Thursday, September 8, 2011

Editors Know Nothing

Editors know nothing – and that’s a good thing.

When I say, editors know nothing, I’m not talking about their ability to edit. I’m talking about your manuscript. When it comes time to turn to a professional to edit, mark up, offer suggestions, and work with you to fine tune and improve the work, you want someone with “fresh” eyes, someone who hasn’t read previous versions of your manuscript.

Your beta readers have been reading, offering ideas, marking up the pages. You’ve probably made changes based on their comments. You’ve made improvements. Now it’s time to turn to someone who knows nothing … about the changes or what the story looked like in the beginning.

You may end up paying multiple editors to look at your work. Most writers only pay one. That one needs to be someone with experience and knowledge in editing and coaching -- someone who will tell you the hard truth.

The good news is that person is a professional. They’re not going to be hurt when you disagree with them. They’re going to continue working with you. They’re not going to be jealous of things you’ve written that are pure gold. They’re going to tell you what a gem that phrase or character or chapter is. They’re not going to be afraid to point out weak areas or what they see as problems. You’re paying them to do just that.

Editors know a lot when it comes to editing and coaching writers. And, yet, they know nothing.

And that’s a good thing.

Have you worked with an editor who knew nothing and, as a result, helped you to make your writing better?

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  1. I have a really great editor - Helen Ginger! Thanks for all your helpful suggestions to make my manuscript better. I learn from what you say, plus get nudges about things I knew but somehow manage to forget.

    Morgan Mandel

  2. I don't usually have a whole lot to mark on your manuscripts, Morgan!

  3. Aw, you two girls are cute
    I think you're both great writers
    and I love following you on FB
    In April, Pat is going to a Writers Convention in Henderson, NV. I"m hoping to get some 'editing' advice from them as well
    Wish there were "editing classes"
    one could take
    enjoy your day
    an avid fan! Gayle

  4. Thank you for making such an important point, Helen. It's vital our manuscripts get seen by someone who's never experienced its evolution. What matters it what it is now, not what it has been.

  5. Great reminder about the importance of "fresh eyes", especially from a professional editor. I agree with all you said, but will be honest and admit I am sometimes jealous of things my clients have written that are pure gold. I do tell them how nice that passage is, but part of me has just that little twinge of "gosh, I wish I had thought of something that clever." I have the same reaction when I find a gem in a published book, a phrase or sentence I want to read over again, just to savor the beauty of the writing. Those little twinges are what prompt me to work just a bit harder to try to create my own little gem.

  6. Very good point regarding the need for someone with a "fresh pair of eyes" to tell you the "hard truth". I can see how knowing nothing works to the writer's and the editor's advantage.

  7. I enjoy editing myself (not my own work, I hasten to add) but other people's work. How does one become a professional editor? I'd be interested to know.

  8. Christopher, you make an interesting point that needs to be explored. Is it "the truth" you can't handle or the way it's presentd?

    I work with a lot of writers, and their manuscripts range from atrocious to a hair's breadth away from outstanding. In both cases, I commend what they've done, make suggestions about changes I feel would benefit the manuscript, and explain the reasons why those changes are essential. Never do I tell writer that a work is horrible because I'm a writer, too; I'd be crushed if an editor told me that. But facing the truth in the sense that the editor is on your side, a silent member of your team whose sole purpose is to make your work shine.

    I'm going to share with you a true case that proves this point. Some years ago, a writer came to me for a proofread of his manuscript. It was very, very badly written. With the thought in mind of creating a marketable book, I did (with his permission) an edit of the first chapter. He went ballistic. After informing me in succinct terms that he had an agent and a publisher waiting for his wonderful story, he paid me for my services. I never heard from him again. Recently, however, I happened upon his book online. He'd self-published it.

    Who was loser here? Me? No. He paid me very well for the few pages I edited. He was. Obviously, that agent and publisher evaporated after they received his "finished" product. What could have been a facinating, well-written book in his genre will never appeal to readers. By extension, those readers are losers, too, because he had a good story line. However, its presentation screamed "amateur," and his "facts" (it was historical) were all wrong. Impossibilities peppered his scenes, and his credibility as an author died before it took its first breath of life.

    My suggestions: Interview editors, ask for a sample edit to see how they handle both your work and you, and believe in yourself and your ability to write a great book (even if it's with the help of competent, caring editor).

    You as a writer and as a person are unique. Your perspective, your stories, and your heart deserve the opportunity to be heard through the pages of a quality book. Please don't sell yourself short by not using an editor because you're attached by an uncuttable umbilical cord to your words. You deserve better than that.

  9. I'm that way, too, Maryann. I love finding a sentence or paragraph that just takes my breath away!

    Gayle, check in your area for an editing class. Sometimes local writing groups will give them.

    Christopher, as we say in Texas, you're a hoot. You not only CAN handle the truth, you're very funny.

  10. I look forward to the time that I'm ready for objective eyes to look at my work. I'm inching forward and this post has made me realize even more how important a good editor will be.

  11. Right on, Helen! Even though I'm an editor myself, I need a fresh pair (or more) of eyes to go over my manuscript before it's ready to go. You just get too close to your own work to see what needs to be done.

  12. So true, Heidi. Even editors need editors.

  13. And don't send your manuscript to an editor until you've gone through it two or three times for your own fixes.

    When you think it's just right,then send it along. Unless you're a genius, you'll be surprised to find it isn't as perfect as you thought.

    Morgan Mandel

  14. I've always had the *best* editors (including you, Dani!)... and I always listen carefully to what they have to say. :-)

  15. Lol, cute and informative article. It tickled this editor's fancy.

    "I know nothing!" I'll scream that at clients. Lol. Just kidding. I will NOT, but it could be funny...

  16. I found a great editor. She edited my first ms, paid for by the small publisher who accepted my book. That book ended up as an EPIC finalist, so we did okay. Then, when I decided to self-publish my second, I tracked her down. (I told her I was stalking her.) And she found ways to improve my "perfect" ms. It's the only way to go.

  17. Star, we might turn your question into a month-long exploration because there are various paths to becoming a professional editor. Thanks for asking!

  18. Norma, do you write P.I. characters? You have skills to track someone down!

  19. What a wonderful point of view you express here, Helen. To add one more thought, it's the very reason I suggest my developmental edit clients go elsewhere for proofreading--by that point, I too am overly immersed in the project.


The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. Some of our contributors are editors, some are authors, and some are writing sheep. Yes, sheep.


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