The Importance of Being Edited: Why Writers Need Editors

Hemingway said you shouldn’t let people know you had to learn to write, that you should let them think you were born a writer. Readers can easily tell which books have been edited by professionals and which ones have been edited by the writer and/or well-meaning family members.

One thing I’ve learned is that I have a certain style of writing. I’ve written over four books and a dozen stories. I’ve used my own voice to write them all. I have no interest in changing my voice. It’s a part of who I am. It’s impossible to write a book everyone likes. I personally don’t like to read every genre or style of book and I certainly don’t expect everyone to read or like mine. You don’t need to hire an editor to change your style or your voice. You need to hire an editor to help you fully realize your vision for your book.

I cannot say enough good things about editors. A writer who relies solely on self-editing has a fool for an editor. It is absolutely impossible to see the shortcomings in your work after you’ve spent weeks, months, and years creating it. It took me many years to realize what I was missing in my own writing. I asked my first editor to tell me what my blind spots were and to suggest ways to fix them. It was the best thing I ever did for my writing. To date, I have not agreed with every single change or recommended change to my books, but I have agreed with over ninety percent of them. Stephen King himself said, “no writer will take all of his or her editor’s advice; for all have sinned and fallen short of editorial perfection.” However, the great point is to give your work to professionals and then remain open and willing to correct mistakes and to rewrite. As someone good once said, “I’m not a writer, I’m a re-writer.” I have written and rewritten my stories. It’s not easy work, but it’s essential in order to create the best version possible. Because of the revisions and the rewrites, I’m really pleased with the final version of Imogene in New Orleans and I’m thrilled to be offering the second book in the series soon (September 15, 2016).

I believe in the power of four editorial phases for my novels: developmental editing, line-editing, copy-editing, and proofreading. The developmental editor looks at the big picture. In my case with the Imogene and the boys’ mystery series, the person I hired focused on the mystery, the characters, the setting, the plot, and the flow of the story. She also pointed out issues with point of view, showing versus telling, and diction. It worked so well. Finding someone to consider the book in its entirety is essential. The professional editor I hired had years of experience working on mysteries and I knew she was giving me sound advice.

Next, the line editor will point out errors to individual sentences, as well as whole scenes. In an ideal situation, the line editor will also consider how each sentence functions as part of the whole book (or how it needs to be cut or moved). It’s a gloriously good experience to find a good line editor, one who is as invested in your work as you are and who is not afraid to tell you directly why something doesn’t work. (A side note is that anyone you hire needs to care about the success of your book and after only a short time of working together, you will know if he or she does. It’s a good idea to vet these professionals by reaching out to their clients and doing research on your own. I’ve been fortunate in this regard, but I performed due diligence before hiring anyone. Yes, it took some time but it was time well spent.)

If you’ve made it through the first two phases without crying or breaking into hives or swearing at your pet, spouse, significant other, or neighbor, then you should congratulate yourself. (There’s a reason why many people who say they “ought to write a book” don’t ever write a book or publish said book. It’s hard work and if anyone says it’s not, then they’re telling you a fiction. Not only do you have to create your own world and your own story, you have to have it beaten with the editorial hammer.)

The third phase is the copy-editor. I like this part because it means I’m getting close to finishing. It also means that after the copywriter returns the manuscript to me with corrections, I go through and click “Accept” or “Reject” using Track Changes in Microsoft Word. In this phase, the professional checks for grammar, style, and spelling, and a lot of times the person will check facts and place names to make sure all is written as it should be. Also, the editor will follow either APA or Chicago style manuals and refer to said manuals in the notes beside the edits.

The last phase is proofreading. This is the final check before publishing. It’s important to both hire someone for this phase and to also offer your book to beta readers, people who can read well and point out mistakes have been overlooked. These people are usually fans of your work, so they have even more reason to want to make it the best it can be. At least five individuals read Imogene in New Orleans and pointed things out to me. It was such an important part of the process. I’m grateful for all phases.

As famed editor Maxwell Perkins told F. Scott Fitzgerald, “Just get it down on paper, and then we’ll see what to do with it.”

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