Writing Resource 5/100: An Editor

Some writers see editors as an indispensable element of their writer’s toolkit, others see them as a pain in the ass disrupting their beatiful ideas and creations. Those writer’s is likey to remain magnificent in there own minds and with works sitting on their c:drive and nowhere else.
(That was a non-to-subtle way of pointing out an editor would have caught those mistakes…)
I got to thinking about the importance of the editorial process when I received comments back on a short story I had accepted for a forthcoming publication with a new publishing house Burning Chair (and you’ll be hearing a lot more about this project in the coming weeks – it’s going to be a good one.) The feedback on the story was good with a polite suggestion of some possible changes; most minor and one major.
Screen shot of an edit done in Word on a recent short story
An example of editing on a recent story

I read through the suggestions made on the story I’d spent the last week self-editing and which I thought was pretty much 100% there..and realized I agreed with more or less every suggested edit – and especially the need to rework a major part of the story.

A good editor cannot necessarily make an unpublishable story  publishable; that’s still down to you. But they can make a story better…sometimes much better – and perhaps more importantly, a good editor can stop you as a writer making a fool of yourself in terms of factual, grammatical or narrative gaffs…

What is an editor and why do I need one? 

Oxford University Press‘ online dictionary says it is:
1.  person who is in charge of and determines the final content of a newspaper, magazine, or multi-author book.
and on 1.1
A person who commissions or prepares written or recorded material for publication or broadcast.
If I were to write a dictionary (and it’s not in my plans) I’d suggest an editor is a person who helps you make your work better. 
There are (as far as I’m thinking) three different types of editor who work with authors:

1. Development

– in this case the editor is there to help with the macro stuff – so this is around content and structure – looking at the overall story, characters and development, and prose issues. This typically would be what a publisher editor would do working with established authors: so from Stephen King and down someone who is widely read enough of the genre to know what they’re talking about, has a good enough relationship with the author to give them sometimes brutal advice/ instruction (depending on ego you may wish to believe that you’re in full command of everything you write…) and to present those ideas positively but firmly. In this scenario the editor is ‘playing’ with the publisher’s money and will often insist on the changes or at least enter into ‘spirited’ conversation with the author to put the publishers’ view forward as to why they might not want to publish the way it is.

2. Line editing

– this is getting down to the heart of the matter; the basic essentials; and sometimes the harsh realities in the fine tuning the language and grammar the author has used/ written.

3. Proofreading

this is an extension or the next step of line editing – after that pass has been done: essentially to pick up typos and errors previously missed (I still have a secondary character who’s name has changed between Stephen/ Steven throughout…)
Depending on your writing situation will depend on the type of editor you have.
If you’re writing for any professional publishing company, then you’ll be assigned/ paired up with one, in self publishing it will be up to you to find one you trust and believe in.
For self publishing authors there may also be an expectation/ desire for an editor to be able to help out with formatting. For a self publishing author, they need to be able to produce something that is reader-ready in their chosen format – For Basement Tales for example, I chose a format size I won’t choose if and when I reprint it: and the new anthology I’m working on will be a more standard Paperback size. I chose to print BT in that size as a decision (complex psychological marketing stuff for sure…), the margin layout was not a decision; it was a bit of a boo-boo, and I’m sure if I’d worked with an editor they’d have helped, if I’d worked with a designer they’d have probably shot me before they allowed for it to be published…but designers are another issue and another blog post.

What do you look for in an editor?

How much choice you have in your editor will depend on your circumstance; if you’re working with a publishing house or yourself; whether you’re paying or someone else is…(and the budgets required for hiring an editor will be covered along with other things to do with that most vulgar of subject money in a future resource post.)

Ideally  your editor will have a familiarity and enjoyment of the genre you’re working on- some might say this isn’t so necessary, but I think if you read the sort of stuff you’re working on for pleasure as well as business then you’re more likely to spot cliches/ copies/ tropes or whatever else might work negatively when the author is trying to publish something.

What you’d also need from an editor is a combination of sympathy for the author (precious little darlings that we are), but also a bit of steel to be able to tell them things straight. This might be as blunt as ‘this story really doesn’t work for me because of a/b/c – now that might piss you, as the author, off, and you might ignore that advice and carry on with it – at the end of which you might have turned in something decent or something that is utter crap, or you might go half way and try to get something out of it: how much you trust in your editor’s expertise and/ or instinct will depend on your relationship with them.
The other thing you need to keep in mind is a successful author/ editor relationship is a two way deal: you may have a style which is so against an editor’s personal tastes that they don’t feel they can objectively comment on it helpfully, or want to spend the time reading/ re-reading/ re-re-re reading stuff to get it up to scratch: you need to respect an editor’s decision on what they do/ don’t want to work on sometimes: hell, I feel like that sometimes about stories I’ve written and genuinely like, after the fifth line-by-line edit so god help someone who didn’t like it in the first place…
At the end of the day, it’s easy to get an editor – in a sense we do it every time we show it to a loved one (Stephen King talks about his wife Tabitha King as being his ‘ideal reader’ whom he shows everything to first – personally, I take criticisms better from strangers than loved ones…), or close friends, or fellow writers (not always the same thing…), writing groups and so on.
Getting a good editor can take time and money, and is often, when working to a budget seen to be a cost to be skipped as it is invisible, compared, say, to getting a good designer to make a snazzy cover: the truth is of course (as I know to my shame and detriment), the opposite is true: there is nothing more visible in a writer’s work than a badly or not-at-all edited piece.
Now a good editor would have probably reduced this article to half it’s length, but…

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