Authors published by traditional publishers counted on and received quality editing before their manuscript went to press. A self publishing author must make sure that his book receives no less professional attention before publishing it.
Harriet Evans, author of the novel Love Always, said recently in a piece in The Guardian, “It is vital that an author has someone willing to be tough with them. It's in their best interests.”
Why? One way to answer the question is to look at what one of the greatest contemporary editors, Robert Gottlieb, said about the author editor relationship Gottlieb X, discovered Joseph Heller and Catch 22, and edited Toni Morrison, Ray Bradbury, Salman Rushdie, Janet Malcolm, John Cheever, V.S. Naipaul, Nora Ephron and the historian Robert A. Caro, along with many, many more. He has also edited celebrities from Bill Clinton to Lauren Bacall, Sidney Poitier, John Lennon and Bob Dylan. Here’s what Gottlieb had to say about the editor’s role in a recent Salon Interview :
Sometimes, if you’re lucky, a manuscript is perfect; you don’t have to do anything except say, “Great, well done!” and send it on its way. Sometimes, the problems are cosmetic, and you just have to be careful and point out where the language goes wrong and where there’s a contradiction or repetition — as I say, surface things. But sometimes the problems are structural, and the book just isn’t making sense as written. Then one has to sit with the writer and try to figure out how to make it cohere.
And then there are times when it’s just a matter of too much, and you have to convince the writer where it’s too much and why it’s too much — perhaps because there’s an imbalance. Often, it’s a question of the beginning and the end. Sometimes a book starts awkwardly. The writer hasn’t revved up and it’s stilted. You have to say, “You know, drop the first two paragraphs and you’re fine.”
How important can that kind of guidance be for a writer?
Evans asked, “Who knows whether Gone With the Wind would have been as successful had it been called, as it originally was, Pansy, after its eponymous heroine, Pansy O'Hara, before Margaret Mitchell's editor at Macmillan persuaded her to change the name to Scarlett?”