It’s amazing how just four little letters can strike so much fear into the hearts of aspiring authors, cast many into Bunyan’s “slough of despond” from whence so few ever return. Worth only 5 points in Scrabble, “edit” has immeasurable value in the writing world, however, where it’s the “work” part that comes after the fun of spewing out stories, articles, poems, song lyrics, scripts and what have you.
I’ve heard some seasoned writers say they actually enjoy the editing process that newbies generally hate, or at best suffer through. I don’t mind it, don’t find it so much a chore, as a chance to make my deathless prose even better (hubris not meant to be taken seriously—sort of). But to many new writers, it seems to be an insurmountable roadblock on the way to becoming a “published author,” for one reason or another. And so, we find a plethora of “need an editor” and “how can I find a good editor” and “should I hire an editor?” threads popping up on the site almost daily.
To which I am forced by an overdeveloped maternal complex to reply, by repeating over and over and over again, the info and advice you’ll find in this article. Hopefully, it will help diminish the number. At least, it will, I hope (if Daniel can make it work), allow me to simply insert a link to its place in the newsletter, instead of having to keep typing the same thing every time. So, here goes...
First of all, anyone who wants to become a successful writer needs to be able to edit their own work. That’s just a basic fact of life. The reason should be obvious, but obviously isn’t obvious enough for the many beginners who seem to have gotten the idea that hiring an editor is the norm. Where this idea originated, I’ve no clue, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it was put out there by those who offer editing services, by which they make their living. It could also have been born among neophytes who got that mistaken notion from reading the acknowledgment page of novels, wherein the famous author thanks his/her editor (which is not at all the same thing). Those folks can all edit their own writings—and do. The “editor” they’re thanking is the one who works for their publisher and simply takes the edited final draft and checks it for typos and other minor goofs and may offer advice on plot glitches and so on. They don’t (as a rule, though there may be exceptions) do the comprehensive editing that takes place before the ms is submitted as a “polished” final draft.
What all those pleading thread-posters are desperately seeking is someone to take a sow’s ear ms rife with all kinds of grammatical goofs and technical sins, and turn it into a marketable silk purse. And they want this person to do all they either can’t or are too lazy to learn how to do, for free—or for an affordable pittance! The awful truth is that good, professional editors don't come cheap. And the cheap ones aren’t legit pros, but just self-appointed wannabes calling themselves “editors” on usually sadly amateurish websites and charging cut-rate fees for criminally incompetent work I can’t even bring myself to call “editing.” I have looked over many mss, for which clueless beginners have paid from hundreds to thousands of dollars to have edited, and found so many overlooked or ignored errors and even blatant formatting goofs, that I wished I could have the perps arrested for grand larceny, just for starters.
But that’s not the worst part of this whole “getting your ms edited before submitting” thing. The really bad part is that even after you've paid hundreds or thousands of bucks to get someone who's truly capable to edit your short stories, or books for you, that will be no guarantee they'll ever be taken on by an agent or paying publisher. The best editor in the world can’t give you that guarantee. The best edited ms you can pay for still will have to buck the incredible odds every query and submission faces. Then, even if it does get published by a paying press, or if you self-publish, the odds are slim to none that you’ll ever make anywhere near enough from sales, to recoup what you paid to have it edited.
So, if you don’t want to learn enough about writing to be able to edit your mss on your own, you’d better be independently wealthy enough to pay a professional editor and not care if the work ever gets published, or never makes enough to even start to repay what it cost you, if you self-publish it.
The answer to this dilemma? Do what probably 99.99% (or more) of all successful authors do and get good enough at your chosen profession/avocation to be able to do your own editing and turn out a professional quality ms that has some chance of beating out the competition. How? Do whatever it takes.
~For starters, get yourself a good dictionary and grammar guide. You’ll find the ones I use in a sticky on the site, here: https://www.writingforums.org/showthread.php?t=21049.
~If you need to revisit grade school or high school grammar textbooks, you can get used ones on Amazon.
~Post excerpts of your work in our workshop and pay attention to what your fellow members say needs work.
~Critique their work, as practice for noticing what you need to catch on your own.
And, if after all of that, you still are determined to hire an editor, for heaven’s sake, do so carefully! Don’t settle for the cheapest, unless you feel like throwing away good money and still being stuck with a flawed ms that won’t pass muster with agents or acquisitions editors. Be sure to have a sample edit done on an excerpt from your ms—at no charge. Get references, contact info for clients you can ask for feedback. Approach it as I insist my own clients do, or I won’t take them on, which is to consider it as a learning experience, a course in how to edit your own work from then on, not as a crutch you’ll never be able to walk without. If you do that and pay careful attention to everything the editor does—asking questions and getting answers about “why”—then it can be money well spent. Once!
Make a habit of it and you’ll not only be keeping yourself from ever becoming a good writer, but also be making those of us who get paid to do your editing for you, if not rich, at least making more money than you’re ever likely to do with your writings. Isn’t it better to provide that short, dreaded “e” word with the company of some longer ones that can open up new horizons and help you reach the end of that rainbow you’ve been chasing? So, try adding “edify” and “educate” and “enlighten” to your stock of “e” words, instead of quaking and shaking and reaching for your checkbook, when faced with a muddled mess of a ms you wish someone else would “fix up” for you.
(Much the above applies to hiring a ghostwriter, too! I’ll deal with that in one of my next articles.)
Love and hugs, maïa