I don’t hate you. Really I don’t. These are phrases that often go through an editor’s mind as they work through your manuscript. We don’t hate you or your story; we’re not evil trolls ready to destroy your work. We’re not monsters who hack and slash at your words with wild abandon, our red pen dripping with the life-blood of your characters.
We’re not the enemy. We will, however, be your story and your characters’ advocate – devil or otherwise. That’s our job. And editors love their job. I know I do. We get to help a writer push the limits of their storytelling, to advise and collaborate to bring out its best. We question plots and sub-plots that aren’t cohesive, characters that appear to be acting out of character. We see what you don’t. Why? Because we’re not as close to your story as you are.
Objectivity is what we bring to the table, and it’s why all stories, no matter how they’re published (self or traditional) need another set of eyes (or more) to look over them. We haven’t been in your head developing the character(s), we don’t know the intricacies of their backstory – how they came into being. All we get is what’s on the page. If we question a particular point, or are confused about a character’s motivations, chances are so will your reader.
When going through a manuscript, we’re constantly aware that any edits, questions or suggestions may not sit well with an author; I mean we’re taking their lovingly-crafted baby and making marks all over it. We understand the blood, sweat and tears that have gone into bringing your work to life, especially those of us who are writers as well. We don’t laugh maniacally when we ask you to consider changing something, or deleting a scene altogether – we know it hurts, but we also know it could be the best thing for your baby.
One of my clients had a character she had been living with for a very long time, and about halfway through the manuscript, I noted the character was acting and speaking in a way that didn’t reflect them or their purpose. When I mentioned this to the client, they were surprised they hadn’t noticed it – I had the objectivity the client no longer had. When I saw the next draft of this manuscript, the character was better than even I could have imagined. I couldn’t have rewritten it – that’s not an editor’s job, they’d never be so presumptuous – but I could point out the issues and return it to the creator who knows their character far better than I ever could. Collaboration: when it works, magic happens.
I know a lot of writers dread the editing stage of the manuscript, but this is a stage that needs to be embraced and enjoyed – you’re getting down to the nitty-gritty of the publishing process. Yes, if you misuse a comma or your verb-tense is a little off, we’re there to pick those up for you. We ensure your syntax is just right, that your characters and places are consistent in description and spelling, and will explain why.
Editing is a place where a writer can learn those intricacies of the English language, and we’re happy to share our knowledge. Why? Because we’re word nerds. I will happily walk through the reasons why you can or can’t use a semi-colon; why I’m a proponent of the Oxford comma, or how short, sharp sentences convey tension within a scene. I will explain why ‘showing’ works to create a deeper connection to the reader than ‘telling’ ever will, and why the passive voice can make the reader feel like a spectator rather than a participant, and why there are very, very few instances where punctuation exists outside speech marks. (This is usually where you’ll need to tell me to shut up, as I can wax lyrical for hours. Just ask my husband – he’s the one over there with the perpetual glassy-eyed look.)
So yes, editors are an essential part of the publishing process, whether you’re going the self-publishing route or traditional, and perhaps more so with self-publishing as this is a step quite a few SP authors overlook (or, sadly, believe they don’t need). I’m here to tell those authors you’re not only doing yourself a disservice but that of your potential reader. Nothing will piss off a reader more than a poorly written, non-edited book they’ve paid money to read. I know; I’ve been one of them.
With the enormous amount of choice out there for readers, it’s getting harder to have your work, your stories noticed among the millions. But what will always help, what will always bring a reader back is when an author takes the care to put their very best work out in the world. Part of that process is to work with professionals. I read a post from a self-published author on this very thing – read it here; it has some great insights about finding a professional. (Yes, I’m her editor, and you absolutely should read her collection of short stories when it comes out – I can’t recommend it enough.)
And a professional is what you need. When sourcing an editor (or proofreader, cover artist, formatter/layout artist), check their credentials! I’ll say it again: CHECK THEIR CREDENTIALS! A professional will have studied, they will have qualifications backed up by paperwork, and they will have experience – all of which should be available to you. Ask. And ask for a sample edit – most will provide one.
There are a plethora of sources to find professional editors, but word-of-mouth is your best bet. Ask other writers who they’d recommend, ask forums and social media. If you can, source someone who specialises in your genre as they’ll have insights other editors may not. And speak to at least five editors before you make a decision. Not all editors will be the right fit, but when you find the one that clicks, you’ll make magic.