Working with an Editor

By Mark Nichol

Anyone can publish without an editor. Some people can even publish very well-written content without any editorial assistance. But most can’t, and guessing that you’re in the smaller category is a great risk. Why not hire an editor?

What does an editor do? There are many types of editors, with distinct skill sets and responsibilities, but generally, editors exist to help writers produce the best work possible.

Unfortunately, editorial assistance is a significant investment. Depending on the size of the project (and depending on how many editors you need, from a developmental editor to a copy editor to a proofreader), editing may cost as much as several thousand dollars. In the old days, writers generally could rely on staff editors to help them craft their content, without any out-of-pocket expenses, but now, with print and online self-publishing the norm, many writers find they must hire their own editorial support.

Even writers who wish to submit a manuscript to a book publisher are advised to hire an editor (or more than one) before doing so, not only to improve the chance that the manuscript will be accepted but also because many publishing companies are unable or unwilling to devote time, effort, and cost to various editorial tasks.

However, many writers are averse to hiring an editor. Regrettably, some people associate editing with seemingly humiliating or vindictive critiques by teachers during their academic career. Others have had unfortunate experiences with editors who seemed heavy-handed or introduced errors or acted unprofessionally, and are disinclined to repeat the ordeal.

Certainly, there are incompetent editors — and, certainly, good editors make mistakes sometimes. But editors almost invariably improve your work. And be honest with yourself — as I mentioned before, it’s a rare writer who can produce impeccable (or even nearly impeccable) content without assistance. In my editing experience — thirty-five years of it — I’ve learned that often (not always, but almost always), the more vehement a writer is about how editors are not helpful, the shoddier the writer’s work; inversely, the best writers are the most appreciative of the assistance in making their prose the best it can be.

Soon, I’ll share tips about how to have a productive relationship with an editor.

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11 Responses to “Working with an Editor”

  • Joeth Barlas

    Was disappointed to learn a _future_ post would cover working productively with an editor. From the title, I thought that would be the content of this post.

  • Alice

    I’m both an editor and a writer so can understand both sides of the argument, if you want to call it that. I’ve found that some beta readers are exceptionally helpful and have always appreciated feedback on my manuscripts, especially critiques on ways to improve them. Too much ego does not make for a good writer. And those writers who are simply looking for a pat on the back and not true feedback have a lot to learn. Unfortunately, many of them will never learn the hard lessons of the writing craft.

  • Dale A. Wood

    An example of writing with nonexistent editing, not even the simple kind. This is on an article about the changes in the rules for American college football for the upcoming season that starts soon:

    “A new rule establishes a zone in which the offense can legally block BLOW the opponents waist, as long as a player is clearly blocking the front of the defensive player.”
    ———————————————

    There is careless writing: “block blow” instead of “block below”.
    Also, there is an apostrophe missing in “the opponent’s waist”.
    Also, it says “the offense” instead of “an offensive player”.
    If the writer is going to use “a defensive player” later on, he needs to use “an offensive player” in the first place to maintain parallels of expresion.

    Too many writers just rely on electronic spell-checkers, but when you leave out the “e” in below, you get “blow”. esedwAlso, spell-checkers will suggest changing the simple mistypings “brlow” and “bslow” to “blow”.

    The omission of apostrophes in possessives is a widespread problem now. Part of that is mental laziness, and part of it is because of the U.S. board on geographical names. It had good reasons to do it in geographical names, and it has decreed the official names of places like these:
    {Pikes Peak, Cades Cove, Governors Point, Hells Canyon, Akers Mill, Johnsons Ferry, Moores Mill, Kings County, Queens County, Prince Georges County}, though most people in Maryland do write Prince George’s County and Queen Anne’s County.

    There are roads on the north side of Atlanta, near the Chattachoochee River and Peachtree Creek: Akers Mill Road, Johnsons Ferry Road, Moores Mill Road, and more. Naturally, in Colonial times and the early years of our republic, there were lot of grist mills and ferries in that area. Many people nowadays do not know about or care about such things, but good editors should.
    D.A.W.

  • hamide rahal

    I feel extremely obliged to thank you for the very interesting tips you provided me with.
    Could you please explain the fact for calling the personal pronouns as such though “it” generally refers to animals and things?

  • Cassie Tuttle

    “Even writers who wish to submit a manuscript to a book publisher are advised to hire an editor (or more than one) before doing so, not only to improve the chance that the manuscript will be accepted but also because many publishing companies are unable or unwilling to devote time, effort, and cost to various editorial tasks.”

    The business of publishing has changed so much over recent years; and roles and definitions have changed.

    Chances are that if a writer is submitting to a “traditional” book publisher, that process will include an *editor* — in the traditional sense. So I think someone who is going the traditional publishing house route probably doesn’t need an *editor* before submitting the manuscript. However, that writer would likely benefit from a *copyeditor* (even though the publishing company may have its own in-house copyeditors or may contract the copyediting out to a freelance copyeditor).

    Just trying to reinforce the fact that “editor” ≠ “copyeditor.”

  • Mark Nichol

    Cassie:

    Thanks for your clarifying comment. However, although copyediting is the editorial stage most often neglected in traditional publishing, developmental and substantive editing — the process of helping shape and focus a manuscript — does not always occur, or is conducted hurriedly or shoddily.

  • Glynis Jolly

    I have yet to get to that point when an editor is even needed. I definitely want one at that time but the cost is beyond me. I may have to look for willing volunteer readers. I know this isn’t as effective, but when broke you find what else will suffice.

  • Jeanie C

    Working with an editor should not be painful. If it is, then you are using the wrong editor. That has been my motto since I began editing for indie authors a few years ago. I don’t do it to make money. I do it because I love helping people.

    I have been utterly dumbfounded by some of the things I’ve heard from authors about their previous experiences with editors. I’ve also been taken aback by how much they’d paid them to get back such shoddy work.

    Good editors who work for affordable rates are out there. You just have to do your homework and keep searching. Look at samples of what the editor has done previously. One of my authors recently turned down a traditional publishing contract because she didn’t like their editor. (Talk about an ego boost!) Don’t be afraid to self publish, and shop around for an editor who will work with you, not against you. My authors will tell you that editing does not have to be a painful process.

  • Damian

    Hiring a professional editor was the smartest thing I did. I had others proofread it for me and they had decided it was good to go. The editor gave me a comprehensive report on my manuscript. Everything from style to holes in the plot. That’s where his report became invaluable. I had a major hole in the plot and no-body, myself included, had picked it up. It was fixed with a replacement chapter but would’ve had a negative effect, had I self published on the advice of other, non-professional readers. The investment wasn’t too bad. I shopped around. I’m using him from the initial appraisal to the final proofread.

  • Alina Cincan

    When you publish a book, whether it is self-published or not, having an editor should be on top of your priorities. Or at least a good proofreader. I don’t know whether it’s just me, but lately I have come across a number of books with such poor grammar that made me cringe and regret wasting my money on them. If one of them was from a very young indie author who clearly did not know any better and hopefully she will have learnt (although I am not sure I want to buy the rest of her books for fear of seeing the possessive used as plural), the other one came from a linguist giving advice on the translation industry. That is totally unacceptable, especially coming from someone who also offers proofreading services. I was appalled.

  • MJ Brewer

    The most difficult reality for me to come to terms with is an editor is necessary to have writing accepted. Writing needs to be accepted in order to be paid and perhaps make a respectable living. Some people (uh hmm) have no income to support a career in writing, especially with the exorbitant prices some editors charge. But then I suppose this is where the ingenuity of the “real” writer’s imagination comes into play, eh?

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