Welcome back to Author Etiquette. We started this little series because we love authors--we wouldn’t be in this business if we didn’t. But authors are human and sometimes make mistakes or don’t understand some fundamentals in the writing world. Whether you are a new author or a seasoned pro, we hope this column will give you some perspective on issues and help keep you out of trouble.
Writers write stories. That’s their job. They take little pieces of this and that and mix it together and somehow come up with stuff that other people like to read. There’s a lot of different processes that stories go through from beginning to end but one of those steps should at some point include an editor.
To some people, an editor is normal part of the writing process, but to others having an editor look at your work seems like an unnecessary step. To listen to some authors, editors are scary beasts that tear up your precious manuscript. They don’t understand how unique and special your work is. Plus, they cost money. Those who feel this way seem to think that beta readers and self editing is good enough.
Sorry, but no.
There’s some misconceptions about editors especially among new writers. Whispered rumors about stolen ideas and stories have always existed. Horror stories of editors that flay stories, and authors, drift around. The words “harsh but fair” is often met with skepticism. It’s understandable that some people, especially those who are new or are uninformed, see editors as unnecessary or even the enemy.
Editors aren’t the enemy in fact, they are your story’s best friend.
They aren’t going to steal your ideas or your story, but they will tell you the truth. Isn’t that what a best friend does? They will tell you what parts of your story works and what doesn’t... in order to help you. They will spend hours reading and commenting and searching out links to help you. They want you to succeed. They are there to support you and point you to the tools that will make you a better writer.
Why You Need an Editor
When you are writing, there are blind spots that your own mind glosses over. You don’t see those information gaps or plot holes. Passive voice sneaks into chapters. Character or location names get mixed up. Pacing can drift and lose ends can trip up even the most devoted reader. Overall, your story might drift around aimlessly. The characters might not follow a definite arc. Even if you’ve read your story several times, you aren’t going to catch all of them. You might never even know those issues exist. That’s why you need an editor.
An editor’s job is to refine a story so that it’s the best it can be. What some authors don’t realize is they are too close to the story and often can’t see certain issues. This could be because the author knows all of the backstory, or knows something that happens off scene that’s important later. Sometimes, it’s habits that the author hasn’t broken yet, like overusing adverbs. These and many other issues are the kinds of things an editor will look for. They want your story to be better.
But sending your story or novel to an editor is scary. Even I admit that. While you are waiting there’s a lot of anxiousness that builds up. Then when you get that email back, it’s just as nerve wracking and often disappointing.
Sometimes hearing the truth hurts. You’ve worked hard on creating a world, characters and a story line. You have done the best you can to put all of your ideas on paper. To hear that it’s not working and things need to be torn apart can be devastating.
Your Story’s Best Friend
There’s lots of places where your work will cross an editor’s path. When you submit short stories to publications, if your story is accepted, an editor will look at it and make suggestions. Agents submit novels to editors at publishing houses. And again, if it’s accepted, you will receive your manuscript back with lots of red marks. At a convention, you might strike up a conversation with an editor or two. Online, in forums, and in everyday life, you can find editors. They are normal people with a particular set of skills that is valuable in the publishing world.
There are lots of ways to become an editor. Some people have college degrees in English or Literature. Others have spent a great deal of time reading, but have always loved the structure and flow of words on the page. A few have started at different areas in publishing and have gradually worked their way up from being a slush reader or a reviewer. The ways of becoming an editor is as varied as the ways of becoming an author.
While there are editors all over, you might not work well with everyone. When you submit to a publication, you don’t have a choice on who you work with. But if you self publish, you have plenty of choices. One thing to remember is, an editor doesn’t work for free.
You Get What You Pay For
If you look on writing forums or writing groups, there are many people offering to edit your work for either free or for a very low cost. Some of these could be fresh out of college professionals needing some experience, but sometimes it’s just someone wanting a quick buck. Often these lowball offers result in poor quality work that doesn’t help you improve as a writer.
As you go up the ladder, you find more experienced editors. Ones who have had several years honing their craft. Some charge a flat fee for working on your story while others charge by the hour. The best known editors charge a hefty fee, but again, they are the best in their field.
When looking for an editor, look at your budget, look at the credentials of those in your price range. Pick the one you think you can work with. Many times, you can ask for a chapter review, so that both of you can gauge what kind of editing you will need. This gives you and the editor an idea of what to expect.
For the Love of Stories
What would our world look like without editors? Remember the very first story you wrote? Have you pulled it out lately? Do you remember cringing?
Without editors, most of what we read would look similar to those stories. Sure there’s some authors out there that write cleanly and have very few errors. But for the most part, everyone needs an editor. Whether you use one in the developmental stage, content stage or line edits, is up to you.
Just remember, while some of their comments might hurt or make you angry, an editor is there to help you make your story the best it can be.