This morning, I got a fresh proofread back from my friend and talented editor Ranee Boyd Tomlin, and folks, I cannot tell you how much it means to me to have someone look at my work with the kind of attention to detail that Ranee gave to The Slaves Have Names. Another proofreader edited it years ago, and her work was very good. But Ranee found things I didn’t even know to look for – inconsistencies in spelling that occur when writing about enslaved people because their names are often spelled differently in different documents, misused words, numerals used where digits should be, etc. I’m so grateful for her work. My book is better for it.
I have the honor work working with a lot of great editors – the team at The Bookish Fox is amazing, and they edit my fiction, and my assistant (if you need a virtual assistant or line editor, I can’t recommend her enough) Elissa Hamon is a talented proofreader and editor, too. These people improve my work in ways I quite literally can’t do for myself. I’m so grateful to each of them.
Why EVERY Writer Needs An Editor
I’ve written about the various types of editing (as I define them) before, but today, I want to talk about why every writer needs an editor – a professional who will review your work with their trained eyes and minds and make it all the better for their effort and your money. Beta readers are amazing – I have a stellar team of those folks – but every writer still needs a professional editor.
- Editors see what you (and your early readers) miss. While you’ll catch many things in your own revising of your drafts, and good beta readers will catch more, an editor has trained her brain to see the manuscript as a whole in a way that we cannot do for our own work and many beta readers have not been trained to do. They think about whether that object noted with significance in Chapter Two ever comes back later in the book (i.e. the loaded gun). They look for the way you refer to a character as Libby in Chapter 4 by as Libbie in Chapter 11. They note that the book was set in spring early on, but later, it seems to be fall. They, in short, catch what can get lost in the experience of reading because they don’t let themselves get lost.
- Editors know rules many writers don’t. They understand how point of view works and how to signal time shifts. They know the way readers react to intense scenes in a book and how to pace those scenes well so the reader experiences as the writer intends. They understand mechanical, grammatical, and typographic rules like when to use a dash, when to hyphenate adjectives, and when to indent a long quote, if ever. They know the rules and can apply them, leaving writers free to create with confidence that someone will correct things we don’t.
- Editors are our allies. A good editor works to help the writer make his work even more of what the writer intends. They help writers deepen meaning, complicate character, create worlds, elucidate timeline, and overall, make the book better in just the way they intend.
What Happens Without An Editor
I’ve read some books – either as a reviewer or as a buyer – that really needed a good edit before they were released. Sometimes, they need a HUGE developmental edit that trims the content back by a quarter. Sometimes, they are so riddled with typos that I have trouble understanding the meaning or staying with the story instead of focusing on the errors. Sometimes, they have missing definitions or descriptions that leave me confused about who is who, what is happening, and why it matters. With rare exception, I don’t read any other books by authors whose work has those problems. . . their books feel unprofessional and incomplete, and with so many books to choose from, I can’t afford to give my time to books that aren’t well-done.
If we don’t have our work edited, we risk losing readers, and in this competitive market, we need all the readers we can get.
Bottom line: we all need editors at whatever level, but at the very least, we all need a good group of beta readers and then a great line editor or proofreader. Every single one of us. It’s an expense, sure, but it’s an expense worth accruing to continue building our readerships and to build our reputation as writers worth reading.
If you need recommendations on editors who do great work, I’d be thrilled to share who I recommend (in addition to the wonderful editors listed here, and of course, if you need developmental or content editing, I’d be honored to work with you on your book.