Mile 43: Editor — Yes or No?

First-time writers will often ask, “Do I need an editor?”

Sometimes, mistakenly, they answer, “No.”

This happens for a variety of reasons. Maybe you were an English major in college and feel you have all the spelling and grammar expertise necessary. Maybe you really don’t want feedback on your project. Perhaps you think spellcheck covers it. Or maybe you simply don’t want to go to the expense of time and dollars required to bring in an expert.

Allow me to be blunt. If you don’t engage an editor, it’s a mistake. Why?

You have probably heard the famous quote from Sir William Osler, “A physician who treats himself has a fool for a patient.”

Only slightly less famous is the following quote: “A writer who edits their own book has a fool for a client.”

The biggest reason is you are simply too close to your own book to be able to review, proof and edit it with an unbiased eye. Heck, you may be a good editor and able to offer your services to other writers for other books, but not for you and not for your books. Don’t misunderstand — you should edit your own book, all along the way as you write it and again when it’s done. You can do that over and over. But when you think the book is done and ready to go to print, that’s when you bring in the outside set of eyes.

It’s not just spelling and grammar errors that an editor can catch. They might find inconsistencies (dates, names, locations, etc.), story holes (it worked in your head, but didn’t transfer to the page), and phrases and sentences that make so much sense to you, but not to someone who isn’t in your head.

A good editor not only finds mistakes, but can also offer suggestions and ideas that if worked into your book will make it stronger. Don’t be afraid of, or offended by, those suggestions — listen carefully, take your time and see if they would make for a better book. If they would, incorporate them. If they won’t, politely thank the editor and don’t use the suggestions.

Many, if not most, writers (myself included) can far too easily fall in love with their own writing. Maybe an editor will be able to gently suggest that the 500 words you spent describing a sunset is a bit much and that “it was a beautiful sunset” is plenty and keeps the story moving forward.

All that being said, always remember that it is your book and just because an editor makes a change or suggestion, doesn’t mean you are bound to it.

A story from my first book:

A publisher was interested in the book and offered to have the first three chapters professionally edited, their way of showing me how they could make my book better.

I waited anxiously for two weeks (visions of best-seller lists and movie deals swirling through my head) until the chapters came back to me.

They were terrible.

The story changed dramatically, and the editor seemed to think the answer to everything was cursing and sex. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy cursing and sex as much as (maybe more than) the next writer, but I didn’t want either in my book. I was told it was the only way to sell Western novels these days. I didn’t believe them (thankfully they were wrong), and I passed on the deal.

Ask for the advice. Pay for the advice. But in the end, remember — it’s your book!

I wish you good writing, and if you have a question or something you’d like to share, send me an email at [email protected].

Thank you, enjoy and keep writing!

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