Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Who is and who is Not an Editor in today's new Digital Landscape?

I talked about this on my Facebook page and I thought I'd expand it a little here on my blog.

If you have never been published by a major publisher, then it's possible you've never come into contact with a professional editor before. If you are new to the publishing world and you've gotten into it through self-publishing e-books or going with small presses, then your experience with editors might be slim.

I've had editors who worked with my published novels and stories, several of them, and all but one was excellent. An editor does not teach you to write. An editor does not take your story or book and rewrite it. An editor makes you better than you are, makes your work clearer, cleaner, and more professional. An editor will find problems with continuity, pace, and overall storytelling. They do more than that and it's a difficult, very skilled job, not for an amateur with a BA in English who likes to read and thinks he might be a good editor. A line editor, which is a different kind of editor, will fix your mistakes--you know, grammar, verb tense, punctuation, capitalization, spelling, and so forth and so on. You need an editor. Everyone needs an editor; it doesn't matter if you've published two million words professionally or one self-published e-book. 

I admire editors. I like them. I might even say I adore them and I would not be lying.

However, due to this new digital era a very large problem has ensued. People are writing and publishing books that were rejected by major publishers. (Nothing wrong with that.) People are writing the first book of their lives and publishing it for Kindle and Nook. Nothing wrong with that either. People are being taken by small publishers and getting published that way. All of these new published works need one thing for sure and that's an editor. 

There are really three kinds of professional people who deal with books at large publishing houses. The editor, and I've explained what they do for the writer. The line editor, and I've stated what their job is. Then there's the proofreader, who catches the mistakes and glitches and typos. (There's also a fact-checker, sometimes done by one or the other of the former editors or hired for that job only.)

Today when you're looking for an editor, you may not get all those skills rolled up into one person--chances are you won't find anyone nearly that skilled and experienced. My advice on that is to become really good at line editing, proofing, and fact-checking yourself. If you don't, who will? But you still need an editor, someone to tell you the story is a pile of steaming crap and ask you to do it again or give it up. Someone to tell you chapter four sucks and you better delete it and do something about stitching the book back together. Someone who notices your style needs one hell of a lot of polishing, maybe even some learning, and asks you to rewrite the entire novel with the given advice in mind. Someone who knows when your pace slackens or is too quick. Someone who knows about characterization and can tell you if you've written cardboard characters or your characters aren't coming to life. Someone who understands good sentence structure, knows how stories should open and especially how stories should end. Someone who will not hold your hand, but demand you are the best storyteller you can possibly be. After a lifetime of writing you can sometimes get to a point where you don't need as much editing as you once did. Only you and your readers can determine when that time comes. Most of your life, you need an editor. I'm not lying to you.

Now this might upset a few people, but there are editors and there are editors. Because of the influx of new people who want to write, who have written and then published digitally, the smart ones get an "editor" to go over their work. However, be aware that anyone can call himself an "editor" the same as anyone today can call himself a "writer." Just as in writing, some can't write and shouldn't even be trying, and in editing you are going to run into people who really are not editors. They even may have a degree in English or Literature or whatever, and still not be editors or even good beta readers or proofreaders. They may be writers themselves--which does not mean they can edit. Do a little research before going with small presses where the editors as professional as they might be. Or "editors" who offer to edit your work without a clue about what they're doing. Editing, like writing, takes a certain skill and not everyone has it, even those with degrees that make you think they might be good at editing. Even at NY publishers there are good and there are bad editors. Mostly good, I admit, but now and then some are just plain bad. One of the best things you can do as a writer is to train yourself, to the best of your ability, to edit. Read books on it, if you have to. Try editing someone's work, see how it goes. But most of all, just don't trust that because someone says he's an editor, that he is. This is a new byproduct business that's popped up due to digital books proliferating and people truly needing an editor. Don't trust every publicist, every editor, every proofreader, every agent, or every publisher you run into on the internet. It's just as rife with crap out there as it can possibly be. 

Don't say I didn't warn you. You're on your own in this brand new publishing era. Do the best you can to maneuver through it with the proper trepidation or else you won't get what you're paying for, you'll end up embarrassed by the work you publish or see published, and all along you could have done better. Do better.


  1. I would say I disagree with just about everything you write here...

    It's amazing how you and others continue to be slaves of the old system.

    Editors should be frowned at, at best and shunned.

  2. Amos, I disagree with you completely.
    You only ever get one chance to impress a reader, and if you choose to not get a professional edit done, then you are very likely wasting that chance.
    Your choice, but in the end, the only people who suffer will be you and your readers. And by readers, I mean the people who buy ONE of your works and never go back.
    Billie Sue, thank you for this moderate and well-balanced piece.

  3. After that comment, I won't be reading anything you've written, Amos. Thanks for the heads up. I like my fiction clean and edited.

  4. I agree with almost everything you've said above: Just one disagreement--a line editor is not the same as a copy editor--a line editing is usually part of the job a substantive editor does. The spelling, punctuation, etc is done by a copy editor.

    1. And of course I screwed up (why everyone needs a proofreader.
      "line editing ...etc" (no "a")

  5. C.W., I won't be reading anything by Amos, either. lol

  6. Heh, thanks, Ellen. Just goes to show we all need an editor, bless them, may God bless them.

  7. Extremely well said Billie Sue! You hit the nail right on the head with this. It's important to have an editor who will flat out tell you "That's bad writing, you're better than that" rather than allow you to publish poor work.

  8. Amen!

    Erinn Kemper

  9. Well written piece, Billie Sue Mosiman! We all need editors.!


  10. As always, right on target, Billie Sue!

    In some cases, there should be an entire stable of editors going over a work.

    For anyone who hopes to be a successful writer, it's pure hubris to imagine it can be done without an editor in some form, be it to tell the writer their work is just not fit for human consumption or to polish up the diamond in the rough.

  11. I am an editor but I wouldn't dare sub any of my own work without another editor going over it. Everyone needs an editor, an honest one who kicks your ass and makes you cry occasionally. Wait...maybe that's just me.

    Seriously, a good editor will help you polish the work until it shines.


  12. I'm an editor,too, and I cringe when I experience the "oh-no-second"--that miniscule sliver of time after clicking Send when you spot an obvious typo or other usage transgression in your email. Especially when it' s addressed to a writer! YES! EVERYONE needs an editor, even editors. ;-)