To answer the question in the title, I'd say that at least 90 percent of the time, a manuscript needs (much) more work than its author thinks it does. Let me illustrate with a story.
A few years ago, when I was a bright-eyed and bushy-tailed young editor, a much-anticipated manuscript turned up in my inbox. (I'm being deliberately vague about this manuscript to protect the author's privacy.) The topic was one that many readers need help with and that I was curious about, so I was eager to start working on the book.
When I opened the file . . . oh, my goodness.
Not only were the spelling, grammar, and usage among the worst I'd ever seen, but several important subtopics had insufficient support, most of the chapters needed to be split and/or reordered, the citations were a mess, and more. To top it off, the author was nervous about the process and sometimes swamped both the marketing department and me with emails.
If we'd just published that manuscript the way it was, it would've been a disaster. No one would have taken it seriously. The author has a PhD, but her reputation and ours would've taken serious damage, possibly enough to destroy them both. All the money we'd spent on acquiring, designing, printing, and marketing the book would have been for nothing.
So why do so many independent authors do this to themselves by insisting on publishing without editing or with just a read-through by "my friend who's good at English"? (In my experience, that statement never bodes well for the manuscript.) These authors aren't just shooting themselves in the foot. They could be driving off a literary cliff without even realizing it. For instance, this article from BookBaby shows what happened to one author who went this route and lived to regret it.
I know what some of you are thinking now: "But editing is way too expensive! How hard can it be to fix the commas?"
Well, remember that nightmare manuscript I mentioned earlier?
Just doing the editing on it took about six months. (This doesn't even account for design and printing, which each require at least several weeks.)
To put that into perspective, even if we factor out the time that I had to devote to other books during that period, that's still 700–800 hours' worth of work to transform a single manuscript into a final, cleaned-up version that a designer can lay out.
According to my calculations, a manuscript that has a comparable word count and needs a similar level of editing would normally take, at worst, about 400 hours to complete.
That project still ranks as one of the hardest I've ever completed. But as tough as it was, I knew readers needed this book. And I got it done.
Now it's one of the publisher's bestsellers.
That's what I want to do for you. Click on "Services Offered" at the top of this page to find out how.
(Thanks to Viacheslav Bublyk for sharing their work on Unsplash.)