Why Every Writer Needs an Editor

A friend of mine who teaches several writing courses at a community college found herself in an interesting situation recently. She discovered that one of her students had been traditionally published, with multiple books—a success story in the writing world—and my friend was curious as to why this woman would take her course. So she asked her student. The multi-published author answered that she was looking for critique. Her books were being rushed to publication, and basically she wanted oversight. She wanted a better product, and she had to take that responsibility on herself to make sure that process was happening with her books because her publisher wasn’t.

I ran into a similar situation with a client last year. I’ll call her Sue. Sue wanted to self-publish her romance and purchased the services of one of the popular online companies that handles everything from cover to formatting to concept and line edits. She came to me when they sent her the arc (advanced reader copy) back and told her to review it for any errors. (By the way, this is standard procedure whether traditionally or self-published.) Sue instructed me to review the copy for any glaring mistakes, as the publishing company told her she could only change so many things before it would actually cost Sue even more money.

The first thing I did was check which stylebook this company used and was happy to see they chose The Chicago Manual of Style. (That’s my primary stylebook as well, though I do use others if the client requests a particular stylebook or is from a foreign English-speaking country.) The company also used Webster’s Dictionary for spelling. So everything was in order, and I sat down to begin my line edit (standard edit) thinking this would be a piece of cake as far as projects go.

Was I ever shocked! I ended up with eight typed pages of errors with corresponding page number and how to correct the error. (I’d been instructed that I couldn’t make corrections directly on the copy.) Because of the reputation of this publishing company, I had expected errors to be occasional, even rare. This wasn’t the case.

When I was a child, it was easier to find a four-leaf clover than a typo or grammar error in a book. Those were the days when publishers had copyediting departments and several pairs of eyes painstakingly reviewed a book. In today’s publishing climate, quality is often sacrificed for expediency, and younger generations actually expect or don’t even notice errors in books because grammar isn’t taught to the extent it was in my generation. This is normal for folks under forty. (I’m fifty, in case you’re wondering.)

But I digress.

Revisiting my friend’s student, the successfully published author, I give the woman credit. She has acknowledged what every writer should—that we all (wearing my writer hat now) need an editor to back us up. Every writer has blind spots and bad habits and pet words used entirely too often, not to mention a long list of other writerly hang-ups. This successful author wants to write the best books possible and realizes she needs to take matters into her own hands and not rely on publishing companies that can no longer provide the attention to detail needed for a quality product.

The moral of the story? Hire an editor.

What is your experience in the publishing world? Leave me a comment below.

Related posts: “Four Ways to Get Free Editing,” “Edit Thyself: Three Simple Tips”

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