Never had that been more evident than a few weeks ago when a relative presented me with a book. It was a self published book about life in my home village a generation ago. With so few books about my island, much less the quarter square mile area where I grew up, anything written on that topic is of great interest to me. The story told of many of the characters that I had heard about as a child. It spoke of the culture and mindset of the people of that generation, and of course gave little anecdotes about life in the area and how it has since changed. I began reading with gusto, but my enthusiasm soon fizzled.Why did my interest wane? The writing. I know the author and I know that he is a decent writer. But that book could have benefited greatly from some serious editing, preferably by someone who was not intimately familiar with the life, the culture and the characters described in the book. The author constantly mentions characters that have no meaning to the readers unless they knew the characters personally or their legends and legacy survived them. Most of all, he didn't give the readers a reason to care about any of the characters.
While grammatical errors were not an issue, the book lacked flow, proper syntax, and organization. The story was all over the place: one topic now, a detailed digression, and sometimes the same topic or a loosely related one revisited. It immediately threw me out of the story.
That reading experience caused me to look back at my first published book and compare it to the drafts I still have on file. I read the finished product and could hardly believe it was the same book. I had already gone through at least ten drafts from initial writing to submission. After it got into the hands of the editor, it was gutted and chopped, filed and molded, whittled and polished into something publishable. In the original, I had at least ten chapters detailing a love affair that resulted in the heroine being left at the altar. In the finished book, the story began with the heroine being left at the altar. Characters that did not advance the story were removed, no matter how colorful, and scenes that enhanced the story were added. The result: a professionally pruned bit of artwork.
There was one point where I wrote a scene in a science lab. The editor called me and said, “I can tell you are a scientist by profession. Most people won’t understand anything in that scene.” True enough after I looked at it through the eyes of a lay person, I realized that scene was riddled with jargon. I was too familiar with that setting to see it. The same thing happens when I have my daughter read over my children’s science adventure manuscripts. Her comment is always, “too much science and not enough fun.” So I just let her rewrite the scenes, bad spelling and all… (that’s what spell check is for).
The point I’m trying to make with my long preamble, is that good editing makes a good book. This is even more important now that we can publish books with the click of a mouse. So my advice to anyone attempting to publish: get a professional editor.