It’s all right there––in your head. Your dream project, your book. You know what you will say in it, you know what it will look like. You begin to write, it grows page by page, chapter by chapter. One day it is finished. Soon you will find a way to publish it. But ask yourself: between this moment, and the moment the book appears on a retail shelf, is it still the same book? Your book? Are you just as excited about it, or has something changed?
Authors sometimes find the publishing process a little like carving a figure from wood; the more critical you are, the more you carve, the smaller and less recognizable the work becomes. This is not to say one shouldn’t enlist editing resources. Such a step is essential, a new eye is helpful, a different perspective is critical. However, I subscribe to the idea that editing is a learning process, and the author should become increasingly able to edit his own work.
I have listed 4 dangerous moments in the life of your project for preserving your identity as an author:
1. Input from others while in the process of writing can sometimes turn you from your original concept. Swayed by the will or ideas of others, the product ceases to be truly your own. Your writing style is like a finger print; it is distinct; don’t allow it to be corrupted.
2. Critique groups, writing clubs, and similar groups can seduce or bully an author toward a style change. Inherently each member of the group believes his/her own style is most correct and will try to impress it upon you, consciously or unconsciously.
3. Editors. There are several types and layers of editing. Most professional editors will learn what it is an author requires and limit suggestions accordingly. However, in some circumstances, such as in large traditional publishing houses, work must pass through several different editors before publication. Publishers often have a general style in mind as representative of their house. Strong recommendations from their editors can be difficult to ignore.
4. Book Cover: In my mind, the book’s cover has as much to do with your identity as an author as its content. A traditionally published author may have the power of veto for his/her book cover (or not), but may have little say in the original book cover design. The cover of your book is what first sells it, and first establishes its content. The cover should indicate the content and reflect who you are as an author.
The more you write, the less editing your work should require. Have a stable of readers, ideally each possessing a specific skill: one sees detail such as repeated words, wrong word usage, etc.; another is good at spotting inconsistencies; yet another may notice formatting problems. You can design your group of readers to meet your own needs.
The bottom line is this: use the editing you need until you no longer need it, but even as you thank your critic decide whether or not the advice is helpful, and act accordingly.