They say that behind every great writer is a great editor. (And if they don’t actually say that, they should.) If you’re trying to decide whether you need an editor, I’m here to assure you (and not because I am one) that yes, we all need editors. All your favorite writers are supported by at least one editor. Editors are often writers as well, and guess what: they too have editors.
Why do I need an editor?
First some clarity: When I suggest that you need an editor, I don’t mean that you need a proofreader (although of course, you’ll need one of those too). A proofreader checks for typos and misspellings and takes a last scan for errors in a near-final version of a manuscript before publishing. By the time your manuscript is ready to be proofread, it’s already been through an iterative cycle of revision. Editors support writers well before this final sweep.
While it is the author who imagines and tells a story or has some knowledge or experience to share, it is the editor who provides the objective, professional insight that helps the writer (a) determine whether his or her intentions are being served by the chosen approach, and (b) understand how their choices, of content and language, affect the readers and their interaction with the text. Such feedback gives the writer informed opportunities to tweak, adjust, and rewrite until their work has come into its greatest potential.
Truths about Editing and Editors
- You’ll need one. To ensure your writing is as effective and engaging as it can be, you’re going to need constructive feedback. I already said that, but I thought it was worth repeating.
- There are different kinds of editing. The focus of a revision may be content, structure, or style, and each area merits attention. Typically, at least one round of content revision should precede any editing that is focused on language (e.g., grammar, syntax, punctuation, flow, consistency).
- It hurts. A little. When you’ve poured so much love and energy into anything, it can be a little painful to hear the truth if the truth is that, for all your efforts, you’ve not quite hit the mark… yet. But trust me. A little critique can go a long way, and in the end, your writing will be better for it.
- You’ll still have work to do. What you get back from your editor is not a manuscript ready to be proofread and published. Your editor will have provided suggestions for change. They may advise removing parts, adding bits, or reworking content that’s already there. Your editor’ll give you some things to think about and perhaps some questions to answer (in the text). You may choose not to take any specific actions suggested, but you’ll need to use the feedback as a sign that something merits reconsideration.
- Not every editor is created equal. It goes without saying that some are better at what they do than others, but beyond this, your unique voice and goals call for an editor that can understand them—specifically. Professional and artistic compatibility is key to ensure the preservation of your voice and ownership of your story.
- You should try before you buy. Before committing to work with an editor, you’ll both need to get a feel for each other’s style. (See previous note on compatibility.) The risk is smaller when it comes to short-form prose (e.g., short stories), but for long-term commitments (e.g., novels), make sure it’s a good fit before moving forward.
More on Editing:
If you’re still trying to understand what editing entails or what the process looks like, check out some of the following For the Love of the Story pages: