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Why I Want An Editor Who Isn’t An Author

Why I Want An Editor Who Isn’t An Author

Debbie Young, Blog Editor, writes: “We don’t usually publish anonymous posts here, but it seemed reasonable to me to share this heartfelt plea from an author who has asked to remain nameless in order to avoid offending editors who know her personally. If you’re an author who has paid for editing services, do you agree or disagree with the sentiments expressed here? If you’re an editor, what’s your view? Please join the conversation via the comments box at the end!”

Image of two pens lying side by side

Editors and authors – separate and different or one and the same?

An Anonymous Author Shares Her Experience of Editors

When I self-published my first novel in 2013, I didn’t hire a professional editor. I’d written the book several years before, and had been signed up by a London-based agent on the strength of it. She hadn’t been able to sell it, and it had languished on a memory stick ever since.

When I moved to a part of the UK that considers itself a hotbed of literature, I opted for a free critique of the fist few chapters by a local ‘literary advisor’. She was enthusiastic, so I paid her for a full-scale critique (which resulted in making the few relatively minor alterations she suggested), and for guiding me through the process of publishing via Kindle. The book didn’t sell many copies, and before long I realised that in my heart, I wasn’t happy with it, so I withdrew it. By then, I had almost completed the ms of my second novel, and had decided that the earlier one was on fact the first of a trilogy.

Trying Again

This time around, I decided I wanted a full structural edit. I got a quote of over £1,000 from a local editor, and recommendations for a handful more via PEN, at prices ranging from £300 upwards.

Being a cherry-pickin’ kinda gal, I decided to try the £300 service first. I liked this editor as a person (we did actually meet), and I appreciated her rough treatment of my ms. She cut a lot, but then I’d known myself it was too long, at almost 120K words. However, I soon found she not only cut, she cut and pasted, rather than suggesting where there were parts that didn’t flow, and so on. She also started changing my wording. Again, maybe that’s the sort of thing that some authors don’t mind.

But when I found places where “she said” had been changed to “she uttered” (and worse) – no, no, no, NO.

She worked extremely hard for her money, but her style was just too invasive for me.

Third Time Lucky?

For the third book (and also for the long-overdue structural edit of the first book), I went with one of the other editors recommended by a fellow PEN member. She charges £550 for a very comprehensive editorial report (she doesn’t mince her words), and a line edit once revisions have been made. It was a mix of from-the-hip comment and hands-off treatment that suited me. In the end, she loved what I’d done with both books.  Of course, what I’m finding is that they’re not selling well either. This has made me nervous about trusting an editor’s judgement – though I’m the first to admit that liking/disliking a book is NOT an exact science.

However, what troubles me more: this editor (who also works for a trad publisher), and many others I’ve done some research on, all seem to be writing their own books at the same time as working as editors.

Are Editing and Writing Uncomfortable Bedfellows?

I doubt I’m alone in this: when I’m working on a book, then that book is the lens through which I view the rest of the universe – not just until the last “t” is crossed, but for a while afterwards too. If I’m not that deeply immersed, I know I’m doing something wrong. When I’m into deep flow, the last thing I could do to save my life is edit someone else’s work with a sufficiently objective eye.

This is what I’d love to hear others’ views on:

how do you find an editor who can give your book his/her undivided attention, who is sufficiently involved in what it is to be a writer, and who also knows what’s hot and what’s not in the world of publishing at any given moment?

Do such paragons exist? I’ve always had the impression that, in the past, most editors spent their time doing just that, rather than also being writers. Am I wrong?

OVER TO YOU

Can professional editors also be authors without compromising their judgement? Do authors actually make better editors because they understand the writer’s journey? If you’re an author, what has been your main challenge in finding an editor? If you’re an editor, are authors unrealistic in their expectations of you? Looking forward to a lively discussion here – do join in via the comments box!

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  1. I think, perhaps, it is about money in the end. If you’re hiring an editor and you want them to work solely on your project, then you’re either going to have to pay them a lot or find someone who is doing this not as a profession, but as an enthusiast and isn’t concerned with the money (in other words, someone secure in their financial situation). I freelance and I can’t afford to do just one thing at a time. I would starve if I did that. No one is interested in paying you a lot of money, so you have to work more to make ends meet. So if you want someone focusing solely on your project, you’re going to have to give a little – or settle for someone with less experience.

    Honestly, I think some people can be both writer and editor. But it takes practice and enough distance from your peojwcts to be objective. Otherwise you end up with people who are getting confused or mixing up their projects. Maybe I’m wrong, but I like to think that having an editor who is also a writer ggives them some insifht into what you’re trying to accomplish, not just the barr bones of structure. Bit if you get someone who doesn’t agree with your style… well, that can cause friction. Ultimately, I think you just need to find an editor that works for you and that’s not an easy process, but it’s worth looking around and doing trials to find a nice match.

    Also, maybe the low salrs isn’t due to the editor. Readers are fickle and will ignore a perfectly good book in favor of something of lower quality simply because of marketing, genre preference or word of mouth. Unless you’re getting specific comments about things like flow or word choice or obvious mistakes, you may have to.consider that this isn’t all to be laid at an editor’s feet.

    But I don’t know the entirety of circumstances, but I wanted to mention that.

  2. I feellike I’m the odd one out here, because it isnt so much quality editing as affordable editing.

    I have experience in programming in simple object oriented language. If there is a syntax error then the terminal will not run.

    Through this I find I don’t need a basic syntax assessment–I’ve gotten to the point I analyze and rework every sentence I write.

    I’ve known people on comic script sites that call themselves editors, but in fact mainly like to say things like “This is the shittiest manuscript I read in my life, and I’ve read pulp fiction.” Has this very narrow and masculine (borderline misogynistic) definition of the word padding. I never made a single change because he came across as some manchild.

    On one hand while not an editor I have a experienced reader with an eye toward tropes she mentions without suggestions. She just lets me know what tropes are there and proposes solutions for subverting them. She knows how I write, so she bases her comments on what she knows my goal is.

    The latter is the best editor I ever had. She … is … amazing!

    I write unusual books, collections that build toward a novel. I have no intention rewriting it to make it … well … not a story collection. It’s also non commercial styled scifi.

    My point is a good editor/particular reader will spot things and provide suggestions and figure out the goal you seem to try to wanting to achieve.

  3. I am a full-time editor who decided to try her hand at being an author years after starting my editing business. Perhaps I have it a bit backward! After editing such a broad range of books, the fiction writing bug bit me and I had my first short story published (traditionally) this year. I’ve been writing poetry on and off for years, but I do so only when the mood takes me and the mood doesn’t usually take me very often these days.

    Can an author be an editor? It depends. Certainly, not every author can edit. Not every person possessing a degree in English can edit. Editing, and doing it well, takes time, patience, experience, and passion. In some cases it also takes training, depending on the person. For me, the passion to edit comes from my gut. I can’t read a sign on a storefront or an email without editing the thing in my head. The end result? I followed my gut and my heart and started editing and I loved it. I went on to study editing and obtained a certificate. I wanted to live it and breathe it, and so I do.

    Do I still love to write? Of course. But I don’t even think of touching my own work when I’m working on someone else’s book. And the first rule of editing is to do no harm. To me, that includes not messing with an author’s unique voice.

    As for reviews, a good edit is only part of the package, albeit an important one. I wouldn’t blame lack of reviews on the edit, necessarily. There could be many factors: the market for that genre, the way the book was marketed, the cover art, or other variables.

  4. Great comments, everyone. Elizabeth B pretty much sums up my opinions, but the main issue I see here is not whether the editor is an author or not – what you do when you aren’t editing isn’t the point – it’s what you do when you’re editing that’s important.

    A good editor will focus completely on your book when they’re editing it, (that doesn’t mean that they can’t be editing another book or writing their own half an hour later) and they’ll put aside any personal preferences they may have about style or treatment of subject matter. They’ll tune into what you’re trying to do and help you to do that. They will strengthen your voice, not weaken it.

    A good editor will not change your voice or your style, but (unless you’ve employed them only for a copy edit and not a comprehensive edit) they will improve your expression and for most authors – especially inexperienced ones – that does mean rearranging of sentences, often a lot of deletions and even the occasional additions. All of which should be done in such a way as to retain the author’s style. A line editor who is too scared to reconstruct your sentences when it would improve the writing isn’t doing you any favours.

    The important thing is to find an editor that’s right for you. And the following might help:

    Find someone who is clear in their information about their process and how they work. If you like the sound of how they work, then move to the next step.
    Read what other authors have said about them.
    Read their blog to get a feeling for their personality.
    Read their book if they’ve written one – it doesn’t matter if it’s your kind of thing or not, but you want to make sure its well written.
    Ask for a sample edit before taking them on. Most editors will do 1000 words at least for free. Look for someone who explains why they’ve done what they’ve done. If something looks wrong to you, ask why they changed it and be willing to learn.
    Address any concerns you have from the sample edit before they get started.
    They should draw up some kind of agreement so you have what you’ve agreed to in writing.

    To clarify what I mean by finding out how an editor works. The author of this blog mentioned an editor who rearranged sections. The way I work at the structural level, is to do a ms appraisal and get the author to make the changes I suggest themselves, because as an author I wouldn’t feel comfortable with someone else – no matter how talented – actually doing all that cutting and pasting. I think it’s important that the author maintain that intimate connection with their work by doing that level of editing themselves, then they can follow the editors suggestions or not as they feel is right for their work. I also get a different editor to do the final proof reading because I feel that you’re much more likely to pick up typos if a fresh eyes look at it at that stage. Not all editors work that way. The more transparent someone is about their process, the better you can evaluate whether or not they’re the right editor for you.

  5. I am an avid reader, editor, and author. Is being an author a detriment to my editing abilities? Absolutely not. I do not write while editing, nor do I work on multiple editing projects simutaneously, because my entire focus is my current project.

    A professional editor offers a free edit sample, requests portions of the manuscript for review before providing a quote, gives a concrete figure, discusses the author’s vision, and builds a relationship.

    The author’s voice is paramount. An author is the creative mind, I am the technical mind. I do not slice and dice. I make suggestions in MS Track Changes comments.

    I provide a document I call “Author’s Notes” in which I explain changes I make, note over-used words, talk about the correct use of dialogue tags, quite often explain why I have removed hundreds of exclamation marks, and thoroughly describe revision suggestions pertinent to plot, pacing, characterization, etc.

    I have sent back manuscripts highlighted in several colors corrrelating to recommendations in the Author’s Notes. For example, yellow might denote an implausible event, while green might denote a dangling thread.

    I am clear that revisions and recommendations are “suggestions”. It is the author’s book. It is not my place to “take over” and impose my voice or thoughts.

    Reading, rather than being an author, is my second llargest asset – aside from my editing experience – and learning tool. I believe writing and editing are inherent abilities that can be developed but not acquired.

    An editor’s job is to deliver an error-free manuscript. Whether the author accepts revisions and recommendation is beyond the editor’s control.

    Ultimately, the author’s name is on the cover and it is the author’s responsibility to produce a quality product. An editor cannot make a purse out of a sow’s ear.

    As others have commented, marketing skills are essential. Sales figures are not dependent on an editor. They are the result of the author’s efforts.

    Not all authors are editors and not all editors are authors, but please don’t dismiss those that are. We are blessed to be gifted with diverse abilities.

    Best regards and wishes.

  6. I agree that it’s very difficult to find an author who is also an effective editor. I got look in this regard, I guess. I think the key is to be certain the author/editor approaches editing as a profession, not a sideline job to supplement income. Does he or she teach editing? Do they blog about it? Have they written books about editing? Can they produce recommendations from satisfied authors?

    A related question, one probably for another discussion, is the wisdom of having an agent who also acts as one of your editors. That one leaves me more baffled.

  7. The key is to find a GOOD editor. Writer or not, doesn’t make a difference. What other authors have they worked with and personal recommendations are the thing. The more work they do, changes they suggest – the better in my experience.

  8. I think the issue depends on the type of editor you want or need. Some people need a copy editor. Someone who will proofread for grammar, typographical, and stylistic errors. They may even do minor content edits, such as sentences that end abruptly without punctuation. Then there are editors who almost become co-authors. However, that role will depend on the industry. These editors are found more in paid for writing in which the house has a content, stylistic, or editorial line.

    The more the work is about a creative role, the more the editor takes on a role of bringing forth what the author is trying to say or show. By that I mean, the writer as artist has a vision or a story they want to tell. The editor is there as a midwife, of a sort, to bring that to life.They may end up revising and rewriting much of it based on the structure created by the author. In that the relationship is intimate and not done at a arms length. However, it stops short of being coauthored.

    A third relationship is that the editor is more of a publisher in which the author is so well known or so experienced they dictate or determine the way the work is presented and the editor has a secondary role to ensure the editorial process for the publisher is completed with requiring much if any changes.

    In all of these roles, I do not think the editor can be author. They need to have separate roles. An editor who becomes a co-author needs to identify themselves as such. Yet, the two roles have different skills, requirements and pscychological approaches to the work and the author.
    When I edit my own work, I have worked with editors a few times, I have to stop being the author and cut it as ruthlessly as if I was editing someone else’s work that I understood. I cannot do that as author because I need to defend my work and my vision. The editor role is one in which the vision is fixed and I am revising the work back to the vision not trying to explore the vision or reveal it as a co-author might through their work.

    The author can be an editor and an editor can be an author.They cannot be both at the same time.

    I hope this helps.

    Best,

    Lawrence

  9. I think perhaps the underlying issue here is the quality of editing and the expectations about the editor. I have never even considered it part of my editor’s job to increase my sales – that’s down to me, as an author, to create a sufficiently compelling story, and as a (somewhat reluctant) marketeer to make sure potential readers know about it.

    At the very beginning of my writing career I used an editor who was also an author and she helped me master the basics of manuscript presentation and, I thought, pretty much everything else I needed to know. She got me to the point where what was to become my first novel did very well in a national competition but one of the judges, Sophie Hannah, took me to one side and basically told me the manuscript needed editing. When I explained it had been she told be to find a better editor.

    I decided to use Winchester Writers’ Festival to do this. Festival attendees can book one-to-one appointments with agents, editors and other writers. I chose to meet a number of editors, and while I was at the Festival button-holed just about every writer I could to find out who they used. One editor – also an author and a tutor of creative writing – stood head and shoulders above the rest to me. She was encouraging about the pages I had submitted to her but also pointed out the tiny improvements I could make that the others had missed or thought unimportant.

    It would not have mattered to me whether or not she was an author, but I have certainly benefitted from her experiences – and contact book – which she is keen to share. She is both traditionally and independently published, has been around the writing scene for a while and is a technical perfectionist. She strikes just the right balance between believing in my ideas and my voice as a writer yet at the same time doing everything she can to improve my writing. My second novel – on which she worked exclusively – has just come out and the reviews are telling me this editor’s input has made a big difference.

    I would always prefer an editor who is also an author because of their personal understanding of the writing process and the emotions behind it. But the most important thing is the quality of their work. Always, always, get samples and/or references before committing what can be a great deal of money.

    Finally, editing is a two way relationship. For me it took a while (with the first editor I worked with) to know which ideas to accept and which to reject. I guess that comes with experience but there is no point at all in entering into the editing process if you aren’t prepared to at least consider seriously what comes out of it.

    1. My comment here is about Sophie Hannah, the judge you mention. It bothers me when I hear of books in which the editing is criticized, as in, “Oh, really? This has already been edited? Well, you’d better find a better editor.” How does the critic know in what condition the manuscript was in *before* the editing happened? Maybe the MS was in terrible shape (not suggesting at all that this was the case with yours, Jane. I’m speaking generally here), and the editor did all she could to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. Sometimes, that’s all an editor can do with a very poorly written manuscript. I’m not saying that a second editor might not be a good idea, but editors are not miracle workers. It’s not always fair to assume the editor is at fault for problems that still may exist when a manuscript goes to print.

  10. I work full time as a fiction editor, with no aspirations to be a novelist myself (I’m an introvert at a cellular level — it’s the marketing side of publishing that puts me off). But I’ve often thought that if I were an author looking for an editor, I’d avoid like the plague those who are writers themselves, not just because they might try to impose their style of writing and interests on me, but because my work might give them ideas for their own writing. I’m not suggesting that writer-editors would deliberately steal/plagiarise, but there’s bound to be some kind of subliminal influencing going on. I wouldn’t be happy about that, either as the client-writer or as the writer-editor.

    1. I am so glad I found you. I’ve had the sane fears. I have a book 90% complete well almost complete. I was wondering if I could get you to just see it and tell me what to do. Can I hire you as my editor? And manager as well? Please send an advice. Email: [email protected]

    2. Ever book you will ever read will contribute to your writing in some way. Maybe it’s just that you see a different style and it helps to inform/ shape yours.

      Maybe they write about things you like, and can identify with it, and identifying with the book helps you realize the kinds of elements that need to be in a book to connect with it. As an author, every book I read is read as a writer, which means that I dissect it (whether or not I want to). Every now and then I’ll admire the way an author paints an image, or I dislike or want to applaud their pacing. I notice a million things about every book I read, but never once have I ever wanted to write someone else’s story.

      Hell, I don’t even like it when my boyfriend suggests story ideas. Why on earth would I want to write something that someone else has already done. I have to have a passion for the story, and that only comes from me thinking of it myself.

  11. I disagree. My editor also writes and understands the writer’s process. I think what is important are the credentials. Some writers try to make money by calling themselves editors…and they are lousy at it. Find someone who has a history of editing, and perhaps in your genre.

    You also need to know what type of editor you are looking for. Are you looking for someone to critique the development, someone to help you with the language and style, or a proofreader.

    Some editors can do all three types of editing while others specialize in one. Before hiring, make sure the editor understands your expectations and you understand their qualifications. If you are both on the same wavelength, then you should be happy with the results. I know I was.

  12. I would echo all the above re: samples and that editing may improve reviews but otherwise is distinct from improving sales.

    I’m an editor who is not an author, and has no ambition to be one. I find it strange when the assumption often seems to be that they go hand in hand and would feel a bit suspicious of any editor whose only visible qualification for editing was their own writing.

    An author’s experiences may be quite singular, and therefore unlikely to translate to good advice on style or ‘what sells’ for someone else.

    Meanwhile, the main benefit of an author-editor seems to be empathy for a Writer’s experience and for their feelings – but empathy does not require one has the same experiences.

    My own value as an editor, I believe, comes from a background as a passionate and critical reader, with experience in and a strong interest in the business of publishing, and some experience of teaching. I think these are all things that a writer can find useful in an editor, and may well not have themselves.

  13. Should editors be authors? Yes! (see below)

    I provide editorial services and consultancy to experienced writers bringing their back-list into the digital marketplace, work as a copyeditor for a major publisher, and also offer literary consultancy and editing services to first time authors looking to find an agent or to self-publish.

    Editing is sensitive, difficult work. Sometimes an author is looking for confirmation that their book is good rather than literary criticism or professional editorial advice. Sometimes authors can’t take any kind of feedback, even tactful, helpful suggestions. From an editor’s perspective, I don’t know how my suggestions will be accepted until I begin working together with an author. Although I often provide a sample edit, a sample can’t show what will happen once the detailed, rigorous editing process begins.

    An edit is a vigorous, detailed, in-depth connection with a book. When I find something is grating or repetitive, and suggest changing it around, deleting, or cutting and pasting for a better reading experience, I’m doing my job as an editor. A development or structural edit, in line with SfEP, means making large-scale changes to improve the writing.

    Every book has its own voice and it’s my job as editor to make sure the voice in that book (the tone, language, characterization, and so on) are consistent and relevant. This means changing words to impose consistency, of course it does. All revisions and changes – for consistency and for structural changes – are made with Tracked Changes switched on because these are ‘suggested revisions’ for the author to mull over.

    Tracked Changes show every change on the manuscript but it’s up to the author to discuss revisions, and then for them to accept or decline every single one by clicking on each change, and then to go on revising until they are happy with the final version of their manuscript.

    Sales and Editing
    After detailing editorial experiences you go on to mention your books aren’t selling and imply a connection between bad experience with editors and poor sales. Unless all of your reviews are concerned with drawing attention to structural errors or grammar failings, for which an editor will provide a follow-up service (if they’re SfEP registered), then perhaps the problem lies elsewhere.
    • Were all three books published at the same time or did you lead with the first in the series and begin to establish your credentials as an author?
    • Are you expecting too much from readers who don’t know you?
    • Compared to writing, editing, publishing, how much time have you expended on marketing your books? (other than the usual tried places of Amazon and GoodReads)

    Editors as authors – I think you’ll find many successful and talented editor/authors among the PEN membership!
    See also –
    Virginia Woolf – author/essayist/editor
    Miles Franklin – author/memoirist/editor
    Dave Eggers – author/editor
    Oscar Wilde – author/playwright/editor
    Charles Dickens – essayist/author/editor

  14. Dear Anonymous,

    First, I want to say that this is a point I have very often contemplated and in fact just discussed with an agent from a major NY firm at a conference this week. We both agreed that being an author doesn’t automatically qualify a person to edit. But authorship doesn’t always-already exclude someone from being a great editor, either. I am a freelance book editor and I do NOT author books; in fact, I have zero desire to author much more than blog posts, and those have to focus on a topic I’m crazy passionate about (i.e., craft, conventions or the business of freelancing). I work primarily in fiction, with authors whose goals are either agent query/traditional pub model or polishing their work to a professional finish for indie publishing.

    The point was made above that editing and writing require different parts of the brain — “creation vs analysis”. And while I think Elizabeth B. is on to something, I think the mindset of an editor isn’t entirely analytical. I consider myself a collaborative partner with my authors; my job is to preserve their voice or, frequently, clarify it, and so “heavier edits” like changing sentence structure or altering word choice should be done with this very creative, preservation/clarity in mind. I also help authors solve plot problems. How do we create mythologies? How do we articulate authentic character traits? How do we help readers see your characters/culture/setting with more clarity? These are creative conversations, and collaborative ones. It takes a lot of creativity (and a little chutzpah) to say to an author, “I don’t think your MC would do that. It doesn’t make sense given X and Y about his personality/history.” But THAT’S the kind of editor you need — one who can be creative and critical simultaneously, all in the service of your vision.

    You absolutely cannot, SHOULD NOT, hire an editor without getting a sample of their work. Some editors feel compelled to charge for samples, some don’t. Personally, I consider samples the cost of doing business, but I keep my sample edits short (less than 5pp). I also turn down work that requires too much editorial intervention (though I always respond to all queries and point authors not ready for professional editing toward free or low-cost resources to improve their craft).

    At the same time, the best editor can’t sell your book. Marketing your book — whether you’re traditionally or indie published — is a massive undertaking. Anonymous, you tell us that your books aren’t selling well, but I’m curious: what are you doing to sell them? Have you gotten specific feedback that makes you think editing/content is the reason your books aren’t doing better? What genre are we talking about? Is your book riding a downward-trending niche? I have a million more questions because there are two million reasons why a book doesn’t sell.

    I don’t think all authors make bad editors. I don’t think all non-author editors make good editors. There’s no “all or nothing” here. What you as an author have are a surfeit of choices. The freelancer marketplace is robust (I’ve listed my Reedsy profile above instead of my personal site so you can see just how many top-notch options you have). It sounds like you did some due diligence but at first let price guide you (your cheapest editor gave you the cheapest edits, surprise surprise). You’re clearly committed to your authorship, so find an editor just as committed to her editing — that should be a good place to start.

    Debbie’s advice to you above is really fantastic — check out social media, blogs, personal sites, whatever — and start a conversation about your work before you commit. A final word: Don’t give up. Keep writing. Keep looking for your perfect team. I just heard Joanna Penn give a keynote talk where she mentioned having to go through 6 editors before she found one that really worked for her. The right person is out there. Best of luck!!

    Rebecca Faith

  15. I have to say I think I’ve found me a paragon!

    The editor I’m currently using for my fiction is also a novelist, though in a different genre to me (which I suspect is helpful as it distances us a little from each other’s writing and style), and she’s really helpful and kind. I’m sure that being an author herself and knowing what it’s like to be on the receiving end of edits makes her more sympathetic, but it doesn’t impair her judgement.

    Having said that, we had met in person a couple of times at events before I asked her to do any work for me, and one of the reasons that I chose her was because the chemistry felt right and she seemed like the kind of person that I could work with. I’d also read her first novel, which reassured me of her technical competence.

    With so many of the component parts of the self-publishing process taking place across the ether, with clients and service providers never meeting or even speaking to each other other than via email or social media, it is too easy to hook up with someone who you might never employ if you met them in real life. (And this cuts both ways – I bet editors take on authors that they’d not touch with a barge pole if they’d met them!)

    So I’d urge any author in search of an editor to go not just by price and website summaries, but also to find out as much as they can about the editor by following them on Twitter, reading their blog, or whatever else is available, before making their final decision. Perhaps not an obvious part of the selection process, but one that I’ll certainly go through if and when I need to find a different editor.

  16. I agree with what Elizabeth B has said above. I’ll add my own experience in, too …

    Why being a writer has helped my editing:
    I am an editor who is also a writer. I haven’t edited many books on the topic of my own books, but what writing my books has brought to my editing is the experience of being edited. If that makes sense. I’ll explain: When my own book was edited (by a professional editor who edits quite like I do) I was HORRIFIED. My lovely book, my perfect words, mauled about! And of course they weren’t – she was very careful to retain my voice, she made things consistent, she pointed out stuff that didn’t work. But I had a visceral reaction and didn’t work on the edits for three months!! From that I learned to be (even) kinder (than I was before). And to make sure I explain that I created the style sheet to keep things consistent, not impose my views. And to make a space to congratulate on good points of style and substance as well as correct errors.

    On changing an author’s voice:
    No reputable editor will impose their voice on yours. The art, the skill (and the fun) of editing is to trim off and tidy so that the author’s voice and story, whatever they’re writing about, shine through. Always ask for a sample edit – I offer up to 1,000 words of sample editing, as I ask to look at a sample anyway so it’s easy to give that back so we both know what we’re facing.

    On attention:
    I give any book or document or sales piece or whatever my full attention while I’m working on it. However, most editors are juggling several projects, even if they’re full-time editors. And actually it’s good for us to context-switch rather than plough on with your novel all day for days on end. It’s in the gaps when we’re thinking of something else that our brain comes up with that perfect way to suggest you bridge a gap, or realises something’s gone awry and just where that happened.

    On book sales:
    An author will write and publish a book whatever an editor says, in my experience. A good edit can improve reviews and that can boost sales – no or a bad edit can affect reviews likewise and in the other direction. I have told several authors that their book has no market as it is, but given them advice about finding a writing group or recommending a writing coach for them, either because of style or because of content. But most of those have come back to me after working over the book, and I bet the others published somehow anyway. I don’t think you can write for a market, anyway; you need to write from your own heart first of all, unless you want to do a genre fiction book quite cold-heartedly to make money … but will the readers be able to tell that, anyway.

    I hope that’s useful!

  17. Hello,
    I would like to throw my hat in the ring on the subject. However, like you, I do not want to divulge my name as to not offend any editors I have worked with. First of all, I am a writer of tween/teen Christian fiction. I have published books by both traditional and self-publishing. I currently only self-publish my books, as that is my current preference. In regards to the main question, I believe that an editor can be an author also. However, that editor must be able to distinguish his or her client’s style and voice in their writing. Let me give you an example. I submitted a book of mine which has action, adventure, clue-finding investigations and teen romance, to an editor for his review and price quote. (I found out later, he was an author of “super-hero” type picture books.)
    When I got back his sample edits and his price quote, he also gave me his critique. He went on to say, that he felt my story needed my main characters to have combative counterparts, “villains” to rival my main characters, which should be made out to be more “super-hero like.” This book centers on the lives of a boy and a girl who charters life’s adventures while slowly developing feelings for one another and eventually fall in love. When this editor came back with his suggestions that my story needed villains and superheroes, it was obvious he was not looking at my storyline and vision, but his own as an author. I declined his offer and eventually found a really great editor who understood exactly where I was coming from. When he made edits, they were written as if I had made that correction myself. He was enthusiastic about the project and never changed my voice. Now this person is also an author, although he writes more editorials and interview pieces. But even if he was working on a novel, I know he would not mix his vision with mine.
    My point being… I believe that an editor can be an author also. However, he or she must be able to distinguish their work from yours. Like in the example above, this editor couldn’t do that and tried to change my vision with his. I also agree with Elizabeth B., not to presume that an author can be an editor. To be a professional editor, it takes training and years of experience. I was fortunate to find a good one by the name of Jack Minor at http://www.jmpublications.com/ (shameless plug)
    Anyway, that’s my thoughts on the matter.

  18. This is a great issue to bring up, especially because I am an editor who also does some writing. Here are my thoughts:

    First, nobody should assume that they can be an editor just because they’re a writer. That’s when you’ll wind up with a situation like editor #1 or editor #2 above. Some authors know how to write their own stories, but they don’t actually know what issues to look for (or how to address those issues) in the work of others. Other authors, like #2, will try to put their own style into the MS just because they think they know what’s “good.” That’s a big no-no. When I edit, I’m committed to keeping my author’s style, and I only do style-fixing line edits with permission (and after giving them a sample of what that would look like). I would advise authors to always get a sample before choosing to work with an editor.

    Second, I think that the issue of undivided attention is a real one, but not necessarily directly linked to whether or not the editor is also an author. Right now, I only edit part time because I am also teaching part time. If anything, it’s the balance between grading papers and editing manuscripts that I have to work on. When I do my own writing, I’m using a completely different part of the brain than when I’m editing–it’s creation vs. analysis. It’s definitely an editor’s responsibility to give a manuscript their full attention, but I believe that full attention can be given in segments if the editor is able to properly compartmentalize their jobs apart from their creative and personal life.

    Third, I don’t think that the sales of a book is entirely on the editor. A good editor will help the author make the book the best it can be in story, structure, and grammar, but that doesn’t mean that every reader will enjoy that author’s style and story. There are good books by good authors that I can’t stand–I just can’t get through their style and/or story premise. Does that mean they’re bad books? No–I’m just not the right audience. If a book isn’t selling, it doesn’t automatically mean that it is poorly edited (though that is definitely the case for many indie books). It might be that it has a smaller target audience and hasn’t connected yet with those readers.

    1. Hate to “pile on” after so much good information, but Elizabeth is EXACTLY correct. Being a writer myself (working on my first 2; have been a journalist for several years), I keep the lights on as an editor of manuscripts and academic papers (mainly Phd dissertations). I feel that the more one is immersed in words, in whatever way that may manifest itself, the better you become at having a proficient eye for working to make someone else’s work the best it can be. I hope I sell a million books and am writing on the beach next year but in reality I know even if that one one thousanth of a percent possibility happened, I would still run my editing business because I have found after years as a foreign correspondent, investigative journalist and opinion columnist on foreign and domestic affairs that I love editing as much as writing. And it is a wonderful way to stay 24/7 in the wonderful world of words and writers. The CMS, AP, Harvard and other style manuals may be great if you want a job with a publisher that requires a certain style, but as an “indie editor”, it is as much an art as writing is and I use MY knowledge and never refererence a styl manual. To make a long story short, which is obviously impossible at this point, writers are BETTER editors. Thanks! Brady Thomas

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