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Does everyone need an editor?

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by Incanus, Oct 17, 2017.

  1. Incanus

    Incanus Archmage

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    Hey Scribes!

    It’s been a while since I’ve been able to hang out here.

    More and more, I’ve been wondering about finding and working with an editor.

    My basic question boils down to this: Does a writer who has strong editing skills need to have an editor? Put another way: Does every single writer on the planet NEED to have an editor?

    I’d like to discuss this theoretically first, before trying to determine whether or not I personally have sufficient editing skills. On that point, I really have no idea.

    So far, I’ve seen the work of two professional editors. In one case, the editor(s) generally lowered the quality of the prose, suggesting adding poor adverbs to dialogue tags, swapping words with ones that didn’t actually fit, and other questionable items (it’s been a while since I looked at that stuff). In another case, the editor didn’t understand the conventions of the genre very well (and admitted as much), and found no proofreading errors and minimal copyediting issues.

    I can certainly see the value in simply having a second set of eyes on my work. But such eyes need not belong to an editor.

    To wrap up, here are my two questions:

    Does everyone need an editor?

    If not, how might I determine if my own editing skills justify not using an editor?
     
  2. Penpilot

    Penpilot Staff Article Team

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    Well, it depends on what you mean by editing. There are different types of editor and editing. There's editing where it's just about making sure the prose is grammatically correct. There's story editing. Etc. Are you strong enough in all those areas to get the job done?

    Also, having an editor isn't just about being able to do the job, it's about efficiency. Sometimes editing requires distance from the story to see the errors, whether they be spelling mistakes or story flaws. Having an editor means you can hand something off and have be read by fresh eyes right away, instead of having to wait a week or so for the story to clear from your head.

    Just as there are various levels of author out there, there are various levels of editor. Just because you run into a couple that didn't get your story or genre doesn't mean a "good" editor can't help.

    I took an editing course once, and the instructor's day job was working for a small press as an editor. As we went through each of the student's manuscripts, he was making insightful comment after insightful comment, about directions the story could go, about clarity of prose, etc. IMHO, I don't think he was always right, but what he said made perfect sense and definitely gave me food for thought.

    I'm by no means an expert, but being an editor isn't about being right all the time. It's about being able to offer up possibilities and helping the author see things in their story that they may not have otherwise have thought of, so the author can make the story as good as it possible can be. And part of the skill of being an author is being able to filter through any all advice given and figure out what's right for your story and what isn't.

    To me. it's not about if everyone needs an editor. To me, it's about everyone needing the right editor. One who believes in your story. One who knows your genre and understands what you're trying to achieve with your story. Not just any Joe or Jill off the street will do.
     
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  3. Russ

    Russ Istar

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    Yup. PP is bang on.

    It is not whether everyone needs an editor that I really see as the question.

    I think of it as two questions:

    "Will person A benefit from an editor?" and then "How does person A find good editor?"

    If you plan to present your work to the public for sale I would say that almost every author can benefit from a good editor. Whether or not you can find one or afford one is a different question. The other thing to keep in mind is that there are different kinds of editors and different editors have very different strengths and weaknesses.

    If you are serious about selling your fiction, a good editor is a very wise investment. But they ain't cheap or easy to find.
     
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  4. Demesnedenoir

    Demesnedenoir Istar

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    Theoretically, no. Realistically, yes. But it depends on defining “need”.

    A good editor/writer relationship is gold, but of course, “good” is the key. A bevy of quality beta readers, and/or a base of dedicated customer readers (if speaking commercial) can mitigate the need for an editor. The former because they’ll help your product pre-publish, the latter because they’ll buy a book based on a writer’s track record.

    Self-editing has limitations, just like any single editor. There are enough blunders in professionally edited books, don’t need more for a lack of it.
     
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  5. Annoyingkid

    Annoyingkid Banned

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    For my story, I've already thought of everything an editor will ever think of.
     
  6. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    I seriously doubt any of us have thought of everything.

    A couple of remarks here are worth highlighting. One, you don't need *an* editor, you need the *right* editor for you. And those are definitely hard to find. I've had a couple of poor experiences. Sturgeon's Rule applies here as much as anywhere. I've found this is a good argument for writing short fiction; I can give a short story to a prospective editor to see how they do, both at the story level and at the copyedit level. I've already explored the story pretty thoroughly and know its shortcomings. Those free edit offers are really an audition, and I'm pretty critical of their critiques.

    Anyway, if you are able to find the right editor--at the least, make sure they're in your genre--then hang on to them. Once you have a good one, you won't need to have this argument with anyone; you'll know their value.

    The other is the new eyes angle. If you have ever had a reviewer or a beta reader suggest a new idea or spot a problem that you never saw, then you know what I mean. The right editor will do this in spades. Who among us believes their work is perfect, incapable of improvement? To me, writing is in part about getting the story to done, but it is also about making the *next* story even better.

    I'll add one of my own. I self-edited Goblins at the Gates. I did a pretty good job; respectable, though not perfect. That editing process took weeks. It involved having the entire manuscript robo-read to me. It involved me reading a physical printout. It involved a spellcheck and grammar check pass after each of those (because they entailed corrections and emendations, of course, which could have introduced new mistakes). It involved handing the entire manuscript to an ancient history professor to be read for historicity.

    Weeks. Had I given the manuscript to an editor, I could have spent those weeks working on A Child of Great Promise. Now, I did not hire an editor because to do so would have cost thousands, because of the length of the manuscript. So that was a choice I made. But A Child is going to be half that length.

    That said, I have hung out in writers forums for nearly a decade. I have noticed a pattern. The more published a person gets, the less common is this conversation. The less published argue that they don't need an editor. This is neither universal nor a constant, but it's a clear preponderance. Cost is definitely a factor. You're going to have to make your own call on this, IncanusIncanus, but at least give it serious consideration. At least doing the research is free.
     
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  7. Chessie2

    Chessie2 Staff Article Team

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    This really depends on where you are in your craft. Even with an editor (of which there are various kinds, it's not a one size fits all sort of thing) you still need to know your craft, know your weaknesses. Not every editor will be right for you and your story. Editors are human and will introduce errors into your work. Some will suck. Some will be really good. It all depends on who you can afford and find.

    I've had experiences with editors that were worth the money. Others not. I had to rewrite an entire book once because the editor I paid killed my voice and I threw money down the toilet. That pissed me off so bad. Grr! But I chose poorly. Here's what I've learned:

    -Grammarly, Hemmingway editor and these sorts of apps are really good at helping you catch first mistakes.
    -A clean manuscript (before it hits the editor) will make the editor's job much easier and they can help you more this way.
    -Line editors, copy editors, developmental editors, and proofreaders are entirely different in nature and purpose. Know what they do. Understand it. Choose the right one for you.
    -Developmental editors are expensive but worth it if you find the right one. I used one several years ago and learned a lot from the experience. But I wouldn't do it again because it's too expensive. Also, the easiest way to learn storytelling is to read read read read.
    *Practicing your craft over the long term helps you refine your process and improve in skill.
    -ALL writers need extra eyes, whether that's betas, proofreaders, copy editors, whatever. I believe in copy edits and proofreaders. Some of my work still has mistakes in it because I was unable to find proper help when those scripts were ready. No one has complained yet lol but I have to eventually send them to get copy edited.

    The short: editors vary in scope, skill, and purpose. All writers may not need an editor, but they need extra eyes on the manuscript to help them catch errors. No manuscript will ever be perfect. Learn your craft. :)
     
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  8. Annoyingkid

    Annoyingkid Banned

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    I probably average five speech bubbles of writing per page, allowing me to be very meticulous with what is there. Editors expertise are only useful when there's alot of prose to analyze.
     
  9. Sheilawisz

    Sheilawisz Queen of Titania Moderator

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    Hello Incanus, and Hugs!

    I hope that everything in your life has been alright, and you have my best wishes for the success of your work. Now, I am going to say this not only for you but also for any aspiring storyteller that may be reading this thread:

    If you are interested in the bookselling business, then definitely you need editors. There are also agents. In some cases it's possible to present your non-edited work to a publishing company and if they like it enough they are going to do all the editing and marketing work for you, but that's very uncommon in the industry.

    It's all about the business potential that they see in a story.

    Now, editing stories is not done to make them better as an artistic product. This is done with marketing purposes in mind, because selling books is a business just like selling any other product. They want to modify the original work in whatever ways that they judge the best for said book to generate the best sales possible, with a target audience already calculated.

    Also, it's true that some editors would mess a story up while others would turn the same story into the best possible commercial product. Do not think of editors as flawless wizards that are always right. You need to find the right editor for your story, and there are so many factors involved that I see commercial success more as destiny than anything else.

    There are also storytellers that do not seek to sell as many books as possible. We are not interested in the business, so we do not need agents and editors. We want to tell our stories as we imagine and create them, with our personal style and voice untouched. So, the truth is that not all writers of stories need editors.

    On top of that, there are also people that do not bother with editors and agents and they sell their electronic books in Amazon and other sites anyway. I know one here in Mythic Scribes, he sells alright and many people have praised his work.

    It's a pretty varied world that we live in.
     
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  10. Demesnedenoir

    Demesnedenoir Istar

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    I’ve stumbled onto 2 editors. One I have not used yet, but want to, if she’ll take me on. Better editors are in demand. The lady I worked with can pick and choose the writers who submit, she isn’t taking on every writer who comes her way and I had to wait months for her to get to work. Now I have that relationship established, we know each other’s styles, she’s looking forward to the next books.

    I submitted to 3 editors for samples and submitted the sample with known bad habits I have, which are not technically “wrong”.

    #1: was nitpicky but not catching my bait

    #2: caught one bait out several but only because it was technically wrong as a dangling participle. She also felt a bit kissy butt.

    #3: caught me on my habit and said if I want to keep those not to bother with her as my editor, although she liked my writing, and yeah... if I fixed those before hiring her she’d do it cheaper.

    DING! #3. Always seek out the hard-asses is my philosophy. As I learned from screenwriting, the pansies might make you feel good but do little for you.

    Now, I also stumbled on an editor who is highly connected in traditional publishing, and a helluva resume there, so she would be a double win if I could work with her on the next book.

    Find the right editor for you and it’s worth it... assuming you can still eat and pay the mortgage/rent after paying them, LOL.
     
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  11. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

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    Even if you did happen to be a professional, pro-rate fantasy editor, I would still tell you to get an editor.

    Writing is already too solitary, too all up in your own head. You need somebody else to look at your work, to think about what somebody else is going to think about your work, to get that notion grounded that somebody is actually going to be reading it, looking at it, talking to you about it. You need an editor because you need a colleague, because you need to remember that what you're doing is work, and to to get your head out of the clouds, if only from time to time.
     
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  12. Incanus

    Incanus Archmage

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    Thanks for the input, everyone. I appreciate it.

    I wish I had more time to address everything here. This issue is going to be very tricky for me.

    I totally get having more eyes on my work, I would never think of taking this all the way without that. The feedback I’ve gotten from three members of this forum has been invaluable, and has made the story better. This kind of work could be done by non-editors as much as editors.

    I suppose my main dilemma is going to be figuring out if this particular novel is actually worth spending money on. It should more or less deliver on the promise of genre conventions, but also bucks a few common items (such as: no antagonist, episodic structure, no romance). I suspect most publishers would see this story as a long-shot. If there are any comp-titles, I have no clue what they would be.

    I’m thinking of finishing this up to a certain point (which to me is having a readable version of the entire thing), then shelving it, and getting to work on novel #2 (which is going to be very, very different). Time frame: I should be done with #1 in about 6 months or so. Next novel may take about 3-5 years to write.

    I guess the search for an editor is on. Any recommendations as to where to look for one?
     
  13. Chessie2

    Chessie2 Staff Article Team

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    What kind of editor do you think you need? They all do different things.
     
  14. Russ

    Russ Istar

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    Let me firmly but politely disagree with the above view of in house editors at publishers with a specific example or two.

    It is simply not true that editors at publishers only edit with sales in mind. Many of them focus on the quality of the story, and its artistic or intrinsic value (I will try to avoid a discussion of the meaning of the word artistic). They are optimistic that improving the quality of the story will enhance reader enjoyment, but many of them don't edit simply for sales.

    Some understanding of how major publishers (as opposed to small presses) acquire books will help here. The book is first reviewed by someone who decides whether or not it might be worth buying. Now that person is either an acquiring editor, or passes that manuscript along to an acquiring editor. Before they go offering money to buy the book they then have to run the idea past some marketing and business people to get some money to buy it. Sometimes those folks read the book, sometimes they don't. The acquiring editor then gets authorized to spend some money to buy the book and usually the acquiring with then shepherd the book through the editing, production, marketing process. The money guys are pretty much out of the picture by that point, and have no input in the editing process.

    So many commercial in house editors edit for artistic and story value and don't edit for commercial reasons or to generate sales. Their marketing decisions very often have nothing to do with commercial reasons for very practical reasons. The commercial potential of the book has already been estimated before the book is purchased. If they think this is a good time to buy "Vampire romances" they might by your vampire romance. They don't give marching orders to buy "First person vampire romances with a gothic twist and a dark atmosphere that allude to the follies of capitalism" or not, the commercial criteria are much broader.

    There may be a few editors in the commercial fiction area who edit to enhance sales, but based on my experience they are a very small minority.

    My wife publishes with a big five publisher. Her editor is a strong willed academic left wing feminist who edits for social and story value in the books he edits. In all of the edits I have seen in my wife's work and all of my conversations with her editors on both sides of the pond (we socialize with them as well as work with them) I have never once seen an edit suggested, or a discussion of how the book can be changed to make it more marketable and enhance its sales. The conversation has always been about quality of prose and story, or theme or message, or being true to character or verisimilitude (if I had a nickel for every time I heard that word come from a commercial editor I would be long retired) or other craft, artistic, or social issue. Now everybody hopes that will produce a book that readers appreciate more, and those sells more, but the way Sheilawisz describes it is not how in house commercial editors work in the strong majority of cases. Of the many working writers I count among my friends I only know one who would suggest that has happened to him and it always ends up in a funny story where the changes don't work well or seem absurd and get discarded.

    One more fact to keep in mind on this subject. Several houses and many small publishers pride themselves on publishing work of particular literary or artistic value, sales potential be damned. They have that reputation and agents and others in the field know who they are. Do you really think those people edit for sales? I have seen serious rejection e-mails from big five houses that say "the book is too commercial for our house." You think they edit for sales?

    And now I am going for a record length post I may as well go all the way. If you are going to hire an editor to edit your work my advice is to try and hire one who has edited books and authors that you respect if you can. I also concur with DD, hire a hard ass. If you want someone to tell you your work is great, save your money and get your mother to read it. As one former freelance editor I know used to say "the only thing a writer likes less than my harsh criticism of their work is a rejection slip."
     
  15. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

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    ^ It's worth expanding on this. Whether something has "commercial" value is already deeply ingrained in a book long before it hits the editor. The commercial value is in the subject matter, the types of characters you use, the themes, the complexity of your writing.... if I looked at a book and tried to give you advice on how to make it more commercial, I would probably tell you to rewrite pretty much everything.

    And the thing is, you don't need to be "commercial" with a novel. To be clear, I don't believe that commercial and artistic are at odds with each other. But if being commercial means appealing to the broadest possible audience, that's something that block buster movies and TV shows need to do in order to cover the huge costs of working in film, while a book doesn't need to cover a fraction of those costs - one author's salary, the editing, a few expenses.... you can do quite well for yourself selling a thousand copies a month, and an audience that size exists for just about anything, if your work is good enough.
     
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  16. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    >I suppose my main dilemma is going to be figuring out if this particular novel is actually worth spending money on.
    I think this is sensible. It's why I didn't spend money on Goblins. It is my first novel and I know there are structural issues. The book is respectable, or I wouldn't have let it out the door, but it was also a learning project for me. I feel more confident now, and more willing to spend dough on hearing how to make a improve a book rather than how to fix one.

    Where to find them? That took me many, many hours. I searched for fantasy editors. There are some sites that gather lists of editors and I went through those. You will also find many from searches of social media. Then you have to go to each one's web site and read what they are looking for. With some, they'll list every genre under the sun and fantasy is just one more in the list. With others, they lean toward things like fantasy romance or horror whereas I was looking for epic fantasy. And some looked just right but were not available. It really does require building your own list by hand.

    Then you have to see what they want. How many chapters and which chapters. Or words.

    Now I have a list. I worked through it, corresponding one at a time. Found one. Her next available opening is next February. So, when you go down this road, start early. Also, fwiw, because I have other publications, she took a look at those, because the editor wants to know if we're compatible, just as much as the author does.
     
  17. Incanus

    Incanus Archmage

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    I'm not entirely certain. What are the choices again?

    I don't need much help with proofreading or copyediting.

    Developmental editing? Is that a thing? My plot, characters, themes, and structures are all done--a large change to these would be essentially starting a new novel.
    I guess I just need problems I hadn't thought of brought to my attention.

    So - a problem finding editor? I just don't know.
     
  18. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    Everyone needs a proofreader. Honest. We may not necessarily hire one, but a proofreader will always catch stuff.

    Most everyone needs a copy editor. That's what I'm hiring for A Child of Great Promise. Someone to catch consistency errors (which pretty much by definition are things I was unable to spot), characters acting out of character, logic loops, ambiguous language, all that and more. A copy editor will pretty much never touch the theme or plot, though they do need to understand both, so they may raise questions if they get confused on those fronts.
     
  19. Sheilawisz

    Sheilawisz Queen of Titania Moderator

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    It's good that you mention that Devor, because there is something that I want to say before somebody else misinterprets my posts in this thread. I do not mean to say that all commercial books lack some deeper or artistic value. I praise some highly commercial series like Harry Potter for its values about family, friendship and love and The Hunger Games for its message that even if horrible things happened and keep happening to you, life goes on and you have to be strong.

    At least, that's how I personally interpret those two series. The experience of many others is quite different.

    Sometimes, publishers pay huge amounts of money for the rights of a book. The printing, distribution and marketing also cost a lot of money, so they do have a great interest in achieving the best sales possible at least in cases like that.

    I do not blame them. It's business, and all companies need good margins of profit to survive.

    Yes, and all of that is true based on what target audience an author or the publishing company involved are aiming for. Themes, types of characters, plot complexity and other things work well for certain audience and bad for others. They need the right story elements for the right readers so the book sells well, again it's a business.

    The work of publishers when they edit a story is to make it more likeable for whatever target audience that they have in mind, to make it better for that particular group even if other types of audience would dislike or feel no interest on it.

    My points in this thread are:

    1- No, not every storyteller in the world needs editors.
    2- Professional editors and publishers have an interest above everything else, and that is profit.
    3- Do not think of editors as some kind of superior force that all stories need, because they can be flawed too.

    That's what I said, you just see it in a different way. What I said is that whatever changes they make to a story before it gets published are aimed at achieving the best sales possible for that book. Great sales come from people loving the book. Whether a company sells pizza, Halloween costumes or Fantasy novels, you need the intended customers to like and enjoy the final product.

    All of the complex work during the publishing process (from the moment that a promising book is presented to publishers to the moment it hits the shelves at bookstores) has one final goal, and that goal is to earn money and grow as a company.

    There is nothing wrong with that, it's what they do to survive and after all we live in a world where money moves everything.

    I am trying to argue against the idea that all writers of stories need editors, and that no story is complete without them. Also, many people believe that the only purpose to write a story is to sell it and I want to provide a different point of view.

    Yes, exactly my point. Working on the improvement of whatever aspect they see that needs improvement is aimed at producing a book that customers (readers) will appreciate more. They know what they are doing, it's their business and authors have to accept the necessary changes if they want to play the game.

    This is especially true for novice authors, because when authors are already famous and appreciated by publishers and readers alike they can get away with stuff that would not be tolerated in the case of a newbie.

    A good example would be my own experience with editing, after submitting articles that have been published here in Mythic Scribes.

    The original versions of my articles have suffered considerable changes in the editing process. Some parts of the originals that I really like were removed completely, or else altered to a significant degree. Many other parts were not changed at all. In other parts, the structure of my paragraphs or the words that I had chosen were changed for other styles.

    I would prefer to see my original versions published instead, but my editor has his reasons to perform those changes and I have to accept them for my articles to be published. The same happens with stories, and the edited versions are not necessarily better than the originals even if they are better for the publisher's purposes and needs.

    I very much prefer to be happy and proud of my stories exactly as I created them, but that's just me.

    I know that such publishing houses exist, there are some of them where I live too.

    I have been talking about the other side of publishers because I know that the goal of Incanus is to be a published author and generate income from his books, the same goal that many people in this site seek.

    I am not sure what those sales-be-damned houses aim for when they edit a story, but yes, definitely those do not edit for sales.
     
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  20. Malik

    Malik Archmage

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    There is no author whose work will not benefit from a professional editor. Not some schmo off Fiverr who will "edit" your book for $50; I mean a month-long, no-bullshit developmental and line edit with multiple passes and email fights and resting your head on your desk and wondering if that ad for truck-driving school was meant for you.

    Publishing a book without sending it to a professional editor is like stepping in the ring when all you've done is shadowbox. Nothing's stopping you, but you're going to get hurt and you're going to embarrass yourself. You need to work with a coach, and you need to spar with someone who's better than you and who knows all your tricks. A good editor is both.

    If you think you're good enough that you don't need an editor, you definitely aren't.
     
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