Monday, September 10, 2012

Why I Need an Editor

As many of you may know, I edit for a couple of publishers as well as on contract and for friends. I’m pretty tough, and I do both content and line editing. So why do I need an editor? (And why does every other writer?)
1.   I’m too close to the material. I know what it’s supposed to say, and therefore I read it that way. I learned this lesson the hard way with our first book, 31 Months in Japan: The Building of a Theme Park. After three complete rewrites plus a complete edit by the publisher, I thought we’d gotten all the bugs out. My then-boss read the book and mentioned she’d found an error. (She’s one of the best proofreaders I know.) I asked what it was, and sure enough, it was right there. A letter had been left out of a word, and all of us missed it.

2.   Even with an editor, mistakes creep in. (I attribute the errors to the Menehune, by the way.) However, fewer mistakes appear when a professional goes through the manuscript after I’ve taken a few whacks at it.

3.    We run all our work through our critique group.They catch the small errors and make suggestions for improvement. However, in doing the corrections for the critiques, that pesky delete button sometimes gets carried away, and words that should have been left in get deleted. Or the opposite can happen. Words that should have been deleted just won’t leave.

4.   I tend to overuse certain words, like three times in the same paragraph when there are perfectly good synonyms. Our critique group usually catches those, but not always. My editor does, however.

5.   It’s easy to leave out quotation marks and to either add or omit other punctuation. When I do a professional edit, the last pass is usually to check to make sure that all sentences end with punctuation and that all quotes are in pairs. I don’t always see these in my own work because I’m usually more concerned about content.

6.   When you develop a good relationship with an editor who enjoys your writing and who understands your style of storytelling, the mutual trust level increases. Whenever a particular editor makes a comment, I pay attention. She understands me well enough to know when I haven’t made an important point clear enough, and she isn’t afraid to point out where I haven’t answered a question or completed a story arc adequately. She also makes notes of the things she likes in the story. That affirmation really helps me know when I’m on the right track.

7.   I always know the backstory for my books, but I’m afraid of interjecting ‘reader feeder.’ So I sometimes need to be told that the reader may need the additional information. When editing Larry’s book, Lakeview Park, I had to remind him several times about including enough detail to explain a character’s motivation.

8.   Even editors can make grammar errors when they put on their writing hats. I depend on my editor to point out when I’ve done that. Split infinitives and confusing pronoun references are probably the biggest issues. I know better, but sometimes in the rewriting, those kinds of things can occur.

9.   A good editor can be your best asset in producing a great book, On the other hand, a poor edit can make the difference between an enjoyable story and one that is difficult to read, and therefore not a pleasure.
So, why do I need an editor? Because, for my own books, I’m the writer. That’s my primary job. And I leave the final edit up to my editor. I’ve been blessed with terrific people who’ve worked with me to produce books I can be proud of. I did encounter one editor who made up some rules of her own (not per Chicago Manual of Style or Strunk and White's Elements of Style) and then insisted on changing the manuscript to conform. I protested to the publisher, but the book went out as edited.

That’s why I always tell those authors with whom I’m working that the manuscript ultimately belongs to them, not to me. I merely make suggestions, and they are free to accept or reject them.
I requested a different editor for the next book and the let the publisher know the reasons I didn’t feel the other one was a good match. We now have a wonderful editor whom I request whenever I submit.

If you do find an editor you like, you are truly blessed. And if you haven’t yet, keep looking until you find one.


  1. Oh, how right you are! I say gremlins are there to add and subtract things even after they've been edited. Drives me NUTS!