Do I Need an Editor? (A Gollum Conversation)

Gollum writing self publishing editorThe Short Version?


The Longer Version?

Competition is fierce for people’s attention today. Most of my friend’s reading habits extend as far as reading the back of a cereal packet, or scrolling through Buzzfeed articles on their phone.

Click-bait links. Updated Social Streams. Phone Apps. 

This has brought with it, a flood of information which the dear reader needs to wade through. Our age of Social Media and Quick Fix, means that you don’t have much time to make that killer first impression; to sink your teeth into that reader with your compelling content.

Those who do still take the time to read, have never had greater access to books than they do right now – both digital and print. Because of smart phones and tablet technology, we can now read whatever we want, wherever we want, whenever we want.

The great thing about self-publishing is that it has given a platform for people to find their target audience, in spite of their book being rejected for being too niche/saturated/or not sexy enough.

The Good News is that Cream (usually) rises to the top.
The Bad News is, so does Shit.

Low barriers to entry mean that not only are you competing with money-backed, traditionally published books for that readers eyes, but also other self-published titles.

A good proportion of the latter stink. I know. I’ve read many of them.

Because of this fact, many self-published good books are tarred with the same brush in the minds of readers. Mistakenly considered to be similarly poorly edited, lacking structure, badly plotted with characters so thin you could fold them into a paper airplane.

Editing is tough love. REALLY brutal honesty that your Daddy should have given you when you were growing up.

I don’t believe writers are born. It’s like any profession and probably speaks to Gladwell’s Outliers Rule of 10,000 Hours of Practice – the minimum commitment it takes to master a specific discipline. This could be applied to learning a language, craft or other skill set.

I have a degree in Accounting and Finance. I was the most introverted, meek wallflower ever when I graduated. My first job was in a call centre. Cut throat, high targets, major stress with hungry, silver tongued salesmen and women who bled confidence.

I was made redundant for poor performance after only three months. What’s this got to do with self-publishing Aidan?

Fact is, after that rejection, I went back to the drawing board and worked on my weaknesses. I found another sales job (the only thing available for a Uni graduate in those days), and managed to imitate the best sales people, before adopting my own style, which (ten years later) has made me 10x better at a job which many people would have said I wasn’t fit for.

Applied to writing, the more you do it – the better you get at it. BUT, only if you have a way to monitor the quality of what you write. An Editor is a way to inform and educate a writer on their ability. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a death knell in their budding career. Personally, I love the creative process of writing and can lose all track of time when I’m mid-flow. Rejection for me is water off a ducks back because the process is so enjoyable. If it weren’t, I wouldn’t be doing it.

Many are in it for the wrong reasons – to make a quick buck. Nothing wrong with making money. The art itself won’t pay the rent, but if the quality of your work is sacrificed because you aren’t willing to pay for professional help, then you probably deserve the book to flop.

editor scalpel
Most Editors Have a Scalpel – Mine had an Axe

Not everyone can pay for an editor of course. It is expensive. Many people forego this route to recruit friends and families or members of a creative writing class. I would personally only consider such people, POST EDIT. They are biased and often not a great indicator of your book’s weaknesses.

My debut novel (PATHFINDERS – Released in March 2016), was given to several friends and family in mid 2015. Virtually everyone who read it, loved the idea.

I had a conversation with myself, like Gollum from LOTR – tossing and turning over in my mind the merits of an edit and whether the cost justified the end goal. I already had readers who got through it, making sense of the plot and outline.

I’m delighted that I had some savings to send it to an editor. If you don’t have the money, start saving.

What I received back from my editor was a mutilated body of text, that had been sliced and diced with scalpels and laser pens. It prompted me to write a much stronger prose, shed some fat, and develop several plot holes that warranted attention.

I’ll go over the specific process in the next post, with the necessary screen grabs.

All of this serves one purpose – to make your novel so compelling, that Joe Smyth on his way to work on a Monday morning will, pick up his Kindle and be hooked from Page 1 – transported to a different world where the text is so tight and fluid that the quality is like anything he would see in a book store.

Typos, Grammatical Errors and Bad Dialogue all jar with the reader, disconnecting them from the story. No matter how good you think you’ve self-edited, a fresh set of eyes is incredibly important. Not least because the editor is being paid to find your errors. They have the experience and background, and therefore know what works and what doesn’t.

Let me put it this way:

If you’ve spent dozens of hours slaving away in front of your computer, making the necessary sacrifices to give birth to your little deformed but rounded novel then SURELY, anything that you can do to spruce it up and make it more appealing to the world must be worth considering.

'Nice, but let's change the kangaroo to a whale.'

I can’t imagine having spent all that time writing my magnum opus and then send something out, half-cocked, cutting corners and, WORSE, rushing it the market.

A good editor will help you retain the style, your own imitable voice and simply suggest areas you can improve. You don’t always have to accept their advice of course, but they are there to strengthen your book ultimately. They’ll also tighten your punctuation, make your content more readable and allow the narrative to flow better.

Having started my debut novel a decade ago, I’ve read and reread it so many times since then that the characters have set up permanent residence in my head. No matter how many drafts I went through, typos I caught, I was still locked in a myopic view of my work which only became apparent once I received the impartial editor feedback.

In the next two posts I’m going to describe my specific editing experiences with both Bubblecow and Inkwell, before turning to the small matter of cover illustrations.

For more information around developing a thick skin, see here. Also, this blog post is Part 2 of a five-part series. See this link for the running order of posts to come.

pathfinders chapter 1

image credit,,

7 thoughts on “Do I Need an Editor? (A Gollum Conversation)

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