Sunday, October 12, 2008

Protect Yourself! Why You Should Learn Editing Skills AND Hire an Editor

Every once in a while I like to remind Sharing with Writers subscribers of a sister blog, The Frugal, Smart and Tuned-In Editor. I consider editing the single most important aspect of promotion. After all, a well-edited query letter is the first thing most agents, editors, publishers and producers ever see from an editor.

Though there are times when an author absolutely must edit her own work, only a foolish writer trusts the editing of her book entirely to a publisher. So knowing how to edit is important. And that means a whole lot more than being good at grammar.

Since I wrote The Frugal Editor, I get letters from people on the subject of editing, especially arguments about why they don't need to hire one. Here are my answers to a few of them:

I don't need to worry about an editor. My book will be traditionally published.

• You can't rely on the editor provided by your publisher--any publisher. I've seen even the biggest publisher let boo-boos in books slip through. And many small publishers hire inexperienced typo hunters, not real editors.

I'm hiring an experience editor. I'm letting her do the work. That's what I'm paying her for.

• You can't rely on even the best editor you hire. You need to be a partner with your editor. If you know little or nothing about the process, how can you know what to accept or what to reject? When you're sure you want to break a rule and when you want to consider what he or she is telling you, even if it goes against your pattern or makes you uncomfortable? "Partner" is the key word here. You want to be able to do that even if you're publishing with Harper's and your editor turns out to be a channeled Jacqueline Kennedy. (-:

I'm just publishing POD for my family.

• No matter how you publish, you need an editor before you go to press. Regardless of how you are publishing or what you call the process. (By the way, many terms used for publishing these days have become almost unintelligible because so many are using them incorrectly. That adds confusion to an already confusing process! I guess that could be considered an editing problem of sorts.)

I know I should have an editor but I keep procrastinating...

The Frugal Editor gives you guidelines for the way to find a good editor. Those guidelines are there for people who have the best intentions and just don't get around to it. It's there for all of us who tend to put off this process. We tend to make a thousand excuses to ourselves for not doing it. Well, OK. I know I made excuse or at least one excuse. (-: My excuse was, I AM an editor! Ahem!

I've already been over this book 15 times. If there is an error in it, I'll eat my hat!

• One pair of eyes is never as good as two different pairs (or three or 10!) of eyes. Two pairs of eyes on people who got As in English or teach English are never as good as one pair of eyes on an editor with years of publishing experience.

I've had lots of people read my book to help clear it of errors. Even my husband who is an engineer and catches every misplace comma!

• People who are good grammarians or good typo hunters aren't necessarily good editors.

I had my college English teacher check my book. If she can't do it, no one can.

• Good editors will be good grammarians, spellers and typo hunters but they bring a whole lot more to the table than those skills. Most teachers have had no publishing experience at all. Thus, they won't know much if anything about frontmatter, backmatter, your table of contents, your index and on an on. So start saving your pennies for a good editor and in the meantime, read up on the process for yourself.

PS: When my first editor edited my novel, This Is the Place, she told me it was the "cleanest" copy she ever saw. OK. I'm an editor. But, I have to tell you. She missed much that I'd missed so that made two of us who had missed things that any good editor would surely have found! I'd love to go back, review that book myself and then have another editor look at it again and then then republish. I probably won't do that. I believe authors should move on and not dwell on past works. But the story illustrates why I am so adamant about it.

PSS: Oh, another thing about the concept of republishing and re-editing. We will all grow--our writing will improve-- as we write more. And as we read. As we take writing classes. So the fact that we would make changes if we were rewriting an old novel is only natural. I don't think we need to be kicking ourselves over it. I think we need to be patting ourselves on the back that we have grown. (-:

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Carolyn Howard-Johnson, author of This Is the Place; Harkening: A Collection of Stories Remembered; Tracings, a chapbook of poetry; and two how to books, The Frugal Book Promoter: How To Do What Your Publisher Won't and The Frugal Editor: Put Your Best Book Forward to Avoid Humiliation and Ensure Success. She is also the author of the Amazon Short, "The Great First Impression Book Proposal." Some of her other blogs are and, a blog that helps writers and publishers turn a ho-hum book fair booth into a sizzler.

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