One of the biggest pet peeves for both readers and writers are books which have not been properly edited. Even writers who never hire editors are quick to judge and leave associated reviews of books which have not undergone proper editing. It begs the question of exactly why some writers are so steadfast in their belief that they somehow fall outside the zone of needing an editor. NO ONE is that good of a writer. If you want to know what all really great writers have in common, it boils down to one thing – a really great editor. Not even the world-renowned wordsmith queen herself Anne Rice can get away without having a proper editor.
The reasons behind writers not wanting editors are many, but it mostly breaks down to one thing – fear. They fear being told their work is not good, they fear having their words rearranged, they fear having their writer’s voice stripped away from their manuscripts. What writers seem to fail to grasp is a good editor is not going to do any of these things. An editor’s job is not to keep your exact string of words intact. Their job involves one simple thing – take a writer’s “vision” of what is happening in a story line and make it as engaging as it can be for a reader. In other words, they take that rough bird house you just created and sand it down smooth and paint it to make it pretty. It’s still a bird house, but it looks so much better once they get through with it. An editor does the same thing. They take your vision, help with syntax, help bring your vision of what is happening to life, help round out characters and make the action pop for readers. In my opinion, someone who understands and accepts what an editor is meant to do is what separates an amateur writer from a professional author.
To really drive this point home, I feel that showing is better than just telling, not only in your manuscript but in this instance as well.
Below is a sample of piece of writing from Hayden H. Hayden is twelve, he suffers from dyslexia, so it is already unimaginably difficult for him to articulate what is going on inside his head into a coherent story line with proper grammar. This not only gives you a peek into what it is like for someone with dyslexia, but is also a very good example of how some writers jot down first drafts and thoughts before fleshing out their ideas.
…”So first let’s start with the people in my story so my best friends are Ethan and Zoyee. Ethan who probably has the most useful magic has corrupted fire; it is warm bright, and green. Zoyee who might have the coolest magic she is manipulator she can change anything into what she wants (don’t make her mad if you might not walk for a while). So now for me… Hayden but you already knew that… didn’t you. Ok my magic is shadow, time and light (I might be the most powerful). So we begin outside of my office (I have a repair shop but I just put it back time before it was broken) I just opened the door. It was in the middle of the room and it was outraged it was strong and fast AND ETHAN HAD MADE A JOKE HE SAID THAT “I’m sorry but you’re Demoted” I punched him square in jaw we started to fight zoyee slapped us both we said “why did you do that” she said “IF YOU TWO FORGOT there is a demon in there” “oh yay” I said “ON NOT AGAIN NOT AFTER LAST TIME this is going to be hard to explain to the landlord” I barged in and say to the demon hi… I was punched out of the office hay that hurt a little. I knew that was going to be a good fight (I like to fight ok Iove to fight, lot) I also noticed that punch stung acid I thought zoyee had healed the punch all ready I walk bake in I said “that…was not nice”…” (© copyright Hayden Holloway 2016)
It only took reading the first paragraph for me to realize this child has great potential as a story-teller. Yes, this a total bowl of alphabet soup grammatically speaking, but the action behind what Hayden has imagined is spectacular. I knew Hayden had struggled to get just four pages down, some five hundred or so words. I wanted him to see what his vision would look like fleshed out, what his work could become in the hands of a decent editor. This is what I sent back to him:
…”Let’s start with the people in my story. So, my best friends are Ethan and Zoyee. Ethan probably has the most useful magic, corrupted fire. It is warm, bright, and green. Zoyee, who might have the coolest magic of all, is a manipulator. She can change any substance into whatever she wants. I suggest not making her mad ‘cause you may not walk for a while.
So now for me, my name is Hayden, but you already knew that, didn’t you? My magic is shadow, time, and light. I may be the most powerful of all of us.
This story begins outside of my office. I have a repair shop, and I had just opened the door, the door I had replaced a while back after the last time it was broken. It was standing in the middle of the room, outraged, strong, and fast.
“I’m sorry, you’re demoted,” Ethan said as a sort of lame joke as we walked into my office.
I punched him square in his jaw and we started to fight, forgetting about what was inside the office for a moment. Zoyee stepped in, slapping us both.
“Why did you do that?” we asked at the same time.
“Did you two forget there is a demon in there?” she asked, jerking her thumb toward the demon still standing in the middle of my office, watching us all with his unblinking black eyes.
“Oh, yeah,” I said, sighing. “After what happened last time, this is going to be hard to explain to the landlord.”
I barged into my office, saying, “Hi,” to the demon as I walked into the room.
I was immediately punched in the face, my body flying out the door. Hey, that hurt a little, I thought as I landed with a loud crash. I knew this was going to be a good fight. I like to fight. Ok, I actually love to fight.
I noticed the punch stung, a lot. Acid.
Zoyee put her hand over the lump in my jaw, the small fracture and burning skin healing up quickly. I nodded to her as a way of saying thanks and walked back in, ready to do battle.
“That – was not nice,” I said…”
This is just a small sample, a rough draft of what could have been. Had I been editing this as a paid editor, there would have been many conversations and emails regarding what Hayden saw happening inside his head. For a children’s book, the lack of description is fine, but if Hayden were an older client writing for adults, I would have helped him flesh out the scenes much more, find out what the demon looks like, describe the action better. At any rate, you get the idea. I took what Hayden had written and gave it depth, fleshed it out just a bit, helped round out the characters and their personalities. This is what an editor does.
Now here is the best part of being an editor. Hayden, at only twelve years of age, was absolutely ecstatic to receive these edits, to have someone take what was floating around inside his head and make it coherent to the point where others could not only read it, but would actually enjoy reading it. Yes, his words were changed up a lot, and I added a lot, but again, keeping a writer’s exact string of words together is NOT an editor’s job. I took Hayden’s vision of what he imagined was happening in this scene and gave it depth, fleshed it out, made it sparkle. I took something that was not coherent or well written and turned it into something that was engaging to the reader. This is what a good editor can do for you.
And here is the reason why I do not edit very often any more for others. It’s because even though Hayden grasps this concept at only twelve years old, I have seen writers with decades of experience who have yet to realize what the goal of an editor actually is. I’ve come across so many writers who get positively irate because an editor changed their words and sentences. That is what an editor does, it is what you are hiring them for, not to keep your sentences in tact but to keep your vision intact and make it into the best story it can possibly be, to take something which is rough around the edges and make it as enjoyable of a read for your audience as possible.
If you want your work to sparkle, for your story line to pop, for your characters to feel real to the reader and for your grammar to be as flawless as possible, please enlist the help of an editor. If I can take alphabet soup and drag the story out of it, imagine what a top-notch editor can do for your manuscript.
It’s time to stop being afraid and send your manuscript to the next level. It’s time to stop being known for being a good writer, and start being known as a fantastic story-teller. Hire an editor, and stop looking back. Smooth those rough edges, paint the bird house, and display it with pride knowing you went the extra mile not only for your readers, but for your beloved book baby as well. After all, not only does your book baby deserve the best, but so do you.