Sunday, November 25, 2007

The Need for a Professional Editor

Okay, so I know that at least Linda is still reading this blog. (Thanks, Linda, for giving me reason to keep blogging! And congratulations on writing 45,000 words of fiction and finishing your nonfiction proposal all in less than 30 days. You deserve more than just a gold star!)

Linda has asked me to go back to the topic of editing and clarify an important point – the need for professional editing. I offered a bunch of tips of self-editing your work, and I mentioned that I happen to be a fairly good editor of my own work. However, I did not mean to imply that it isn’t a good idea to get professional editing help for your nonfiction projects. In fact, I highly recommend hiring a professional editor, especially if you are going to be self-publishing your work.

You can edit your work numerous times and still miss content issues and serious grammatical mistakes. Because you know your topic so well and are so close to your work, after you’ve edited your project a certain number of times your eyes can no longer see even the most glaring errors – not to mention the smaller ones. A fresh set of eyes on your work always proves helpful, and a set of eyes that are honed to look for anything concerning grammar and punctuation, content, structure, and flow of a book can be invaluable.

Believe me, I realize that hiring a professional editor represents an expensive undertaking. (I know what people pay me to edit their books -- and what they pay other editors that charge more than I do. Plus, I need a good fiction editor for my novel, and I haven't yet been able to afford one.) So, I’d love to be able to tell those of you who can’t afford to hire a professional editor like myself that it’s enough to find a good friend who was an English major in college to give your work a read through, but I can’t in good conscience do that. It’s true that finding a few good readers for feedback and a bit of editing helps. Don’t ever turn down the offer, but distinguish between “readers” and “professional editors.”

I’m editing a project right now that my client told me was edited twice before. She actually paid two people – one who said she was an editor and one who was a school teacher (I’m not sure if she is an English teacher or not) – to read her manuscript. She was amazed when I sent the first chapter back to her. The other two “editors” hadn’t corrected even half of what I corrected. They had left all her passive sentences (those using any derivation of the verb “to be”) without even mentioning that the book consisted of only about 15% active sentences. (Passive sentences are boring to read because they create weak and uninteresting writing.) These two people also were very familiar with the subject of her book, and, therefore, didn’t notice when she wrote about something without fully explaining it in a way that anyone – even someone not familiar with the subject – would understand. (I read every book I edit as if I know nothing about the subject at all, even if I know something about it. And I assume the reader knows less than I do. In this way, I help the writer fill in content gaps, or questions that might have been left in the readers’ minds. You can’t do this for yourself, nor can someone else who knows your subject really well – unless they are trained to do so.)

Also, distinguish between “editors” and “proofreaders.” After all the editing is complete, you need a good proofreader to catch any typos, misspellings, extra spaces, etc, but your proofreader shouldn’t be making grammatical changes. I edited a book for a client who then hired a proofreader who thought she was an editor. He let her go through the whole book and change every “he” and “she” to “he/she.” She also changed how I was using commas in a series, so the usage no longer was consistent throughout the book.

So, by all means learn how to be a good editor of your own work. And when you can edit your work no more, hire a professional editor. And when that editor completes the job, hire a good proofreader.


Linda said...


Thanks for the writing challenge. It helps that I can write and not have to worry about getting it right the first time. This is something I intellectually understand but emotionally is hard to take in.

Nina Amir said...

I'm a big advocate of putting your Inner Editor or Inner Critic in the closet while you write your first draft, Linda. You can bring her out later and let her do her thing, but she's not much help during the initial creative phase. Plus, making mistakes during the first go through can lead us to some pretty interesting places later on.