Saturday, July 24, 2010

The Value of an Editor

I started reading a mystery novel last night that I just had to put down. The back-cover blurb sounded like a great story, the book begins with the discovery of a body—all great ingredients for a mystery. But…

The author obviously did not have the book professionally edited.

Telling rather than showing, passive sentence construction (“there was…” “they were spoken of…” “members were directed…” etc.) and long, stilted, unnecessary dialogue bumped me right out of the story and I had no interest in finding out “who done it.”

It doesn’t matter whether you are submitting to a traditional publisher or publishing a book yourself—as an author, you owe it to yourself to have it professionally critiqued and edited. You want to put forth the best possible product you can and not be embarrassed by negative feedback.

This is something I, along with the other editor members of the Blood-Red Pencil, can do for other writers.

Here is a link to a great article “How to Measure the Value of Editors” by James Mathewson, Editor in Chief, that talks about this very subject.

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A native Montanan, Heidi Thomas now lives in Northwest Washington. Her first novel, Cowgirl Dreams, is based on her grandmother. Heidi has a degree in journalism, a certificate in fiction writing, and is a member of Northwest Independent Editors Guild. She teaches writing and edits, blogs, and is working on the next books in her “Dare to Dream” series. The sequel, Follow the Dream, will be released this year.


  1. Excellent point. I've come across a few novels lately that have surprised me by the lazy writing/editing (some by established authors). I've also read self-published e-novels that seem more like a second or third draft - close, but not quite there yet. A very quick way to put readers off any future publications you have.

  2. I've chosen three novels in a row like the one you mentioned. Those that surprised me most were ones written later in an authors series.
    Giggles and Guns

  3. The really question is how do you find a good editor. Several well-known authors have released books with errors. Big, easy to spot errors like “red hips” instead of “red lips”, sp/ash instead of splash, never-ending passages that should have been removed. They had editors and big publishers with copyeditors to boot yet errors are still slipping through the cracks.

  4. Very true. I wouldn't think of releasing a book without getting it edited by a real editor, not myself.

    Morgan Mandel

  5. Good reminder, Heidi, and the article you included the link to was great. I hope all the readers go over to read it. James offers some concrete examples of how an editor improved some sales material.

  6. Heidi, you are so right. Good editing (and copy editing) is critical.

    One of my recent reads was a book I know had been edited by one of the publisher's editors, but it was still full of typos and mistakes (like eminent used instead of imminent). I kept wondering if the copy editor went AWOL or if the wrong draft was sent to the printer. Those kinds of errors take readers right out of the story.

  7. There are so many things that can put a reader off. It's a shame the author didn't get editorial help, to avoid the most controllable thing.

    Steamy Darcy

  8. This is a great post, Heidi. So many writers still resist having their manuscripts edited. I've heard all kinds of excuses: "I like my story just the way it is." (Yes, but readers won't.) "I already have a publisher waiting for this book." (A year later I saw that it had been self-published; the manuscript I reviewed was a LONG way from being ready for a publisher, and it obviously wasn't accepted by one.) "I can't afford an editor."
    (In reality, no writer can afford NOT to have an editor.)

    Now about big name authors whose books are going downhill in the quality department: I've stopped reading two favorites in the last few years for that very reason. The editing was extremely poor—or perhaps nonexistent. I had to wonder if these authors thought they had "outgrown" their need for editors. Or had their publishers downsized their editorial departments in the belief that their "big names" would sell to their fans just because of who they were and what they'd written in the past?

    Editors are writers' invisible partners who transform ordinary manuscripts into extraordinary reads. Why would any author who puts heart and soul into writing a book want to shortchange himself by not making that book the best it can be?

  9. I've always had my books edited, even before submitting. However, all editors are not created equal and editing is a subjective art based upon the strengths of the specific editor. This is a very strong subject with authors and publishers. Whether a work was well edited or not and I can honestly say that there is no book that I've read that still didn't have a few errors. As a reader, I skipped it because I was interested in the story and not correcting the editing problems. As a writer I'm more aware of them and critical.

  10. Yes, and if you are going to self-publish make sure you find a real editor, not just someone who says they are an editor.

  11. Not many people can edit their own work and come up with a totally polished manuscript - even editors working on their own manuscripts. As authors, we're too close to it. We often read what is in our heads, not on the page. We know what we wrote, or what we thought we wrote, and we skim over mistakes or problem areas. We know how the book ends, how things are resolved, and thus we don't realize that we failed to set the end up or we made it too easy to guess the end.

    Do all the work you can. Edit, tear it apart if need be. Cut, add. Tape it and listen back. Read it aloud and listen to how your tongue flows over the words. Then hire an editor you trust.

  12. I agree with you all. It's difficult to spot your own errors because your eye sees what your brain says should be there.

    Yes, almost every book you read anymore has some typos and other nitpicky errors. I believe it is because there are fewer actual "editors" at today's publishing houses. And yes, some of the big name authors aren't getting edited just because pubs believe they'll sell lots of books on their past merits. You can overlook a misplaced comma or a juxtaposed letter when the story is good. But when you are starting out and hoping to get published, that sort of thing can be an excuse that agents and publishers can use to weed you out of the slush pile.


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