How committed are you?
By Carol / November 8, 2013 /
Many indie authors choose not to shell out for an editor. But the right relationship can make writing soar.
Not the tiniest piece of crap eluded her. She invariably landed squarely on what was wrong and left me to face it down, if I could.” – Author Philip Roth speaking about his editor Veronica Geng
Authors who sign with a publishing house work with an editor. Beyond the requirement to work with an editor, they know they need an editor. Even authors like Philip Roth who is, according to a recent article in The New Yorker, “ruthlessly self-critical while he is writing.”
A good editor can see flaws the author can’t and has a relationship with the author that allows for honest feedback and discussion. The result? A book worthy of the reader’s time and money.
From the beginning of my journey into writing historical fiction, I anticipated working with a professional editor. But, unlike authors who work with a publishing house, we indie authors go into our own pockets to hire editorial services.
More than once along the way, I wondered if it was worth the investment. After all, I had worked through my manuscript with my writing partner, two groups of beta readers, other historical fiction authors, and finally my own writing skills honed by years in the editor chair myself. Did I really need yet another set of eyes looking at things?
Whenever I wavered, I returned to my goal in writing my upcoming novel “Go Away Home” — to tell the best story I can and write it as well as I can. In my heart, I knew that included an editor.
As I prepared to choose an editor, serendipity lead me to Jenny Q, an editor who specializes in historical fiction. When all other things are equal, it made sense to have an editor attuned to questioning anachronisms and historical facts.
I hired Jenny Q for copy editing and she delivered that. She smoothed out choppy and disjointed places, suggested more appropriate word choices, questioned and clarified when my meaning grew hazy. She also did more. While I had not hired her for a developmental edit, she pointed out several places where the story would benefit from slowing down and building more emotional depth into my main character. We talked through those places, batting ideas back and forth.
Instead of being discouraged to find I need to write several more scenes, Jenny’s willingness to talk through her thoughts and my reactions, plus her encouraging feedback, has me eager to get back to the keyboard to make my story soar. As I write these new sections, Jenny will continue as my partner, copy editing to ensure each new scene fits smoothly into the whole.
After working with the same editor for ten years, author Amy Tan‘s longtime reader, editor and friend died. For twelve years, she was without an editorial partner. When her new book “The Valley of Amazement” was an idea, she was ready for a new editor. “I don’t care what the money is, I want an editor. I want the best editor for myself,” she says in a Wall Street Journal article.
Now that I’ve worked with a good editor, I understand the value authors like Philip Roth and Amy Tan find in these relationships. Professional copy editing gives me confidence my book will be what I set out to write. Now I can’t imagine publishing a book without it.
How about it indie authors? What has your experience been with editors? Have you used one? Why or why not?
For my first novel, Talion, I did not work with an editor, and I ended up taking the first edition off the market so I could correct problems an editor would have seen. For the sequel, Daemon Seer, I’m working with a pro. It’s worth every penny.
Thanks for sharing your experience, Mary. I read of many indie authors who find themselves doing as you did. I hired a proofreader for my memoir, but not an editor. At the time, I didn’t understand the difference. Each time I reprinted my memoir, I revised what a copy editor would have found before the launch. We live and learn!
Great article, Carol. I see the value of having an editor and plan to find one. My question is WHEN. I’ve read in other blogs that editors want to read someone’s “best work.” (Don’t waste their time and your money having them correct bad grammar, typos and silly mistakes.) I agree. On the other hand, as I edit my own WIP, I wonder if I’m putting a nice spit shine on the wrong pair of shoes. Do I send an editor my best, completed work? Or perhaps the over-worked, agonized-over first 100 pages?
Really good question, Nan. One I’ve asked myself. Had I known about developmental editors, I would have engaged one at the beginning of my novel writing process to help me focus the concept. Since I didn’t know about this service, I chose a copy editor for where I am and gave her the cleanest, best work I could. And also asked her to look for any places she thought the story didn’t work or wasn’t as strong as it could be. Jenny’s comments about new scenes are on the developmental side. It was a chance I took. Next time, I see a developmental stage as part of the plan. You might ask a couple of the editors on your short list what they recommend. Good luck and thanks for commenting!
My husband (now retired) was a professional copy editor, working for the Canadian Bible Society. I could have him copy edit my work for free, but I’m not sure it’s a good idea. Perhaps we are too close to each other, and he wouldn’t see my writing without bias. I always pass my book reviews and other short writings to him before I send it away and he usually catches things I miss. I go for content, he goes for detail. Any comment on this?
How lucky to have a professional copy reader in the house, Elfrieda! Even if you only access him for shorter or first-round writing. I’ve always heard that family members have a hard time being unbiased and/or honest. Whether that applies to your husband, I can’t say. If you’re questioning it already, perhaps you have your answer.
Agree completely with this valuable post. It has also been my experience.
I expected you used an editor, Paulette. “The Persecution of Mildred Dunlap” was excellent. Thanks for lending your voice to the discussion!
Hi Carol. Thank you for a great post, and one that is so timely for me. I’m working now with my fifth editor. I once assumed that writers who used editors must not be very good writers. Now, I just realize that it’s the same as that old saying, “If you represent yourself in court, you have a fool for a lawyer.” After my fourth full professional edit, my manuscript was accepted for publication by a small publishing house. But I still wasn’t satisfied. I felt something was off. So, I submitted it to She Writes (for $50 they’ll tell you if it’s ready for publication or not). The result is my current collaboration with Cami Ostman (who does freelance editing as well as her work with SheWrites). I’m amazed how difficult it has been for me to identify which of my darlings must go. Cami helped me hone in on just what the central “take away” (universal) message was that I wanted for my book (I’d bounced around among five or six these past seven years) and then she lets that define which stories stay and which must go. My only advice for writers ready to go the editor route: pay for the best. In hindsight, if I had been willing to pay for the best in the beginning, I would have saved money in the long run. Thanks so much for giving me the chance to sing Cami’s praises. And again, thanks for a great and timely post.
You are committed, Janet! Good for you. One of the things I like most about your experience is that in addition to the input of professional editors, you trusted your gut. The author knows the story s/he wants to tell and with the help of a good editor will get there.
Thanks for sharing Cami’s name. There are many editors out there and it helps authors to have a recommendation.
Carol, This is such an important post for anyone seeking publication. Our stories deserve every chance to shine and ,speaking from my own personal experience, I needed an objective eye to point out what areas needed more work. I was too close to the story to see it clearly. I agree with Janet, pay for the best. I’d like to think I learned all my hard lessons with my first memoir, now in the final editing stage after developmental and copy edits but I know I will hire another editor when the time comes for my next book. Thanks for a great post.
Would that we could all learn everything the first time through, Kathy! It’s not as though we start at square one with each new work – fortunately the learning is progressive – but each time i feel as though “I don’t know what I don’t know.” Actually, this is one of the things I particularly enjoy about writing, publishing, marketing. I’m always learning something new. And often from the generosity of other writers like you. I look forward to reading your memoir. Thanks for joining the discussion!
I think the most significant point in this post is that editors do so much more than correct grammar and tighten language. To realize that many great authors depend on their editors to flesh out and fill in their stories makes me very grateful for my editor’s critique (as well as the critiques of my writing partner (you) and my beta readers), rather than being defensive or feeling inadequate because I didn’t get it completely right the first time.
To be grateful for criticism can be a challenge! Knowing we’re in the same boat with authors like Roth and Tan does help. I know that I count on your honest and constructive critiquing as much as you count on mine, Mary. It’s that kind of relationship I want to have with my editor now and in the future.
Excellent post! I have worked with Jenny Q on all four of my published books and one that’s just begun the editorial process. I can say without hesitation that she is worth all the effort, time, and money. I chose her because she specializes in historicals, which are my first love. I thought all I needed was a good proofing, but when I got the manuscript back, she had done much more than correcting grammar and spelling. She sees things I don’t see, asks questions that I hadn’t addressed and turned the stories on their heads, making me see them through new eyes. The plots are bolder, the characters more complex and the tension heightened. I highly recommend professional editing. It has made a HUGE difference. I can’t praise her enough.
It’s nice to meet another writer of historical fiction, Gayle. I’m glad you stopped by. Thanks for endorsing both professional editing and Jenny Q. It sounds as though you received developmental comments from her on your manuscript as I did on mine. Involving an editor earlier in the writing process – as I’m developing the plot line – is a step I’ve added to my process for future books. I’m almost certain engaging an editor early on would have saved me from wandering in the wilderness as much as I did this time!
It’s nice to meet you too, and read all the comments others have left about your wonderful take on the editing process. I wish I could say I had the good foresight to seek help first, but that wasn’t the case. Mine was hindsight is 20/20. I had already published ebooks and was thinking about putting them on amazon. I decided to check them (yet again) for errors and spent six weeks finding more and more wrong. I finally cried wolf and did what I should have done in the first place–find an editor I felt comfortable working with. Jenny Q was that choice and I’m glad I chose her.
We all learn from our experiences, Gayle. You’re there now. Write on. And in this case, edit on!