Editors. We all need one. Or do we? I know a few authors who successfully self-edit, but for the most part, authors rely on editors to perfect their books prior to publication. But how do authors find the right editor for their book? Some rely on references from friends. Others carefully review samples of the prospective editor’s work. Some sift through the tons and tons of advertisements and websites of those who edit professionally. I’d say most authors use a combination of these three vetting methods.
If you’re an author who doesn’t know the basics of grammar, or if you’re an author who doesn’t do a lot of reading, how can you be certain the editor of your choice knows what they’re doing?
If you don’t know the basics of grammar, you can go ahead and write your book. I’m not here to tell you not to follow your dream. I’m not going to tell anyone to give up. But I am going to tell you this: If you don’t know the basics of grammar and sentence structure, you won’t have any clue as to whether or not your editor does good work. You won’t know if you’re getting a well-edited finished product. Until the bad reviews come rolling in, you won’t know you’ve been ripped off. Taken for a ride. Betrayed by a wannabe editor who pocketed your money in exchange for a substandard editing job.
Same with reading. If you don’t read (a lot!) you won’t know whether or not your book has a decent plot. Good characterization. If you don’t read, how will you know whether or not your book is readable?
I’m seeing this more and more often: Authors who list editors in their acknowledgments, but then publish a book that is clearly poorly-edited. Authors who pay good money and expect (and deserve) a well-edited book, but end up with a barely readable mess-terpiece instead of a masterpiece.
Do you know what all these authors have in common? They don’t know any better. They don’t know their book is a mess. They took the ‘editor’ at their word. Until their dream was crushed under a mountain of bad reviews, the author didn’t know anything was wrong.
Am I saying these authors deserved to be scammed? Absolutely not! No one deserves to be victimized by an incompetent editor. No one deserves to have their dream crushed or their money stolen. Because that’s what it is. Someone who claims to be an editor and then subsequently takes money without producing an acceptable finished product is nothing but a thief. These authors are victims and do NOT deserve to be treated in such a way.
How can we be certain we’re hiring a reliable, experienced editor? Clearly, relying on recommendations from friends is helpful, but not enough. Perusing advertisements on blogs and other writers’ sites is not enough. We have to do our own research. Authors must be able to rely on their own instincts. An author who doesn’t have basic editing and writing skills is at a distinct disadvantage. An author who lacks basic writing skills is not able to make an informed decision when hiring an editor.
A savvy author who knows some basic editing and writing skills can tell after one glance at an editor’s website if there’s a major problems. Errors on the editor’s website should raise a big, red flag. Authors who don’t know the basics will miss the glaring errors on the prospective editor’s website, whereas author’s who know some basic editing skills will give that bad editor a pass.
As authors, we have to know the basics. Some people will try to convince you the story is king and that readers these days don’t care about grammar. I’m sorry, but this simply isn’t true. If you want to be a writer, but don’t know the basics, go ahead and write. Get your story down on paper. Read as much as you possibly can because this will teach you more than any creative writing class ever could. If you can’t afford to take a basic grammar course at a community college or distance learning center, there are free courses you can take online. (ESL online lessons are particularly helpful. Even if English is your first language, these courses really break it down into bite-sized, easy-to-understand portions.)
Write your story. Don’t EVER let anyone tell you not to write. But before you hire an editor, make sure you know what you’re looking for. Make sure you know the difference between a real editor and a scammer. Know what a well-edited book looks like. Brush up on your editing skills and you’ll be better equipped to make a solid decision when it comes to hiring an editor. Take control of your writing career.
19 thoughts on “Editors: It Takes One to Know One”
Very good advice, Tricia. The down-side of the great democratisation of publishing is that readers now have to wade through the unpruned, unpolished and completely hopeless efforts that used to go into the slush pile. And go no further. It’s wonderful that anyone can realise her dream of publishing her book, and for probably most of us self-publishing is the only way. It doesn’t excuse inflicting rubbish on the unsuspecting public though. If you’re going to charge money to read your story you owe it to your readers to at least get the words in the right order!
Thanks, Jane. If you want to be a professional author – meaning you want to publish and sell to the public – you need to take a professional approach to your craft.
I would certainly never discourage someone from writing, but someone who has time to write an entire novel should make the time to learn as much as they possibly can about how to write a book. Learning the basic skills ensures you know how to make a good decision about who you hire to edit your book.
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Not too long ago, I checked out the website of a copywriter looking to get my business. She had a typo in the title on her homepage. She didn’t get my business.
No, I don’t think I’d want an editor who can’t pick up a typo on her own website. And yet, there are people who claim to be editors who can barely string together a coherent sentence. Obviously, you have good attention to detail and know what to watch for. Some writers do not.
as always, lovely and inspiring post!
This is so true. I’m an editor, but I still have other editors edit my work.
It’s easy to miss your own mistakes, isn’t it? I can read over the same error in my own work a dozen times, and my eyes skip over it. In someone else’s work, I can spot problems right away.
“If you don’t know the basics of grammar and sentence structure, you won’t have any clue as to whether or not your editor does good work.”
I’ve read a few novels that supposedly had been professionally edited and yet had MANY errors in basic grammar and punctuation. I know that ultimately the author is not required to keep any changes the editor makes, but I also suspect that the errors left uncorrected were the fault of the so-called editor. I have also seen instances where the editor made incorrect “corrections” (to things that were right to begin with — no, really, a giant bird that carries off elephants is not a “rock.” *sigh*)
“Authors who list editors in their acknowledgments, but then publish a book that is clearly poorly-edited.”
I think they list their editors as a way of “reassuring” potential readers that the book isn’t “one THOSE indie novels,” the kind that are published without any editing at all. It’s unfair that indie publishing has a reputation for that, but the only way to change it is for everyone to stop publishing unedited (or badly edited) stuff.
One novel I edited got comments in Amazon reviews about how well-edited it is. That made me feel good, yet I also wish it wasn’t the kind of thing anyone ever notices, because it implies that well-edited indie novels are rare. (My own reading experience indicates that they ARE rare; I very much wish that wasn’t the case.)
“Some people will try to convince you the story is king and that readers these days don’t care about grammar.”
I’m a reader, and I care.
I suspect the ‘grammer don’t matter, just tell me do you like it cos its a good story?’ sort of writers are only trying to convince the rest of us that we should overlook the myriad errors in their writing, but if I can’t FIND the story under all the problems, how can I ever know if it’s any good?
Thanks for you comment. I agree with everything you wrote. Even if an author hires a team of editors, they still need to learn how to write. Period. If you don’t know what a well-edited book looks like, how do you know whether or not your “editor” did their job? As you pointed out, some “editors” make unnecessary changes. I suspect they do this for two reasons: 1. They don’t know what the hell they’re doing. 2. They feel obligated to make a certain number of changes so the clueless author thinks he got his money’s worth.
Indies can make better business decisions if they learn the business. Grammar is a big part of the business, and by failing to learn something so basic, authors are only cheating themselves – and setting themselves up to be cheated by others.
Great advice, Tricia. I have heard of authors paying editors and then getting back a manuscript they think is perfected when in reality it is still full of grammatical errors. Not right! As you indicate, no author deserves to be scammed. I am fortunate enough to know a few quality editors who are also writers, who are reliable. It can likely be overwhelming to find an editor – like reaching out in a dark room to grab ahold of something and having no idea if you’ll find it or what it will be like! Thank you for another valuable post.
Thanks, Christy. I hate to see authors being scammed by these unscrupulous people who misrepresent themselves as editors. Learning some editing skills is no guarantee that you’ll choose the perfect editor, but it definitely gives you an advantage. There are some outstanding editors out there. Authors just need to know where to look.
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There are so many scams out there… book covers is another area that has them! You have to be careful and research who you hire. Which is something very few authors seem to do. I’m not saying this pertains to everyone who gets scammed – some of them may have done research and found some great credentials only to be disappointed anyway – but I get SO many message from authors saying basically “I don’t have time to check your website or look at your work, I am just going to guess you do the kind of work I want done. Give me the details please because my time is too valuable to bother looking them up.”
Seriously 80% of my new customer cover art/formatting inquiries are this way. They just can not be bothered. I don’t understand this at all. I imagine editors inboxes looked very much the same.
I doubt this applies to anyone on here, but to be honest I feel sorry for the legitimate editors sometimes. I once helped edit a book that was SO badly written – it had been through another editor previously and then to the two of us to try to do something with it (editor #1 was someone I knew and she was literally in tears after she had gone over it three times and there was still so much wrong with it)… just… wow. I can’t even imagine what it looked like to begin with. In the end we shipped it back to the author and I know there were about 20,000 things she should still fix (like the plot for a start, the character’s reactions, typos that we missed in our three times of going over it, punctuation errors we missed – because from what editor #1 said there was either no punctuation in spots or else it was all wrong, she caught about half of it and I hoped at the time that we caught the other half but I doubt we did – sentence structures that didn’t make any sense… literally between the three of us we rewrote every sentence in that manuscript to some extent and it STILL needed someone else to do it at least twice more). If I were an editor for hire, of course, I’d have just rejected it at the word go (this was a free thing, so no one was being hired) but since it was a favor for a friend of a friend we couldn’t turn it down.
My long rambling point is that if people don’t understand language then I don’t really know how they expect to write a book for publication (this is different than writing just to write). I’m not saying “don’t try”, but if you don’t know how to use a chainsaw you don’t put up a sign and hire yourself out to cut down trees. If you want to cut recreationally (aka write for yourself/for practice/just to do it) then go, go, go, and LEARN to do it. And then, after you have learned it, THEN sell your services – or your book. Don’t be that handyman who shows up on the doorstep carrying a chainsaw with no chain on it and no idea why it won’t cut the tree. 😉
Exactly. If someone really has the drive to write and publish a book, they should want to publish the best book they can. Learning the language is a huge part of learning the business. You don’t have to wait to write your book. By all means, get the story down on paper. But in the meantime, brush up on grammar. I started writing at almost 40, so there was A LOT I needed to re-learn. Yes, I did online tutorials and it really helped.
I can’t understand how someone who doesn’t have a mastery of the English language can rent themselves out as an editor. It’s sad to see authors pay good money and get a poorly edited book in return.
On the flipside, good editors can only do so much. They can make suggestions. They can point out areas of concern. They can clean up grammar. But they can’t fix a broken plot. They can’t force the author to make the changes they’ve suggested. I’m sure there are cases where good editors’ suggestions have been disregarded, and the “edited” book is still in a sorry state. Unfortunately, there are also cases where the editor had no business ever setting up shop.
Spot on, as always. As an author, I’d also add that when you do find a truly switched on editor they will ask questions and flag up stuff you never thought of.
Brilliant post again sweetie. Yes, the roles of editors are so crucial and cannot be underestimated. Lol, it did make me laugh though, the grammar on my awful ex-publisher’s website was so bad, that several people on Absolute Write said that it was obviously written by someone who’s first language wasn’t English! LOL!!! SO true, they didn’t have a clue! 😀
Publishers who don’t know anything about editing… well, we could do an entire post about that. Problem is, when an author is approached by a publisher, we tend to leap first and ask questions later. We often skim the site in excitement rather than nitpick for grammar, and when we first notice a problem, we’re so starry-eyed, we overlook it. Authors do have to be careful, whether we decide to seek a publisher, or if we decide to go it alone. There are scammers and incompetent publishers/editors/cover artists/publicists everywhere.
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Totally. I firmly believe that the no publisher is ALWAYS better than the wrong publisher! 😀 Our books got royally screwed by bad publishers, I wouldn’t wish that on my worst enemy. Thankfully, after a lot of pain and grief we are both finding our feet again, but they are definitely experiences that leave scars! 😦 xxx