Editing. It seems self-explanatory, no?
I mean, you have a book or story or even thesis, which needs editing. So you just need someone to go over it and make sure you don’t sound like an idiot, make sure you didn’t make some egregious mistake your eyes didn’t see.
That’s it, isn’t it?
Why else would writers need professional editing services?
As it turns out, for a whole host of things.
So let’s go over some of the common misconceptions about editors, editing, and what all of that entails.
Fallacy #1: All editors are the same
That’s kinda like saying if you break your leg, your psychiatrist can set the bone and put on the cast. Which, technically speaking, is true. Yes, psychiatrists are MDs, and learned some orthopedics in med school, and then during Internship. But odds are, they haven’t looked at a broken bone since.
As with other professions, the tasks needed to successfully bring a book to market are diverse.
Three distinct type of editors live under the umbrella:
► Developmental Editors dig down into the very guts of the manuscript, helping to flesh out characters (and make them real), attend to the arc of the storyline (so that plot drives characters, and characters change the plot), make sure the prose itself is in service to the story, take the macro and micro view—attending to the forest and the trees—making sure everything holds together as one piece.
This includes a line edit, as the very best way to achieve all of this is to both explain the issues and how to fix them, and show the writer on the actual page.
► Copy Editors focus solely on the language. They make sure the manuscript is clean, and the style is consistent.
► Proofers take up the very last step—looking strictly for misspellings, grammatical inconsistencies, and punctuation.
Fallacy # 2: Good writers don’t need editors
Okay, so here’s an industry secret: All books need editors. Agents know this, editors know it, publishers know it. Even NY Times bestselling authors know it.
Why would this possibly be?
Because to truly write well, whether a novel or narrative nonfiction, you have to completely lose yourself in it. You become the story and the characters. You live there—in a world you’ve created.
And funny thing about that—often what’s so clear in your head didn’t translate to the page. Or, conversely, that scene you’ve written so incredibly beautifully that the words take your breath away, well, is superfluous to the book itself.
A great editor will see this clearly.
Fallacy #3 Books just need copy edits
You want to know another industry secret? Publishers know that books need much more intensive developmental editing, long before the copy edit.
You know those bestsellers? Or the critically acclaimed books? The authors worked with a skilled developmental editor, first.
As a reader, can’t you tell which books read like wonderful dreams, and which ones fell off a cliff mid-way through? Can you figure out how that happened?
Fallacy #4: My English professor can edit it (or sister, or . . .)
I absolutely love English professors. Talk about a labor of love! Rarely paid well, over-worked, but in love with language and stories and striving to teach that to students.
Yep—your English teacher can tell you what’s not working. But telling you how to fix it is another thing entirely.
Years ago, I worked with a professor of literature at Berkeley, on a novel she had written. Neat Mystery. I really enjoyed it. But it needed a ton of work.
I’ll never forget talking with her once she received the edited manuscript and critique. She was shocked.
“Susan,” she said, “I teach literature at the highest university level, and I never knew all of this!”
Yep. Writing great fiction is different from teaching it . . .
But this same professor dug into revisions, got Traditionally published, and a spot in Publishers Weekly “Spring Pick to Watch”!
Fallacy #5: An editor is an editor; there’s no need to pay a lot.
You know, these days, there’s an editor on every virtual street corner. That’s not an exaggeration. Google editors and editing and all the variations thereof, and you come up with a million hits.
Which isn’t a bad thing. The more, the merrier.
But is an editor who charges $500 for a manuscript as good as one who charges $5,000? And why pay more?
How good is the cheaper editor? Has he been in the trenches over a decade? Built on success after success? Had his clients’ books sell to Traditional publishers (in other words, been vetted by someone other than the writers)?
As with any profession, successful editors are going to cost you more. Not only are you paying for their time, but much more importantly—their expertise. And that includes more than a talent for editing, which plays a part. It’s also about experience and having learned much more over the years than what they knew going in.
As with any service, you truly get what you pay for.
Fallacy #6: An editor will rewrite my book
Well, a good one won’t. That’s not an editor’s job. Editors are not ghostwriters. They don’t take what you’ve done and fundamentally change it, but rather, show you how to make it better. Especially developmental editors teach you the craft. Teach you what’s working and why, what’s not working and why, and give examples of how to fix it.
But in the end, the book is yours—you make all final decisions.
Fallacy #7: An editor will change my voice
This is probably the biggest fear I hear from writers. That somehow, through the process, the writer’s voice will be lost, and meld into that of the editor’s.
In fact, I actually have writers tell me this—often. They tried to work with this editor, who changed the prose to sound like his own.
Those stories always send chills down my spine.
Again, that’s not an editor’s job. If at any part of the process that happens, run!
Fallacy #8: Having my book edited will make it a bestseller
Sounds crazy, when you look at that all stark in a headline.
But you know, I hear this one a lot as well. A new writer contacted me this week, having just gone through an editor who had two bestsellers to her credit. And promised that she could turn any book into a bestseller.
As you can imagine, that didn’t happen with this new writer. Or, I would venture to guess, a plethora of others.
Because the truth is—no one in this industry can tell you what the next bestseller will be.
No one. Even the president of Random House can’t tell you that. Otherwise, she’d be publishing it J
Fallacy #9: An editor will make my book just like everybody else’s
This is the second biggest fear I hear from writers—that editors take a paint-by-numbers approach, and turn out little cookie-cutter automatons like little robots coming out of the factory.
With good editors, anyway, nothing could be further from the truth.
Honestly, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach here.
For example, do I find common problems in books? Certainly. But there’s no one fix for every book. In fact, each book requires its own unique set of answers to the problems.
Every book is its own entity. Every book has its own strengths and weaknesses, problems and solutions.
And that’s where a great editor comes in.
So, what it is that great professional editing services do accomplish?
A great editor helps you to create the book you dreamed of. To uncover to shining jewels, often buried under the verbiage muck. To help you excavate the story and people and place and prose that’s already so clear in your mind. To bring that into the sunlight for all to see.
Now, isn’t that why you hired an editor in the first place?