Friday, July 13, 2012

Cues from the Coach: Q and A

Recently, I asked writers whose first books I had edited what their questions and concerns had been when they’d completed their manuscripts and were ready to move on to the next step in the publishing process. The responses I’ve received thus far have been revealing and worth sharing.

This month’s input from a Florida writer relates an overwhelming situation for the author and includes multiple questions. We’ll consider two of her questions this month. Please tell us how you would reply to her.

Situation/Questions: A writing group I participated in online had given me a harsh critique, implanting in my mind the thought that my book wasn’t worthy of publication. Heartbroken, I left the group. (1) Should I pay the price of retaining an editor? (2) Would an editor do any good?

(1) Should I pay the price of retaining an editor?

Answer: A competent editor who “clicks” with a writer is always worth the price—assuming that price isn’t exorbitant, aka, outside the parameters of industry standard pricing. To consider putting an unedited book—especially a first book—out in the marketplace is to contemplate literary suicide.

(2) Would an editor do any good?

Answer: Let’s explore her experience to answer this question.

A significant portion of this writer’s story took place in her home state in the South. She knew her locale well, and the setting came across as rich, realistic, and believable—particularly after it was more fully developed in the final version. She displayed a strong sense of character and depicted each one as a unique individual.

However, the story lacked realism in some areas. She hadn’t done her research, and the lack of it created a number of glaring gaps in credibility that would have turned off many readers. At first she didn’t feel research was necessary, but I did. Then another writer told her how important accuracy was, even in fiction, so that a story would ring true. (I think she related better to a fellow writer than to her editor in this case.)   

Appropriate and consistent colloquialisms offered another challenge. Even though these are discouraged by some “experts,” their use in this story was germane to one of the main characters. Therefore, it had to be done seamlessly and well. We spent considerable time assuring that this worked, and she received positive feedback from readers of her published book about how effective it was in her story and how it enhanced her family patriarch character.

Finally, she reported with great enthusiasm that one reader declared online that her book rivaled Gone with the Wind.

Did the editor do any good?

Have you had a similar experience with a critique group?

How would you overcome the kind of negative feedback this writer received from the group?

Do you believe an editor is worth the cost? Why?


Linda Lane heads a group of editors who believe that helping writers to write well will raise the quality bar in independently published books. Please visit her at

Bookmark and Share


  1. I absolutely believe in an editor and that to publish without going through the editing process is the kiss of death for any writer. No matter how brilliant you are, you need an expert, impartial eye. I review many books and find so many authors do not bother to look at the built-in spelling and grammar check on their computers! Unfortunately this is the curse of self-publishing. Editors: I made the mistake with my first book of hiring an editor who only checked my spelling and said I had a few too many adverbs. I suspected this was not enough and found myself a wonderful editor who 'red pencilled' my whole manuscript, said she loved it, and turned it into a far better product. My book won eleven awards and nominations. She will be editing my second novel. An editor is essential, but the writer and the editor must be clear about what is right for the manuscript. I had a bad experience with a writing group and I felt the members were a bit jealous of anyone who actually could write.

  2. I am learning all the time. I have permitted only one person to read my first draft which is certainly no where near sharing with an editor yet. I asked for this person's advice because I know she is interested in the subject and is a writer herself. She is most encouraging.

  3. It really does take some courage to share early work with others, but a good critique group, and a good editor, can help you make a good book so much better. I am thankful to all the writers and editors who have helped me shape my stories. Even after all these years and all the books I have published, I would never put something out there without this kind of valuable feedback.

  4. First off, I would totally get an editor. A fresh pair of professional eyes is priceless, though I certainly can't afford exorbitant.

    Next, I could only wish for a critique group where I could get honest feedback. Sadly anything of the sort I've found has cost money, money I can't spare on an 'if', as in 'if' it's worth the $.

  5. This comment has been removed by the author.

  6. Editors ... you can't live with 'em, and you can't live without 'em. Just kidding ... editors are to authors what producers are to musicians ... try to imagine the Beatle without George Martin. Critique groups I'm not so sure about ... haven't had any real experience with them, but I wonder about the validity of input from several, disparate folks ... you know how a camel was designed right?

    P.S. I should have an editor review everything I write ... good grief!

  7. I've had all kinds of critiques from fluff (Oh I love this, it's perfect.) to downright mean (Don't quit your day job.) But many were worth their weight in gold. Nothing against hiring an editor but if you can find the right crit partners, you're hald way there.

  8. Great post, Linda! I always tell my writers that critique groups are great--to a point. They only take you so far, and there's nothing like working with a top-notch professional editor.

  9. Fiona, your success with your edited first book proves the value of the right editor.

    Critique groups, on the other hand are a mixed bag. They're typically writers rather than professional editors, and you get opinion, subjectivity, and perhaps even the jealousy you mentioned. Some such groups, however, are excellent and bring a lot of valuable input to the table. These are worth their weight in gold.

  10. Thirtytwo degrees, we all need to start someplace. Having a reader such as you do can be an invaluable step to preparing a manuscript for an editor.

    Maryann, that says it all. We're simply too close to our work to see its shortcomings.

    Yes, Anna, professional editing should never be omitted from the concept-to-creation publishing process. Finding a good critique group that operates on mutual benefit to all rather than dollars and cents is another matter. Are you looking online or in your local area? Have you asked other writers? Do you go to booksignings and engage the author in conversation? Fellow writers can be a great source of information.

  11. Love your analogy, Christopher. My son is a musician and composer.

    I definitely agree about the value of a great critique group, LD, but finding one that works for you can be a challenge.

    Yes, Susan, the right critique group is a solid stepping stone toward preparing a manuscript for an editor -- but it's not a replacement for that professional editor.

  12. Critique groups can be a good first level of editing, but unless they really know what they're doing, you'll need more than just the group. Having an editor who works one-on-one with you can really make a difference not only in the manuscript, but in future writing. You can learn a lot just by working with an editor.

  13. In my weekly columns, I write in a conversational voice. It always irritated me when the news editor would stomp through the pieces with his Journalism 101 boots, usually altering the meaning of entire paragraphs. That said, I do think that a good editor who will talk with (rather than at) you is invaluable.

  14. You know, Audrey, a lot of editors mistake editing with re-writing a piece in their own voices. I think this is one of the most misunderstood aspects of editing. A good editor may tweak, but the author's (or character's) voice remains. Because "voice" is my specialty, I often point out to authors when their character loses voice, whether falling into a more modern vernacular, suddenly losing their slang and twang, or otherwise sounding like a different person. It happens a lot with novels, especially historical ones.

    As to a good critique group - wow, I'd love to find one. I agree, though, everyone needs at least a line editor before publication.

  15. I agree, Helen, that a critique group cannot offer the same objective level of editing as a professional editor whose job it is to help writers and their manuscripts be the best they can be.

    Silfert, talking with and talking at are quite different, as you point out. Editors are also teachers in many cases, and we have a lot to offer when it comes to helping writers to write well. I know I always appreciate the opportunity to work with writers who want to learn.

    Dani, you are so right that no editor should tamper with a writer's voice. A good editor should be able to emulate that voice so that any suggested changes are seamless, and the reader will never know the difference. Also, as you point out, no writer should tamper with a character's voice. That uniqueness is part of what makes an ordinary character in an ordinary story extraordinary on both levels.

  16. I agree with Helen that a good critique group is worth searching for, especially in the early years, as it can help you iron out so many aspects of the basic craft. The better you can write when you seek professional help, the more your editor can help you. Besides, it would be rare that your critique group members had the time or ability to analyze your work at the level of a developmental editor.

    But I do think there's a huge emotional difference between hiring someone to help fix what's wrong and develop it further, vs. facing the wall of colleagues you hope will love what you've done. The deer-in the-headlights feeling the latter invokes can amplify all comments from "You use too many commas" to "You can't write worth a damn."

  17. Very good point, Kathryn. We may hear what was never meant when comments we perceive to be negative come from peer critique group members. The objectivity offered by a professional editor can circumvent this perception vs. reality situation.

  18. Ray Banをかけて、アウトドア活動でもいかが?飛行士スタイルのサングラス、今一番人気の高い、レイバン wayfarerはアウトドアのため用意されている。あなたの気に入りレイバン モデルもあるはず、この夏こそ、アウトドアを好きになろう!


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.