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The argument for hiring an editor

I remember when I first started writing for the newspaper. I was pretty green at it, and would turn in pieces I thought were flowing with ideas and beautiful language. My editor would look over my work and let go of a good 30% of what I had said by striking out redundant thoughts, simplifying sentences, and deleting all the extra words I liked to use (like “that”, as in “I thought THAT she was going to cry” – and it still slips into my work, even after all these years!).

I learned a lot about writing from this editor, and there soon came a time when her edits consisted of changing a word here or there, and allowing the rest to remain the way it was.

When I decided A Symphony of Cicadas was finished enough to be a published piece, I knew from experience I couldn’t just put it out there without seeing a professional editor first. I figured my many years of writing for the newspaper gave me a little bit of an edge, and she wouldn’t find much to change. I had already gone over my novel several times, and had handed it over to my husband and even my mom (who is very meticulous in proof-reading). I changed all the places they thought needed work or could sound better. By the time I gave it to the editor, that thing, in my eyes, was pretty near perfect.

And boy, was I mistaken on that sentiment.

I found a fabulous editor through WritersMarket.com. We exchanged emails, and she had me send her a sample piece of my work so she could get a sense of my writing style, I could get a sense of her editing style, and we both could decide if this was a good match.

I had her edit my 5th chapter, because that was the one I was most proud of. In it, I had really gone to town with my description and prose, and the characters in that chapter were fully developed. But when she gave it back to me, I saw she had quite a few suggestions for edits. She left her edits marked, and added comments as to why things were changed. She noted where things didn’t “sing” for her, when she couldn’t picture what was going on, or when certain sentences seemed to interrupt the flow. She also mentioned a rule about adverbs I should be aware of – how I should show what’s going on instead of summing it up with “happily” or “morosely” or “softly”…you get the point.

Check out my post on adverbs for more.

I ended up hiring her, and sent her my completed manuscript to edit. I had gone through it one more time to implement some of the suggested changes she’d mentioned. But truth be told, I left many of those adverbs untouched because I still didn’t quite believe her on the adverb rule.

I came to regret this.

When she handed the manuscript back, she changed a few of the adverbs in the beginning to show me how to strengthen a sentence with the “show, don’t tell” rule. But she left the vast majority of them up to me so I could A) learn my lesson and learn it well, lol, and B) keep my voice in the piece when I changed those adverbs into “showing” sentences.

Along with the adverb situation, she also revised many of my sentences so they flowed. Here’s an example (click to enlarge):

This sentence started out as:

“…The sarcasm has left her demeanor, replaced with a sense of seriousness I had never experienced from her. I got the sense that she would do her best to answer any questions I had in the moment, but I had so much confusion I didn’t even know where to start….”

It was changed to:

“Her sarcasm was gone, replaced with a seriousness I had never experienced from her. I sensed she would answer any questions I had in the moment, but I was so confused I didn’t even know where to start.”

In the world of self-publishing, it’s tempting to take a few shortcuts to get a novel out there and into the public’s hands. We indie authors are working on a much smaller budget than those with a traditional publishing deal. Everything we do for the novel comes out of our own pockets – cover design, editing, ISBN numbers, marketing, etc. Editing doesn’t run cheap. Depending on the word count, it can cost $500 or more! That’s not chump change, especially when most self-published novels won’t come close to making up the cost of producing a novel.

Some authors get around this by trusting their mom or a friend to do their editing. Or they send it to beta readers and make the suggested changes from those avenues. There is nothing wrong with utilizing these ways to help edit a book. But if that novel doesn’t see a professional editor as well, I can guarantee your words aren’t going to flow as beautifully as they could.

A good editor is trained to use the red pen without mercy, ensuring your story is going to be told without anything distracting the reader. An editor has the ability to see your work through unbiased eyes. They are not your mother – they don’t love you enough to try not to hurt your feelings. They’ll give you honest corrections of what works and what doesn’t work. And they don’t hold your story so close to their heart they’re unable to let go of certain paragraphs that just aren’t jiving.

Let me put it this way. Stephen King uses an editor. JK Rowling uses an editor. Every great author you have read and loved uses an editor. I think it’s a safe assumption to say you are not a better writer than they are. So how can you expect your story to be told the best way it could without a professional looking it over and making your words sing?

Hire an editor. If it’s too expensive, push back your anticipated pub date and save for an editor. It’s the one expense you can’t afford NOT to spend. Waiting to publish something that’s been properly polished will be far more valuable to you in the long run then rushing to put something out there that could be considered sub-par. If you don’t hire an editor, it will show in your work. You will be judged for what you publish. And in the long run, taking the shortcut of NOT hiring an editor could murder your aspirations of making it big in this business.

Bottom line: HIRE AN EDITOR.

Crissi Langwell is the author of fantasy novel “A Symphony of Cicadas” and single-parenting memoir “Golf Balls, Eight Year Olds & Dual Paned Windows“. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

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Author, writer, blogger. Follow me at crissilangwell.com.

6 thoughts on “The argument for hiring an editor

  1. Amen! We are fooling ourselves if we think we can catch things in our work on our own. Plus you learn so much from an editor that (hopefully) in future stories you make less of the same mistakes.

    1. Agreed! I was listening to this podcast of guys who give excellent advice on self-publishing. Usually I’m right on board with what they’re saying. But then one of the guys said that he felt he didn’t need an editor because he was meticulous in editing, and because he had tons of writing experience. Along with thinking how dumb he was being in his stubbornness, I couldn’t help also feeling sorry for him because he was missing out on all an editor could offer him in a new perspective, and in making his novel that much better. No matter how long I’ve been writing, I could never put a novel out there without an editor going through it first. There’s just too much potential for error, and my name is attached to it. I’d prefer for people to associate my name with polished writing than with something sub par.

  2. With you 100%. If I do end up going the Indie route, hiring an editor will be part of the package. Too bad not all writers do this, as I believe it would greatly improve the public’s perception of self-publishing.

    1. That’s the stigma. People are so used to reading self-published works that should have seen an editor, they automatically assume all self-published books read that horribly. Those of us who have put in the time and expense of putting out a quality product must also put in a ton of effort to prove popular opinion on indie books wrong.

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