A friend of mine recently posted 5 issues he had with hiring an editor to help him hone his writing in response to this admittedly sardonic post by my good friend and colleague Avily Jerome. His concerns are valid, but rooted in what I would consider either faulty information, skewed perception, or bad experiences with editors in the past.
Here are his concerns:
1. Some people who are trying to make a living as professional editors are terrible writers. They have no idea what “good” looks like.
2. Some other editors are good writers, who will try to take what you wrote and force it into their style. When it doesn’t have to be.
3. You as a writer generally cannot be sure about an editor until you hire him or her. Chances are as good as not, you just flushed your money down the toilet.
4. Don’t you have any friends or associates that can read your work for you and give you honest feedback? (Please don’t tell me you have to pay someone to be your friend…)
5. Learn to self-edit. Not that you don’t have blind spots, but once your friends help you identify them and you learn to look out for them, you’ll become a better writer.
Here are 5 answers to those concerns and reasons TO hire an editor:
1. Some of us actually do know what we’re doing and happen to be excellent writers as well. Folks like Jeff Gerke and Lindsay Franklin come to mind. (Speaking of writing, sign up for my author newsletter and get a FREE download of my award-winning novel, Blood for Blood!)
The trick here is that you need to vet potential editors just as you would if you were hiring a graphic designer for a book cover, an accountant to help you with your taxes, or a teenager to work at your McDonald’s franchise. Do your research, and you won’t get conned.
2. Some editors who are good writers can not only help you fix and enhance your writing on a mechanics level but they can also help you develop your voice as opposed to injecting their own in place of yours. A good editor works with your content and helps to shape and refine it–not rewrite it for you (unless you’re specifically paying them to do that). As with number one, you want to do your homework and pick an editor who actually knows the difference.
3. Good editors offer free test edits, have solid references and qualifications, and are forthcoming about the terms about their edits. While hiring an editor (or any professional, for that matter) is never a sure thing, you can always test an editor out beyond their references/qualifications, test edits, and terms by hiring them to do a shorter project before diving into a novel.
A flash fiction piece is a great test project and will cost you far less than what a novel would, and it will give you a solid indication of the editor’s capabilities. Given these filters in the editor-hiring process, you can be more assured that your money is not being wasted.
4. While friends and associates may be avid readers, they don’t necessarily have the training (technical or craft-wise) to help you improve your novel. Plus, they often lack objectivity because they know you and are more likely to say nice things rather than risk damaging your relationship with them.
Even fellow writers aren’t necessarily good editors/critiquers, so it’s valid to pay a professional (a real one whom you’ve vetted in advance) to give you honest, solid feedback on your work that helps you improve the quality of your story. Trained editors catch all sorts of mistakes and contradictions and notice areas that could be improved. Your great-aunt Selma may not.
5. While learning to self-edit is absolutely valuable, working with an editor on even a small project can totally improve your self-editing skills. Good editors help you identify those blind spots in your writing that ought to be improved or adjusted, and as a result you can learn to identify them as well.
A good editor is not just someone you hire to edit your manuscript and walk away–a good editor is your partner, your teacher, and hopefully, by the end of the project, your friend, if he/she’s done his/her job correctly. After all, that editor wants to edit your next project too.
A good editing experience is a transformative, learning experience. Ask any client who has been satisfied with an editor’s performance and they’re likely to tell you that they not only have a cleaner manuscript but they’re now also a better writer and self-editor as a result of the editing process.
A good edit often propels writers forward in their craft faster than anything else because they get individual, specialized attention for an extended period of time that they often can’t get at even the most thorough writers conference critique session, or from their critique group, or from their great aunt Selma.
Editors are essential in producing great fiction and great nonfiction 99% of the time (not an actual statistic, but I imagine it’s not far from the truth). Anyone who says otherwise must not have worked with a great editor yet. If that’s you, check me out. Give me a chance to impress you.