Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Morgan Mandel's Basic Guide to Self-Publishing - Day Three - Why Use An Editor

I’d gone through Killer Career countless times checking for mistakes in punctuation, spelling, repetitive words, phrases and sentence structure. I’d been confident enough to submit it to a few publishers and agents. None of the feedback I’d gotten mentioned errors in punctuation, spelling or sentence structure.

One agent did mention my novel was too dialogue driven and could use more description. Where and how should I insert it? Were there other problems I didn’t know about?

My novel had to be as perfect as possible to buck the climate against self-pubs. How could I achieve that? What did other publishers do? Good ones hired editors. That’s what I’d do. An editor could objectively scan my manuscript, find weak areas and suggest possible fixes.

Where would I find one? It didn’t take long for the obvious answer to pop into my head. I’m a contributor to a blog spot crawling with wonderful editors, namely The Blood-Red Pencil. Of all the fine editors here, the one I knew best was Helen Ginger. From the start, after I’d joined the blog book tour e-group and begun blogging daily at, she’d diligently followed my posts. She went out of her way to help other bloggers. Her own blog posts were right on the mark. Not only did she have a great reputation as an editor, she was also a nice person, the kind I’d like to work with.

Would she want to take me on? Did she have the time? The only way to find out was to ask. I did. Fortunately, Helen said she was confident of my writing ability and would like to be my editor. To make sure we were both satisfied with her methods, she agreed to a trial edit of ten manuscript pages. After I saw what she could do, I wanted more. We agreed on a price and the edits began.

That’s when I learned it was a good thing I’d hired her. Helen nicely suggested I might want to move the prologue and fit it in elsewhere. She found spots lacking in description and offered ways to add it, often doing so without telling me exactly what to insert. That way I could learn how to do it myself, instead of robotically following instructions. My blog book tour post of August 21 at Helen Ginger’s blog spot, covers some of what I learned on this topic.

Helen also noticed that I’d inserted one space in some spots and two in others after periods. She discovered redundancies, inconsistencies in characters’ thoughts and emotions, unnecessary tag lines, and much more.

I agreed with most of Helen’s suggestions and found ways to incorporate them into the book. A few I disagreed about and explained why. She didn’t insist I change them.

Helen was generous with her time. It took three edits to get Killer Career into shape. When we’d finally finished, I knew I’d done my best. I also knew I couldn’t have done it alone. I was grateful I’d hired a good editor.

In the future, whether or not I self-publish, I’ll still hire one. What about you? Have you ever hired an editor? Will you?

Day Four's Topic Will Be Choosing A Printing House & Getting Familiar With It.
Morgan Mandel

Bookmark and Share


  1. I can imagine Helen would be a wonderful editor. She's clever and diplomatic...a great combination.

    I hired an editor after drafting my first book 5 years ago. He did a great job pointing out areas I needed to work on and I learned a lot.

    Mystery Writing is Murder

  2. Before Killer Career, I hadn't thought of hiring an editor. Now, I believe it's a must. The competition is tough enough without putting out the best quality work.

    Morgan Mandel - Blogging also today at

  3. When Mark and I published our first book, Hacksaw, we didn't understand what good editors do. We thought all editors were grammar and spell checkers, so we didn't use one. Between Hacksaw and The Resqueth Revolution, I discovered The Blood-Red Pencil blog and learned the real value of editing.

    We selected a BRP editor for The Resqueth Revolution. I was new to the site and didn't have the kind of relationship Helen and Morgan have developed, but I did notice a glowing recommendation for Lj Sellers on one of my author discussion groups. I bought her book, The Sex Club. Read it. Loved it. Hired her.

    Now I can't imagine taking a book to print without the blessing of a professional editor. I've been behaving like the born-agains, spouting off to anyone who will listen. I've even been looking for ways to introduce my Houston writing group to the benefits of hiring editors to improve manuscripts before submitting to traditional publishing houses.

    Of course, I always recommend coming here to Blood-Red Pencil, reading the articles, and contacting the editor that clicks with them.

    Charlotte Phillips

  4. Helen did a great job editing my, as yet unpublished, book. I recommend her to anyone looking for an editor.

  5. I hired an editor before submitting queries. Then I hired another editor when I decided to self-publish. For my next manuscript, Helen's my gal, if she's willing and available. A good editor is an indispensable tool for any writer.

  6. I've never hired a personal editor, but my editor at WIld Rose Press is fabulous. She offers so much guidance and support, yet lets me make changes (or choose not to) on my own. It's always a learning process.

  7. Morgan, I agree a good editor is invaluable. The problem comes in with $. Self-publishers are already putting out a fair amount of money and many editors charge $1-2 a page. That can add up fast.

    Since grammar is my thing, I'm fortunate, and so I find readers willing to go through it and tell me what's not working and what's confusing. I did take a novel class way back when and I continually study the craft. Sometimes crit partners are the best we can do, and a wonderful help. ;-)

  8. Although it's tempting to go with an editor who will re-write mistakes, that's not a good way to go. The more we learn, the better writers we become and the less we'll need an editor. We probably never lose the need for an editor, but we can, hopefully, eventually only need the publisher's editor and not have to pay our own. And notice that I keep saying "we." I'm a writer, too. Each time I turn in a manuscript to my publisher, he has someone look at it.

    Morgan is extremely generous when she talks about me as her editor. For the record, her manuscript was in great shape before she sent it to me and she was a joy to work with. And I am so excited for her and her success.

    Straight From Hel

  9. It's true hiring an editor is an investment. If you can't afford one, the next best thing is to submit your manuscript to a critique partner or group. Just make sure this person or group already is either published or has a good grasp of what it takes to get your book into shape.

    Morgan Mandel
    Also blogging today at

  10. Morgan, another great post. I'm really appreciating reading your travels. I am fortunate in that the publisher I am using has editors on staff, and I am working with one.

    I will tell you that my critique group really played "editor" during my early days of writing. I am convinced the book would not have been picked up if not for the great eyes of my critique group. And they were free!

  11. Yes, those critique groups are great. I couldn't have gotten as far as I did without the one at Chicago-North RWA.

    Thanks for passing the link on, Katie.

    Morgan Mandel
    also blogging today at

  12. If I were going to self-publish, I would definitely hire an editor to go over my manuscript before publication. No matter how good we are at critiquing or editing the work of others, we simply do not see our own work the same way an outside editor will.

  13. Another great post, Morgan. And as a fellow editor I agree totally with Helen's approach not to rewrite the work, but offer suggestions to fix problems and improve the writing.

    My first two novels that came out with a small publisher were not edited well at all, something I didn't discover until they were printed, and I will never do that again. If I had to, I would hire an editor because I don't think we can ever edit our own work like we can the work of another writer. I am lucky that my latest two books were professionally edited by the publisher.

  14. I hired an editor with my first book who was wonderfully helpful. Then I got a fabulous edit from the small press I placed it with.

    Recently, I completely rewrote the book for a new market push since it has been out of print for several years. For this run, I've had an unpaid editor in my two-man critique group -- we went through the entire thing twice. And it is out to a group of cold beta readers at the moment.

    I don't think you can ever get enough feedback, and a professional editor is a great way to go -- but only after it is as good as you can get it without one.

    Hope my two cents make sense. :)

  15. Morgan,
    You are so right. Another pair of eyes can reveal so much. I rely on the wisdom of someone who edits for one of the publishers. She's the best. Never tries to change my voice, just inserts little things like "smells? *lol* No, not my writing...she urges me to let the reader inhale the aromas of the moment. Then she finds all the boo boos that everyone else has overlooked.

    And funny thing...I've recently been approached by two friends who wanted to hire me to edit. Let me tell you, you'll have a new found admiration and awe for people who take on this task.

    Showing instead of telling, forecasting dialogue, unnecessary tags, reaction before action...the list is endless. But, why do we see those writing faux pas in mainstream novels every day? *smile*

    And please, don't anyone edit my post...I type faster than my brain operates. *lol*

  16. I type faster than my brain, also, Ginger.

    I'm not an editor, but if I were one, I'd also send my work off to a fresh pair of eyes to check it over. Authors supply in their minds what's supposed to be on the pages, even if it's not there.

    Morgan Mandel - also blogging at today

  17. You’re only as good as your editor / proof reader. Perception is reality, and the person buying your book will be the ultimate judge, not you, the author. I can say this with confidence, and hope to convince everyone I can to find a way to budget for a quality editor / proof reader. Do what I did, pay for a few pages here, a few chapters there. Before you know it, your entire manuscript will be transofrmed into a work of art.

    I agree with Elizabeth. Helen's awesome and would be a terrific editor for anyone with a manuscript. And she awarded me the Superior Scribbler award. What an honor!

    Stephen Tremp

  18. Morgan:
    I used an editor for both of my books and was glad of the extra input. I consider it another tool to use to make my story the best it can be.
    Great Post!!!

    DL Larson

  19. I agree completely - professional editing is a must, regardless of your publishing circumstances. I don't think it is necessary to pay for an editor when your book is in the submission stage, but once you get to publication - if it isn't coming from the publishing house, then you need to hire an editor. I think that the biggest stigma associated with self-publishing is the lack of consistent quality control - people like Morgan who have gone the extra distance show the potential for self-publishing by puting out a quality product that has been vetted by someone else.

  20. I didn't think so before, but now I believe it's wise to get a good editor go over your work before you submit it to a publishing house, if that's the route you're going. It could make the difference between acceptance and rejection. You may not get that chance for their editor to do the edits if you're not accepted.

    If you're going to self-publish,you definitely need an editor. You would if you were with a good small press or traditional publishing house.

    Morgan Mandel also blogging today at

  21. Thanks for the post. I work with a group of editors, and I've counted on them to whip my manuscript into shape. As a writer, I don't always focus on the rules. And when I revise, I may think I've got everything, but fresh eyes can find things I've overlooked.

  22. Yes, Tara, working with a group of editors does have its advantages. It's so easy to miss mistakes ourselves.

    Morgan Mandel

  23. I have been routinely amazed at how first my agent discovers things I never would've noticed were "wrong" with my ms, and then, even after her expert read, editors who pass come up with reasons that lead me to make the ms still stronger.

    One problem I've found, though, as I go through the submission process is that for almost every read there is a different problem or issue identified. I'm not talking about mistakes in craft or needed areas of improvement, but more, What if the middle were a little slowed down? and then, I like a faster paced middle.

    I deliberately used a crude example to illustrate my point, but I just mean to emphasize how important it is to find an editor you really click with, who has a vision for the novel that resonates with you, the author, since a ms can go in any one of a hundred (or more) directions.

    It sounds like you found that in Helen, Morgan, and I'm so excited to read on and see how it goes...


The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. If a glitch is preventing you from commenting, visit our Facebook page and drop your wise words there: Blood-Red Pencil on Facebook