I’ve been on the record forever as stating that a book must have a professional editor. As my friends have said all week, the author is too close to the story to catch everything that might need revision, or to think of some cool twist that resolves a plot issue or even to see a plot issue sometimes. I absolutely will not release a book that hasn't been through both my developmental editor (our primary topic here) and a professional copy editor. I hire my developmental editor to review my novellas and short stories for anthologies as well.
And the editor does need to be a professional, not just someone who likes to read books or who is good at grammar. Ask those people to be beta readers perhaps. Your editor should understand your genre and the tropes and traditions of that genre. Even if you’re writing something you think is genre-busting, it helps to have a second, knowledgeable eye. Also, you may have fallen into a few lazy writing habits that the editor can check you on. Sometimes if you read enough books by an author you come to know all their heroines will be named Mary and have red hair. Or that there’ll be certain lines that get used verbatim in every book, for example.
I learn from my developmental editor’s comments and now avoid some mistakes I used to make every time, although I suspect I’m probably developing new ones. I had a bad habit of kind of skipping over parts I wasn’t too interested in writing (to get to other parts I was very excited about writing) – in Mission to Mahjundar there’s a dramatic escape across a raging river, which takes up almost an entire chapter in the finished book. It was one sentence in the manuscript. “They crossed the river and rode on.” My editor very properly gave me a hard time over that and basically demanded I flesh that episode out, which I did. In two of my ancient Egyptian novels, the early drafts pretty much said “they sailed up (or down) the Nile for two weeks” at a certain point in the narrative. What is it with me and rivers??? At any rate, the editor refused to settle for that and gave me suggestions, which I then enlarged upon and ended up writing quite a bit of hopefully interesting plot that shed more light on the characters and their motivations. In Warrior of the Nile her ideas really upped the stakes and the tension.
Nowadays I catch myself when I realize I’m about to skip writing some portion of the story and I go back and ask my Muse what I could add to the tale at this point.
The other thing which is also a joke between me and my editor is what we call “slime trails.” In an early draft of Escape From Zulaire I wrote this really cool, shape shifting alien and then in what I thought was a further amazing burst of late night creativity, I had it leave a slime trail when it moved. Uh duh, if the alien has shifted into the shape of a human for example, won’t the other humans in the vicinity think it a mite odd (and disgusting) that ‘Sam’ leaves a slime trail LOL? I did a similar thing in another story idea that hasn’t been written yet where it was tactfully pointed out to me that if I included cool plot point X, I’d be undoing the entire established history of my worldbuilding. This is why I don’t write time travel.
I think some authors have the mistaken thought that if they have an editor, then they must follow that person’s inputs blindly, that it isn’t entirely their own book any more…maybe that’s how it was in trad pub. I can’t say because I never was traditionally published. My two books with Carina Press were the closest I came and I loved my editor there. She gave me great feedback but – leading to my key point here – I did not accept everything she suggested. A few things I felt were ‘wrong’ for what I wanted with the book and a couple of others I said, “Oh, okay, not exactly this but maybe I can do that instead,” and we were both satisfied.
On Star Survivor my editor felt I could cut out a couple of scenes with Nick and Mara (the lead characters in the first book, Wreck of the Nebula Dream) but my instinct was that my readers had been waiting about five years for this book and would feel cheated if they didn’t get to spend some meaningful time with the couple, even though this book focuses on Khevan the assassin and Twilka the interstellar celebrity. So I left both sections the editor suggested trimming and I have had reader feedback and reviews about enjoying the chance to catch up with Nick and Mara, and see them in action. I think she was probably correct about the scenes not being absolutely necessary to the plot but I stand by my final judgment that they were necessary to fully satisfying the readers.
It’s always going to be your book, you call the shots as an independently published author, but you want to present your readers with the best story possible. A strong, professional editor can and will help you polish that diamond to its brightest sheen.
(Award winning Escape From Zulaire is free by the way, if you want to see what happened to that alien and its slime trail.)