In my opinion, editing and proofing a manuscript (MS) are dwarfed in importance by writing a manuscript only because if you don't write a manuscript, you won't have anything to edit. In other words, editing and proofing are IMPORTANT! I think too many authors scrimp in this area.
I read On Writing by Stephen King and something he said about his writing process made such an impression on me that I never forgot it. He said he writes a draft of a story, then puts it in a drawer for a month or two before taking it out and running it through the first edit. Then he puts the edited MS back in the drawer, and a month or two later, he takes it out again for re-edits. He does this so he can read his MS with "fresh eyes." This is important in helping you catch more errors, weak writing, and plot holes.
In the age of e-publishing, it's a bit more challenging to take this kind of time, because readers want more stories, faster. So authors have to crank them out more rapidly than in days gone by. However, authors should still set a MS aside for a few weeks before editing it. It really does help. Having strong beta readers (God love mine) helps overcome this time-constraint issue, as well. Beta readers are the "fresh eyes" that can identify problems in a MS. The challenge is in finding beta readers who won't just say, "I love it." You want beta readers who will give you honest feedback and rip your MS to shreds looking for issues, proverbially speaking.
Okay, so that's the first part of editing and proofing. Here's the other:
Read & edit, re-read & edit some more, re-read again & edit some more, etc.
By the time a book is published, an author should have read it at least five times, preferably more.
Here's my typical writing, editing, and proofing process:
- Write the first draft
- Send to beta readers and let the MS "breathe" (I won't even look at it during this phase)
- First edit (I make massive changes to the MS at this point, taking into consideration beta feedback and my own notes upon my first re-read. I added 30,000 words to Heart of the Warrior during my first edit)
- Send to editor (I may tweak while my editor reviews the MS)
- Second edit (more massive changes are possible here, based on editor feedback and my own notes)
- Let MS "breathe"
- Third edit (significant changes, but not massive)
- Return to editor
- Begin final edit (I begin proofing at this point, but the final edit is primarily for the final changes I want to make to a manuscript)
- Send to proofreader (who happens to also be my editor)
- Final proofread (This is where I address my proofreader's notes and re-read the MS for a fifth or sixth time and refine the MS with tiny tweaks, such as removing or adding a word or phrase here or there, while I proofread).
- Format the MS for publishing
Whew! Yes, I do this for every MS I write. For Rise of the Fallen, I think I read the MS more than ten times before publishing it. And I was still catching errors on the last read-through. For Heart of the Warrior, I'm on my 5th read, I think, and I'm in proofing. Notice that I run a MS through edits 5 times (I count proofing as an edit since I still make tweaks to the MS at that stage).
I have read so many self-published books that were riddled with errors in spelling, punctuation, and grammar, and when I see that I know the author either didn't edit or didn't edit enough. And that's a shame, because even a great story can't overcome sloppy mistakes that could have been fixed if a little time had been taken up front. When I see a ton of errors in a book, it unfortunately tells me that the author falls into one of the following categories: 1) Doesn't care; 2) Doesn't know and doesn't care enough to find out; 3) Only wants to make a buck without giving readers a quality product; 4) Is sloppy.
Now, some authors might get shitty with me for saying that, but when I'm reading, I'm not a writer, I'm a customer. And if I read a book full of errors, I won't buy another book from that author. And I'm not the only reader who feels that way, so take that for what it is. I mean, you wouldn't continue buying clothes from a designer when you bought one of their shirts and the sleeve fell off, or a brand of crackers you found bugs crawling in once. And remember the Tylenol scare? Another example: RCA used to be the epitome of home entertainment products. But they decided to cut corners and make "cheap" products (I know, I worked for them for a while), and now RCA is basically nonexistent. People stopped buying their products because it was obvious they were cheaply made and didn't work, and they ended up closing down several facilities and laying off thousands of workers. People don't buy services or products that are shoddy or that they perceive as shoddy. Books are no different, and just as consumers associate the once prolific RCA with the word "crap" now, they will associate a shoddy book with its author. They won't care if the bad book was a fluke, or that the author was under duress. They will only see "bad" in their mind and that author will be forever tainted. It's the reality, so please don't shoot the messenger.
Also, notice that I'm saying "full of errors." All books have errors in them. It's the nature of the beast. I'm not talking about books that have a few errors every 100 pages. I'm talking about books that have a few errors on EVERY page. And, yes, I've read books like that and wanted to throw my Kindle against the wall.
And on that subject, if a book's blurb contains errors, I won't even buy it. I read a blurb for a book this week like that. I was seriously considering buying the book, but upon reading the 2-paragraph blurb and seeing three glaring errors, I pulled back from hitting the buy button.
So, yes, editing and proofing are UBER-IMPORTANT!!! A well-edited book and blurb can make the difference between making future sales and losing your readership.
As a writer, I take how I feel when I'm reading and I apply it to my own stories. Seeing errors in others' work influences me to buy or not buy their future books, so I want to make sure my MSs are publishing as impeccably as I can make them. Editing and proofing are not areas of the writing process authors can afford to scrimp on.
Happy writing for happy reading!