Speaking of editing and editors….

Why we need editors

Ah, whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of that red-lined script, or take arms against a sea of denial, and by opposing it end them? To fear the edit… I hope the bard forgives me.

Fear the edits. Oh yeah, I know that one. Let’s face it, an editor is there to tell you what you did wrong – you misspelled this, didn’t use that right. That’s not necessarily a bad thing but it can be tough to swallow for anyone. When I was traditionally edited I used to literally feel sick, or turn to a large glass of wine, in order to get through them. And that’s the first sign of a bad editor. Stay with me on this… because this blog isn’t about picking on editors.

You see, in traditional publishing you don’t have much choice, you get the ones they pick in order to get the book that will fit their style. And hopefully it works for both of you. A good editor, and there are many, will work with you to make your story shine.  A good editor will tighten up the loose spots, spot your bad habits and pick up your spelling and grammar errors. A good editor will tell you – ‘this is great, it really works’ every now and then as well as ‘you really need to fix this’.  Or, ‘this could be clearer’.  A good editor will never get personal. A bad editor – or at least, a bad for you editor – will make you cringe  and reach for the adult beverage of your choice. A bad editor will have a preconceived notion of how your story should go, and they may even rewrite sections of your book to fit that notion.

A good editor is worth their weight in gold. Seriously. I just wish I’d had it to spare when I first started out as an indie author. Now I have to say this, according to a few editors and a teacher or two, I’m a particularly good self-editor. I’ve been told so by enough of them to believe it. Does that mean I didn’t need an editor? NO. I did, every writer does. We all have bad habits, blind spots we can’t see, especially when we get caught up in the story.

Not everyone can afford one though, particularly starving writers just trying to get their work out there. You can make do with beta readers. I was lucky enough to have four, one of whom was stellar. If you can’t afford a professional editor – yet – find a good couple of betas. Not friends, not family, total strangers. There are sources on-line if you can’t find them. BTW, I don’t recommend writing groups. Some people love them but there are a lot of ‘writers’ in those groups who have yet to finish a book.

The minute you have the money, though, hire an editor. Before cover art or anything else, hire an editor. Again, look on-line, there are lots of them associated with writer’s groups. Here’s the best part, as an Indie writer, you get to pick. Don’t just pick someone because you like them, though. It helps if you do but you have to remember that when it comes to your book they are NOT your friend. They are a friend to your book, and that’s the way it should be. Look for someone who gets and earns some respect. Look at some of their work. Make a list of the ones you like, then pick one.

Now it’s time for a reality check. Most editors are busy. It can takes days or weeks to edit a book and they may have bunch in the pipeline. Don’t waste their time or your money, either. I can’t tell you how many of my editor friends have clients who haven’t done the most basic self-editing. For myself, that second and third draft is when I layer in more depth to the characters and their surroundings, as well as making every sentence as clear as possible. And even so my editor catches stuff I miss.

In any case, it’s very likely they’re not going to be able to take your novel immediately,you may have to wait. If you feel you just can’t – after the tenth review commenting on bad editing – then talk to the next editor on your list.

Some editors may offer a first chapter edit, to find out how well you’ll fit. If they don’t offer, ask, but understand that they have the right to say no. Some may charge a nominal fee. Understand that to do this they are taking time away from their work – editing – to give you a trial. For many of these people this is their full time job, or the job they do after hours in much the same way that you write, and that they have lives just like you.

Even with all that, the editor who works well for one author, though, may not work for another, even with recommendations and a first chapter edit. People have different styles and modes. You might prefer something done one way, they might not work well that way. Even software can be an issue, especially if you’re using specialized writing software and they use Word because it’s more common.

That old editor and I just weren’t a good fit but in traditional publishing you don’t have many choices. Got a problem? You may have to suck it up. Oh, they’ll tell you you can ask for another editor but do so at your peril. You’ll gain a reputation for being difficult. They’re also like most other companies – they’ll back their own people because they must. That next editor is then going to look at you with hairy eyeballs, anticipating a problem child. They can’t help it, it’s human nature. So, pick your battles very carefully.

It’s much easier in Indie publishing, if it’s not working for you then say so, but be polite and be professional. If they’ve put time into it already, they have the right to be compensated for that time. It’s the price of doing business and part of the risk you take. Then go in search of a editor who’s a better fit.

In the old traditional publishing model there was one inviolable rule – never badmouth your editor in public. There were numerous reasons for it, some of it was protective of both the editor and the publishing company, but not least of which was that it looked unprofessional. It still does. If an editor doesn’t work out for you? Move on. Shake it off as a bad fit and find a better one. Think of all your bad reviews and don’t give one to someone else. Remember that not everyone is going to love your writing and not everyone is going to love all editors.

Speaking of being professional… If your editor returned your manuscript to you in the time quoted – barring unforeseen circumstances – then you should pay them the same way, promptly upon receipt. Don’t hire an editor if you can’t afford to pay them on time. They have bills, too, and may be counting on your payment.

Above all be professional.

14 thoughts on “Speaking of editing and editors….”

  1. I'm terrified of the editing process. Not that I mind the red pen, just the concept of tearing the story a new one gives me the shivers, though. I do believe I will hire one after I have a few beta readers. It's gonna cost me, but I'm pretty sure it'll be worth it.

    1. I agree with getting the beta readers. On this last book (just finished), I had two rounds of beta readers (3 in the first round, 5 in the second). I had to tear up the story and rewrite several chapters/sequences completely. It's part of the process. But I would be very careful about hiring a developmental editor – you can spend a lot of money on that and get the same feedback you would from good betas. On the other hand, I've had some friends hire developmental editors and swear by it, so it can work. Just costly.

    2. Valerie's right – a good editor is not going to tear your story a new one. A good editor will ruthlessly red-ink problems, but will take the time to explain why in the least abrasive way possible. A good editor will also tell you what you're doing right in much the same way a beta will.

  2. Thanks, Valerie, for an excellent post.

    I think it’s important to point out that there are different types of editing:

    – developmental editing – where the editor works with you to refine elements of plot, storyline, theme, etc. on a work-in-progress

    – line editing – where the editor points out awkward phrases, inconsistences, and other minor issues with a completed manuscript.

    – proofreading/copy editing – terms often used interchangeably to refer to the final pass to spot typos, grammatical issues, punctuation errors, etc. in a completed manuscript

    BSP Warning!

    I offer proofreading/copy editing/line editing services for indie authors. I don’t offer developmental editing services at this time. I agree with Susan on this – if you have good beta readers, who are familiar with the genre you write in, you should be able to get all the feedback you need at that level without a huge outlay of funds.

    My recommendation as an editor? If you have a beta reader with a *very* thorough eye, and they're someone who *wants* to read at the proofreader level, you don't necessarily need to pay for a separate copy editor, either. However, if your beta reader would rather read for pleasure and let someone else do the nit-picking, then by all means, please hire someone before you post your book.

    It's not that professional writers don't know how to spell, punctuate a sentence, or look for their own mistakes. It's that it can sometimes be helpful to have an impartial set of eyes look at your manuscript for you – someone who hasn't already been through it three or thirteen or thirty-three times already, who doesn't already know the story like the back of their eyeballs, and who will notice when you miss a word (or misspell one) or change your character's cat from yellow to gray with stripes (without some convincing magic going on).

    Some writers have friends/beta readers who are great at doing this – honestly, and without getting so caught up in the story that they forget their job; without trying to tell the writer all the ways they could make their story "better" (meaning, "how I'd have written it"); and without any sort of compensation beyond the chance to read a great story and help out their friend. Other writers don't have that network established, or are producing so much volume that they're overloading their friends. That’s when I think it's worthwhile to find a reasonably priced line editor/copy editor to help you give your manuscript that final polish before you launch it out into the world.

    Oh, and R.J. – the right editor is there to work with you to help your work shine, not to rip your manuscript a new one. Your editor is part of your team, and rooting for your success all the way!

    best of success to you all!

    Lyn Worthen


    Camden Park Press

    1. Great response! I just wanted to add that I use a copyeditor for my MS before publishing, for the reasons you mention, and to make sure it conforms to Chicago Manual of Style standards. And I STILL have a couple friends read for typos! 🙂

  3. I had Wendy Reis as my editor on the second book. She was wonderful and has since become a friend. But I also did my homework ahead of time and handed a her a well scoured manuscript. We were a twam. I could not have produced the result I did without her.

  4. My first book-length manuscript was a nonfiction piece. The primary proofreader/editor that I initially used was an acquaintance of mine that was an associate dean of the English department at NC State University. She went through several pens worth of red ink, but always explained the reasons and offered me alternative ways to express the same concept while avoiding the "grammar trap" corner I'd painted myself into.

    Once she had finished (and assisted me in cleaning up my rewrites) I submitted the book for publication. (I already had an acceptance letter from said publisher)

    One of the editors at the publishing house gave my final draft a once-over and sent it back to me. I wasn't surprised that there were needed corrections here and there that both I and my earlier editor had missed. What did shock me was a complaint the person had about an opinion I had stated in the text. While referencing something from an older book on the same general topic, I mentioned that I felt the conclusion drawn by that particular author was, "a bit of a stretch." I followed that comment with several paragraphs explaining what I saw as the faulty reasoning that had been used to reach said conclusion. This inhouse editor wrote "this is not a stretch" across the page with a red sharpie and then inserted a 2 page red ink essay explaining that the author was expressing the conventional wisdom of his time.

    I wrote back and as politely as possible pointed out that "conventional wisdom" had once dictated that the earth was flat and that the sun revolved around the earth. The entire purpose of research, I elaborated, is to debunk obsolete ideas by using the most up to date information. I also respectfully said that I appreciated his input and opinion, but that I was uncomfortable changing one of the primary buttress points of the entire book without compelling evidentiary reasons.

    About 2 weeks later I received my manuscript back with a brief letter explaining that their editing staff had deemed the book "unfit for publication."

    Valerie Douglas is absolutely correct. If an editor rips your manuscript apart or offers criticism without explanations as to why there is no rule that says you have to accept it as Gospel from on high. There is nothing wrong with seeking a second or even a third opinion. If however, you receive the same critiques from multiple sources, it's time to take a step back and reevaluate your own opinions. Once you have found a "constructive" editor, never let them get away!

  5. I am both.

    So I have this big blister on one side, and a callus on the other, depending on what I'm working on at the moment.

    I write pretty clean copy, but developmentally speaking, I need a couple of extra pairs of eyes, so I have a beta team. Then it all goes to my publishers, where it gets looked at again. Twice.

    I have refused more clients than you could count, because there are certain genres, and certain styles, that I just can't do well. But there's some fiction at which I am magic, and people have said so.

    I have been refused by one editor, because of my style, and I have two beta readers who are worth their weight in gold (one's a pro reviewer for a state paper, and has been a journalist all his life).

    What can I tell you – life's tough, and Valerie's right. So's Lyn.

  6. Fabulous post!

    Yes, I got lucky and my editor was "introduced" to me by another author (because he read my first book and cringed). She's great- a retired school teacher with a good sense of humor and a mighty red pen (sometimes green, or purple). She edited my second book, and admittedly, it took some time for us to get used to each other. She has since done more editing for me, and each time I get a mss back from her, it's not only a repair job for me, but a learning experience. Oh, that comma doesn't go there? OK, fix it, and try to remember not to do that again.

    I can call her or email her with any issues, and she's fairly quick to get back to me. Mostly she just copy edits, but occasionally, I get a note back: "This sentence doesn't read right, rework." So it's back to the drawing board, but she's doing it out of LOVE.

    No, she's not cheap, but she is that extra set of eyes I now realize I need. Joyce is worth her weight in gold, and I only wish I had more gold to have her edit ALL my stuff. Maybe one day she will…

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