a novel that is still at a first draft stage. There will be many flaws pointed out, and the story will not be publication ready when you get it back from the editor. That editor will need to read it again after you have fixed the issues mentioned.
If your novel is at that point where the content doesn’t need scrutinizing, a proofreader is the appropriate professional to seek. Proofreaders will find the mechanical and technical flaws without trying to do anything to the story or characters you’ve so clearly fleshed out–that’s for the developmental and line editors to worry with, and you’re past that stage.
With any hired writing service, you don’t HAVE to take the advice given, and you are not required to change something in your writing if the suggestions for improving it don’t fit with your purposeful intentions (and by purposeful, I mean YOU did it on purpose and IT has a purpose for being that way, that an end-goal will be reached because of that choice). However, we are paid to look for inconsistencies, errors, and inadequacies, so if a problem is found, chances are your purposeful choice did not convey as such. A purposeful choice to style your writing in one way is different than a blatant mistake, even if it does go against the grammar norm, but it should be written clearly enough to appear deliberate. If you can justify your choice to break the prescriptive rules of how writing “should be,” then that’s the first step in purposeful writing. The next step is clarity. This is because clear writing doesn’t need justification from its author. It is obvious. Editors and proofreaders get to ask the author why something was written in a certain way. Readers of the final publication usually don’t get to talk to the author. Your text IS your chance to make your meaning and reasoning clear. In writing, the author has a one-sided conversation with the reader where all information is given up front; the author must anticipate the opposition and the skeptics to ensure that any weak point that might cause a gap in understanding is patched up preemptively. This includes verifying that all purposeful rule-breaking actually seems purposeful (in both senses as discussed earlier).
Is it time to submit for publication yet? Maybe so. Whether you’ve hired one editor or five, please keep in mind that a publishing company will assign its own editor to your story if/when the manuscript is accepted. Getting it in tip top shape before submitting is the best idea. You want to be taken seriously. However, there needs to be a place in your process where you say, “This is good enough for now.” (Read the article at the link for more on this.) See what the publishers actually say before trying to change parts you still doubt, and see what they say rather than assuming you know what they want out of your genre in the first place. Most authors get many rejections, which are basically free critiques on how to get better. So, maybe before you spend any more money on editors and proofers, try submitting to a few places and see what they say. Then adjust the manuscript accordingly.
Most importantly, though, remember that it is YOUR text (at least until it is accepted and rights are purchased by a publishing company), and you’re never going to have a hired panel of professional problem-finders that 100% agree with the way you wrote something in its original form. Professional editors and proofreaders are all writers first, even if our careers are to help others with their writing. It’s likely you’ll find 100+ ways to say the same thing if you continue to seek out other writers’ opinions because writing is based on the individual’s aesthetic. But opinions have no power unless you adopt them as your own.
In a nutshell–There are artful ways to break the rules, and you ultimately have to go with your gut and your authentic intentions. If your intentions can’t co-exist with the recommended edits, make sure they are justifiable choices. If you can’t find a reason why you did something in a certain way, it’s probably better to change it. If there’s a purpose, a reasonable explanation for breaking the rules, you’re probably safe. But remember, clear and precise writing, even when it breaks conventional rules, should not need explaining. Your choices need to appear as choices and not mistakes, so make sure the unique “rule-breaking” areas are carefully crafted.
Editor, Proofreader, Red Ink Enthusiast™