Why do you need an editor?

by Heidi M. Thomas

broken-pencilNabokov said, “My pencils outlast my erasers.”

Writing well means trial and error and learning to master the craft. And that’s an on-going journey. I keep learning new things every year. You’re never “there.” You’re never perfect. And sometimes I think the more I learn, the less I know.

I once read of a famous writer of the past who would simply scribble out his manuscripts on whatever paper surface he might have at hand, give the pile to his editor at the publishing house, and that person made everything come together for lasting, classic fiction works.

That doesn’t happen anymore. Or if it does, it’s rare. As you probably know, publishing houses are now big conglomerates, with the “bean counters” more in charge than the “pencil pushers.” And the editors at these houses are usually underpaid and overworked. I had a young college-age friend who interned at a New York publisher one summer in recent years. She and other interns were in charge of wading through the slush piles. The job was daunting. She (and the interns-mostly volunteer) sent out the rejection form letters. She said there was even a room filled with agented manuscripts, some that had been there as long as a year.

book-pile_readingIt’s a discouraging picture. And I’m not telling you this to discourage you, but rather to EN-courage you. What this means is that these interns/editors-or whoever might read your manuscript-are looking for any reason to reject it, just to get through that pile faster. You have to be able to overcome those reasons.

So if they aren’t totally engrossed by your first line, first paragraph, or first page, chances are they won’t read any further. If they see typos, spelling errors, bad grammar-chuck it. Strange-looking fonts or lavender-colored paper-it’s out (they read so many, please spare their failing eyesight!) Formatting errors (single instead of double-spaced), no headers, chapters that begin at the top of the page instead of 1/3 down. Seemingly minor things, but…

This is where hiring an independent editor can help. I don’t know about you, but after I’ve worked on a manuscript for weeks, months, even years, I become so close to the work that I cannot look at it objectively anymore. You probably know too, that your eye will see a misspelled word or a typo and your brain registers the word that it’s supposed to be.

From the Associated Press, a reminder to always check this word if editing “public” documents:

GRAND HAVEN, Mich. – Ottawa County will pay about $40,000 to correct an embarrassing typo on its Nov. 7 election ballot: The “L” was left out of “public.”

A total of 170,000 ballots will have to be reprinted. The mistake appeared in the text of a proposed amendment to the state constitution that would ban some types of affirmative action.

The word “public” was misspelled one of the six times it appears, county Clerk Daniel C. Krueger said Tuesday. Five or six people in his office had proofread the ballot, but it was an election clerk who found the mistake early last week.

“It’s just one of those words,” Krueger said. “Even after we told people it was in there, they still read over it.”

In the Seattle Times, a story about a new ramp at the ferry terminal explained that it was operated by a “system of wenches.”

And a headline on Google news: “Don Imus says he’s battling stage two prostrate cancer.”

So another pair of eyes can be most helpful. if you want to learn and grow and hopefully be published, you really want someone who is going to tell you the things you need to work on, to make your work stronger, to stand out.

The independent editor will be your friend as a writer – in the way that we all have one friend who tells us things we don’t want to hear and calls us on it when we’re not making sense.

You know, the annoying friend. Your editor.

Published in: on March 20, 2009 at 12:49 am  Comments (9)  

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9 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. That’s a great quote!

  2. Hurray for editors! They have saved me from myself, more often than I can count. 🙂

  3. I can’t imagine not using an editor – I’ve learned so much from them and have a better book now as well.

    Jane Kennedy Sutton

  4. The idea of sending a heap of unedited work to an editor fills me with horror. I love editing, but even after 3 or 4 revisions I still need a second pair of eyes to guarantee it shines.

  5. Sorry to double post, I just realized I didn’t add my other comment regarding the quote on pencil/eraser usage.

    Don’t bother with the little eraser stuck on the end. The big ones are about all that’ll do it. ^^

    Also, Uninvoked is having its first discussion if you want to come along and add something. ^^

  6. I agree. It is very important for an impartial eye to look over your manuscript before you send it out.

    Morgan Mandel

  7. what’s that “i before e” we learned as kids.. DEFINITELY comes back to haunt us and ENcourage us for the future

    well said
    gp in montana

  8. Having that extra set of eyes is invaluable, for writers and artists. I can’t tell you how many whoopsies I’ve made that were caught by my husband and/or my art directors. Sometimes you stare at the work for so long you miss the mistakes.

  9. Thanks to all of you who visited and left comments. This is an important topic and many writers still believe their publisher will do it all for them. Not any more!

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