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Why we need editors

skip.knox

toujours gai, archie
Moderator
Yeah, yeah, I know. We've been over this one. But bear with me a moment. I have a specific example for you. I'll summarize the passage in question, then I'll talk about what my beta reader noticed. Summary first.

A character, Talysse, can fly. She has just escaped from a wizard by flying out to sea, then veering back to land. She's flying over marshland, in southern France, quite low because she is worn out and is just trying to make it to solid ground. Then comes this line, the first in a new paragraph.

Thunder erupted beneath her.

The paragraph goes on to describe a vast flock of flamingos rising into the air, in such numbers that they knock her out of the sky.

End of summary.

My beta reader assumed that the thunder came from the wizard, who either cast a lightning bolt or simply caused thunder, causing the flamingos to startle skyward. What I assumed was that the thunder was from the wings of the birds, a thunderous sound if you have ever heard it.

You see the issue. I as the author would *never* have caught this. To me, the passage was perfectly clear and exactly right. For the reader, though, he had trouble; specifically because if the wizard could track and target her at distance, why did he later have such trouble finding her? And indeed that would be a problem. Were it the case.

Even more interesting, to me, was that this would never even come up if this were not fantasy. Admittedly, lit fic rarely gets flying girls, but leave that aside for a moment. Thunder erupting would never be viewed as stemming from magic in any genre save for fantasy. So, you don't merely need an editor (beta reader, critiquer) who is literate, you need one who is literate in the genre.

I was just struck with how specific this example was for the editing process.
 

pmmg

Vala
:zombie:

I was just listening to a video speaker today who seemed quite proud of his volume of work, and his comments that he writes one draft, and sends it out. And I was like *Le Gasp*, that sounds like horror to me. I would have so many errors if I did. I have been pretty much set on the get an editor path, but now I am wondering if I should not be so glued into a camp. There might be something to 'story matters more than sentences' and writing without worry about editing might just up the volume of work a lot -- But my writing is so bad in rough. I miss words, use wrong words, write long sentences... I am not sure if I could do this. I feel I know myself too well.

So its an old thread, would you write without re-writing or seeking an editor by strategy?

BTW, he must be prolific, but I cant say as I know who he is.


 

skip.knox

toujours gai, archie
Moderator
He is prolific, and a quick look at samples didn't turn up any outright bad writing.

There are a couple of types of writing problems at the micro level. One type is encoded into the person. Some people simply cannot spell, and no amount of practice and learning changes that. It's the converse of someone who has a natural feel for how words work and who spell well almost by instinct. If you're the latter sort, then one-drafting starts to make more sense.

Grammar is another area where a person can have a natural feel, but here a certain amount of education can really help. A person who comes to writing with a solid background is more likely to produce a clean draft.

And so on.

Sometimes, a person says they write only one draft when in fact they are re-drafting as they go. I think here of Hemingway, who would read over the pages from the previous day (he wrote on paper, with a pencil) before continuing. We know he made editing changes, so is the completed work a first draft or the twenty-fifth? Certainly old-school magazine writers tended to write their story and submit it, then feud with their editors over any changes.

You asked how I (we) do it. While I'm on solid ground at the micro level, I seem unable to write a story from front to back. I jump around wildly, despite every attempt at planning for sequential writing. The very concept of a first draft is nonsensical for me because my writing is so non-linear (in development). What I pass off as a first draft is in fact an assembly of scenes that together tell a coherent story, but this scene might be a one draft while the next is a twelfth draft. I don't find the concept of Nth draft to be helpful, except psychologically (I finished something!!!).
 

pmmg

Vala
Well...I did go look up a sample of his work, and I did find that his lack of editing showed.

I am willing to say, there are some who can make anything work, but I don't just want to put out a bunch of brain vomit, I want to meet a type of professional standard.

I could not do this. My brain has a terrible problem for a writer, in that it just omits words. I swear I typed them, but when I read, they are missing. And often, I dont even notice they are missing. So, I have to edit very carefully. Its actually very vexing. One of the words I often omit is 'not', which completely changes the meaning. 'I will not meet you', becomes 'I will meet you.' One time I had the weird experience of looking at my screen, thinking one word and seeing another type out instead...Ugh...I cannot trust myself to type in a first draft.

I do write linearly, and only write out of order very rarely. But, my process is write it rough, and dont go back and edit till its done. I look forward to the edit. Cause after its complete, I know what is coming and can add all the little details that magnify its coolness (like foreshadowing and all that). Maybe in the future I will attempt this an experiment, but...I don't think this can be my method. Sorry Mr. Smith.

Incidentally, I've listened to a few more of these Video Speakers from this series. I don't find them very insightful so far. One was actually frustrating cause he had nothing to add, but took a long time to miss it (IMO, of course.).
 

skip.knox

toujours gai, archie
Moderator
Advice, regardless of medium, has come to me in phases. Whether it was learning a computer language, how to draw, how to write, in the first phase most of the advice feels irrelevant or mysterious and generally useless. Then came a period when I would find nuggets. There was still much noise, but I've found Sturgeon's Law to be pretty much universally applicable, so I'd take the thirty percent and be happy.

Eventually, though, the nuggets became fewer. There came a point, rarely clearly defined, where trying to find helpful advice was no longer worth the effort. Like a gold mine that was playing out.

Communities like this one are helpful for longer, though I hang out here mainly because I enjoy the company.

As for editors, I've said it before that while I've had editors and they've helped, they also have missed stuff--things I have later caught myself. And they've not been much help in making the story itself stronger (better pacing, tighter plot, that sort of thing). But, if you can find a good editor, and can afford them, hang on to them!
 

Mad Swede

Maester
As for editors, I've said it before that while I've had editors and they've helped, they also have missed stuff--things I have later caught myself. And they've not been much help in making the story itself stronger (better pacing, tighter plot, that sort of thing). But, if you can find a good editor, and can afford them, hang on to them!
Then quite frankly you've had the wrong editors. A good editor, particularly a good developmental editor, will help you sort out plotting, pacing etc. And you need a long term relationship with them, otherwise you don't build the personal knowledge and trust which you need to make a professional relationship like that work well.
 

skip.knox

toujours gai, archie
Moderator
Then quite frankly you've had the wrong editors. A good editor, particularly a good developmental editor, will help you sort out plotting, pacing etc. And you need a long term relationship with them, otherwise you don't build the personal knowledge and trust which you need to make a professional relationship like that work well.
Sure, I agree. The game is finding a good editor. This is trickier than one might think. In the first place, a newbie writer is not well equipped to judge what constitutes a good editor (any more than they are to judge a good cover artist). They can like an editor or dislike one, but that's hardly more than a first date.

Alas, the only way to judge is to hire the editor, spend the money, and decide later whether the money was well spent. Sample edits won't serve, especially for a developmental editor. And there's plenty of room to fall short, from the level of proofreading through copy edits (which itself have levels to them) on up to planning and development. Very often those services are separate, so now you're hiring multiple editors.

These not only cost thousands of dollars, they each of them have their own schedules. I don't work well with deadlines. Forcing one of my novels to be "done" so my already-hired editor could edit at the scheduled time made the couple of months leading up to that a real misery. I won't do that again

To state it again, I'm all for good editors. It's just that getting one is time-consuming and expensive unless one is frightfully lucky. And even then, editors move on, so there's no guarantee that the gem of an editor on your last book will even be available for the next. Maybe if I were twenty-five or thirty I'd have a different view, but for me, I'll do my level best on every aspect of the book, then self-publish and get on to the next story. I wouldn't recommend that as a great way to build a career, but it's perfectly serviceable as a way to get the stories inside of me on to the outside.
 

pmmg

Vala
Yes, it is kind of a crap shoot. Without any knowledge, or a tip from one who has been on the road, you just take your chances. Maybe it will work great, and maybe not. The only way to really assess is to get more than one do the same job and compare, but whose got money like that? You could ask for a sample. But if I was an editor, I dont think I would want to do a lot of first chapters for free, so I would have a handout prepared of something I had done. But, I do have an editor picked out. We'll see how it goes.
 
I am in the middle on editors. I shelled out money once because I wanted to see if I was missing anything in the story, and it was educational, but the changes were minor. I won't pay that again, and she insists on my paying for what I don't want. Well... that kind of ends that relationship. I want to know about fuzzy sentences and paragraphs, corrections, and calling out my bullshit, heh heh. However, at the same time, I see works from authors all the time that could use a developmental edit. It's a tough call with a lot of money on the line in a game where making your money back is at long odds.
 

Mad Swede

Maester
I am in the middle on editors. I shelled out money once because I wanted to see if I was missing anything in the story, and it was educational, but the changes were minor. I won't pay that again, and she insists on my paying for what I don't want. Well... that kind of ends that relationship. I want to know about fuzzy sentences and paragraphs, corrections, and calling out my bullshit, heh heh. However, at the same time, I see works from authors all the time that could use a developmental edit. It's a tough call with a lot of money on the line in a game where making your money back is at long odds.
Well, that was why I wrote that you need a long term relationship with your editor. Editing is a discussion process, and we as authors have the final say on what gets changed and how it is changed - even when it's our publisher paying for the editing. But to have an open constructive discussion about changes and why they might be needed requires trust and hence personal knowledge of one another. And you don't get that from a one-off editing task.
 
I'm satisfied without the extra relationship. Love the editor, and we still chit-chat about life and whatnot now and again off the clock, I'd call her an internet friend, but I'm not going to pay for what I don't need. With my story skills and a few good beta readers, not much storywise is going to slip by... copyediting is another matter! LMAO. Although, once I read for audiobook, it's pretty damned clean. And this isn't to say she wouldn't have a useful idea here and there, just not ideas useful enough to fork over a couple of thousand dollars, heh heh. And it isn't to say that other people shouldn't use developmental editors; they can be worth their weight.

I used the first paid editor service similar to reading services for my first screenplay: To determine if I was totally bonkers. Once confirmed I knew what I was doing, I moved on without all the extra fuss; until somebody wants to pay for me to put up with the fuss.

Well, that was why I wrote that you need a long term relationship with your editor. Editing is a discussion process, and we as authors have the final say on what gets changed and how it is changed - even when it's our publisher paying for the editing. But to have an open constructive discussion about changes and why they might be needed requires trust and hence personal knowledge of one another. And you don't get that from a one-off editing task.
 

pmmg

Vala
Yeah, its the 'on the clock' part of the relationship that makes it hard. I'd love a good relationship, but first I have to see what they offer.
 
Sadly, when it comes to a developmental edit, there really isn't a way to "test" an editor. The only test I had was her past record in publishing where she worked with Piers Anthony and others, though not in the same capacity, and I knew I would like her editing style from samples of my work she went over. but the story side is a crap shoot. I found a great editor, but I don't feel I need all her services and she makes too much money from others to just be my copy editor, heh heh.

Yeah, its the 'on the clock' part of the relationship that makes it hard. I'd love a good relationship, but first I have to see what they offer.
 

Mad Swede

Maester
I'm satisfied without the extra relationship.
To me you're missing out on one of the most valuable and constructive parts of a good working relationship with an editor - and I write that as someone who does have a long term professional relationship with my editor. I wasn't at all sure how a relationship like that would work when we first started working together, because I'd only ever come across the sort of editing you get when writing for academic journals.

But now that we know one another I can see the benefits. It's more than just developmental editing, it's the ability to discuss how I've written something and get some feedback from someone who knows me and my writing. I can write the book, take it to her and say that I'm unsure about a given passage. Then she can read it and the rest of the book and we can start to talk about how that passage might be developed to enhance the rest of the book. And then discuss the rest of the book and what does - and does not - need improvement. It's a lot more than just someone acting as a beta reader.

I would go so far as to say that my professional relationship with my editor is the most important relationship I have as an author (bear in mind here that I don't have an agent as that role doesn't exist here in Sweden), even more important than my relationship with my publisher.
 
Mmm, to each their own. Great that you're into that and got want you want. To be honest, this editor could be that for me, but I don't want it even beyond the money thing. In fact, she kind of intimated that she wanted to have that level of editor relationship because she's into my books and story world, now that I think on it, but It's not me. If George Martin sat down next to me and said, hey, let's bounce some of your ideas around, I'd do it! but I wouldn't take it that seriously. It'd be more to get to know the dude, LOL.

To me you're missing out on one of the most valuable and constructive parts of a good working relationship with an editor - and I write that as someone who does have a long term professional relationship with my editor. I wasn't at all sure how a relationship like that would work when we first started working together, because I'd only ever come across the sort of editing you get when writing for academic journals.

But now that we know one another I can see the benefits. It's more than just developmental editing, it's the ability to discuss how I've written something and get some feedback from someone who knows me and my writing. I can write the book, take it to her and say that I'm unsure about a given passage. Then she can read it and the rest of the book and we can start to talk about how that passage might be developed to enhance the rest of the book. And then discuss the rest of the book and what does - and does not - need improvement. It's a lot more than just someone acting as a beta reader.

I would go so far as to say that my professional relationship with my editor is the most important relationship I have as an author (bear in mind here that I don't have an agent as that role doesn't exist here in Sweden), even more important than my relationship with my publisher.
 
I always view this discussion from the perspective of both the writer and the reader.

For the reader, not everyone is the same. Some readers just want an engaging story, and they don't even see grammar or spelling or plot issues. Reviewers will always point out flaws and complain about set-up and payoff or the lack of structure. Most readers have no clue about this. They'll only know that they like some stories better than others. But even average stories can still be fun enough to read. They might not love it and remember it 20 years later, but they'd read it, maybe even recomend it to a friend looking for a quick read.

Some readers are more picky than others. If you read a book a day, and just want a fun book, They might love the author who just writes his first draft and pushes it out there. As long as the story is good, they're fine with it. Others want to read only the next literary masterpiece. Their favorite author might spend a year editing a book, and they might complain about too many comma's being in the wrong place. And then of course you have everything in between. The main thing to make of this is that you should know your audience as a writer, and give them what they want.

Of course, I do think any reader deserves a polished story. Spelling and grammar need to be good (not perfect). The story deserves to be as good as you can make it. But that's just my personal opinion...

From an author perspective, I think most authors would benefit from an editor. To improve as an author, you need to know what you're doing wrong and how you could fix that. Quality feedback is immensly valuable for that. And an editor provides that. Yes, it's just one more person. But it's a professional who is giving the feedback. That makes it (possibly) more valuable than just any reader. Of course, quality of editors differs and so on.

Now, this doesn't mean you can't get a good book if you don't have an editor. Or that you can't improve as an author without an editor. There are no absolutes in writing after all. But they are tools that can help you achieve those two things. Just like beta-readers are a tool. They're an expensive tool of course. So there's that as well...
 
Are there even flamingos in France?

That was my first thought upon reading the OP. Flamingos are native to the tropics, and subtropics, but they don't normally migrate outside of those latitudes. I would think even southernmost France would be too far north for them.

Another reason for editors, or at least beta readers.

What's becoming a pet peeve of mine is authors completely ignorant of what kind of wildlife would be found where. I've recently read several stories where characters in Europe encounter raccoons in the wild, and that's a facepalm moment at the very least.

And those stories probably did have editors.
 
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