A Few Thoughts on Editors

Editors. We all need them – at least most of us do. It’s very difficult to catch all your own mistakes when you write something, and the longer the piece of work, the more numerous the errors.

When you’re first starting out as a writer, you need a really good editor. Not just someone to proofread and clean up your typos, but someone who will help you tighten up your writing and teach you ways to be a better writer.

When I edit for friends and clients, I don’t just make corrections or deletions. When I make suggestions, I try to explain why a word might need to replaced, or where the writer could flesh out a character a little more. I tell them why I think a character is acting inconsistently, or which words they tend to overuse. I also point out areas in a manuscript that are really, really powerful because I think it’s helpful to point out strengths as well as weaknesses.

The main thing I try to do when editing or critiquing is remember that I’m not perfect either. I make mistakes. I use repetitive words. When I write, I take into consideration advice that has been given to me over the years, but I’m still not a perfect writer. Nobody is. That’s why we hire editors and/or enlist critique partners.

To be honest, sometimes I get frustrated when I edit. If I’m tired or I’ve had a bad day, sometimes I wonder if I’m really cut out for editing. It’s a tough job. Not just because it can be time-consuming, but because I never, ever, for one second allow myself to forget that I’ve been entrusted with something very sacred. While I might be spending hours upon hours editing one manuscript, that is nothing compared to the amount of time the author has spent. When an author invites me into their creative world, I’m honored. They are trusting me with something very precious to them, and I make damned sure I take our professional relationship seriously.

The reason I’m mentioning editing and editors today is because of a post I saw early this morning. In one of the editing groups I belong to, an editor was venting her frustration at some of the frequent editing mistakes she encounters. This particular editor was fairly restrained and very confidential, but I’ve seen posts by other editors who aren’t nearly as discreet. It isn’t common, but I have come across editors who mock passages from a client’s work, or who imply that any writer who uses a certain phrase or misuses a word is a BAD writer.

Editors and proofreaders, please be careful before your post to social media. Yes, your Facebook profile might be private, but if you’re posting in a public group, anyone can see what you’ve written. If you are having a horrific day and MUST vent, please confide in a close, trusted friend – not in a public forum.

Writers – particularly first time authors – can be very sensitive. I’ve never met a first time author who wasn’t terrified at the prospect of handing their book over to their editor. Trust me when I tell you that your client probably had second thoughts about publishing the moment they forwarded their manuscript to you. Your client has been anxiously awaiting the first round of edits. They’re probably wondering if you’re silently judging them for all their typos and mistakes. They’re wondering if you’re going to hate their book or think they’re stupid for writing it.

Imagine how your client would feel if they accidentally stumbled upon a post you’ve written on Facebook where you describe a “poorly-written book” you’re “stuck” editing. Imagine how you would feel if someone mocked you and the manuscript you’ve spent months or even years working on. Your clients are counting on you to help make their manuscript shine. They trust you. Be honest, but kind.

Authors, your editor is there to help you. They are there to do a job. Yes, it’s disheartening to see a hundred markups on the first three pages, but it’s for your own good. Pay attention to your editor’s notes and learn from the experience. Before you hire an editor, make sure he or she is a good match. Are you on the same page in terms of what you expect from an editor? Is the prospective editor approachable, or do you find them intimidating? All this matters. There are lots and lots of competent, talented editors out there. You might as well hire someone you feel comfortable working with.

6 thoughts on “A Few Thoughts on Editors

  1. It is so depressing to keep seeing new writers saying ‘I don’t need an editor’, or even worse: ‘i can’t afford an editor and still want to release this book’..

    The only thing I’ll disagree on Tricia is this: Everyone needs an editor. Full stop. No exceptions.

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  2. Great article! Facebook drives me crazy because people act like it is some private place – but it isn’t. It’s not having a controlled conversation in their living room with their friends (unless they routinely invite co-workers, old teachers, ex boyfriends, and their aunt over at the same time – aka most people’s facebook friends’ list), it’s a loud conversation had in the middle of the city park during the fourth of July celebration. If someone wouldn’t shout something there, then they shouldn’t put it on facebook. I know everyone is guilty of forgetting that from time to time (just like people will sometimes say crazy things in the middle of the city park and then think “ahhh, crap!” but just like in the park setting, we need to stay aware that there are lots of people watching, and listening, and it’s hard to tell who our words – or screen caps of our words – will get back to.

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  3. This is a great post. It’s important for writers and editors to understand the role they play in the publishing process. I’ve seen writers complain about editors pointing out every mistake they’ve made… well, that’s their job, but I do understand that some editors are better at communicating their advice in kind and constructive ways, while others talk down to their clients and put them down instead of building them up. I think communication is key. If a writer is new and needs a first draft reviewed for feedback, perhaps an editor is not the person to contact yet, perhaps a critique group or beta. In the same vein, editors need to be upfront about what they do and don’t want to edit. If they don’t want to work with new and developing writers, they shouldn’t take jobs from them.

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  4. Pingback: Thought of the week on the importance of editors! – L.F. McCabe – Author

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