I'm probably one of the few people in the world who can honestly say I've read DOZENS of self-published novels. See, I'm a contract editor for one of the big print-on-demand companies, so when the self-pubbers pay for editorial services as part of their contract, they might just be hiring me. I'm not about to launch into one of those anti–self publishing rants -- I'll leave those for other people.
But I will say this: one of the things I've consistently observed about the novels I work on is poor self-editing. I can only think of one self-published novel that I felt was truly polished. The rest were clearly first or second drafts. In many cases, I can cut 10–15% of the book's word count without affecting the story at all. The rest needed the thumbscrews ...
What are the thumbscrews? This is a line-by-line thing. It's a word-by-word thing. Sure, I love first drafting as much as the next guy, but the real magic happens on the 5th or 7th draft, when you're screwing your book to the floor and cutting away every single word that is redundant or ridiculous.
Witness the following paragraph. This is from a book I'm finishing now. Here it is, in its third-draft splendor:
They waited while the sun rose over the San Luna mountains, gradually lighting up the mist that pooled in the valley. The pace on the streets quickened as the mist first turned grey, then light pink, and finally the first shaft of sunlight shot over the mountaintop. As it did, almost everybody in the street stopped to watch the sun break and the day begin. Through some trick of light and timing, the first sun ray lanced through the mist in the valley and caused a brilliant flash, a rainbow, to shoot over Walkabout Town.
And here it is after the thumbscrews:
They waited while the sun rose over the San Luna mountains, gradually lighting up the mist that pooled in the valley. The pace on the streets quickened as the mist first turned grey, then light pink, and finally the first shaft of sunlight shot over the mountaintop. Everywhere, people in the street stopped to watch. Through some trick of light, that first sun beam lanced through the mist and caused a brilliant flash—a rainbow—to shoot over Walkabout Town.
Most of the changes are obvious ... cutting prepositional and ridiculous phrases. A "trick of timing," for example. Uh, duh, it was SUNRISE. What kind of trick is involved in that? And some are probably debatable. But my point is that, if you're lucky, you might someday find yourself defending every ... single ... word to an editor who gets paid to deal with schmoes like us. And I believe it's best to enter that conversation prepared.