On Editing … Lessons & Thoughts

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.

Editor Versus Proofreader: Which is Right for an Author?

In this vast, new world of the indie publishing, authors are now finding themselves wearing many new hats. No longer are we just the wielder of the pen creating worlds and characters out of words and imagination, we are now finding ourselves also becoming graphic artists, editors, formatters, promoters, and marketing gurus. Many times, however, we either do not have the time or the expertise to fill all these roles, opting instead to hire someone who can polish our work to perfection with just the right flare.

Naturally, this influx of indie authors into the literary and publishing world means more and more people are opening up their own side businesses to try to fill the need the self-publishing boom has created. Freelancers are now offering their expertise as graphic cover artists, formatters, editors, and proofreaders to those authors who are in need of their services.

But what if, as an author, you don’t really know what you need? Unfortunately, in the self-publishing business, not knowing can mean the difference between getting a quality, finished service, and getting parted from your hard-earned money without the polished product you were expecting. In this article, we explore the difference between an editor and a proofreader.


In short, a proofreader goes through your manuscript with a fine-tooth comb and corrects any and all typographical, punctuation, and grammatical errors. Think of them as spell checks with fingers. They go beyond what a normal spell-checker program can pick up to ensure capitalization and punctuation are used correctly, correct word  usage (‘two’ versus ‘to’, ‘too’, etc.), subject/verb agreement, and ensures there are no shifting tenses. When a proofreader is done, your manuscript should be free of any typographical, punctuation, and grammatical errors. A proofreader does not necessarily point out inconsistencies in your storyline or plot holes, but are really just there to find the obvious grammatical and punctuation errors.

Proofreaders generally charge by the word, and they can range greatly between freelancers, companies, and individuals with their own sole proprietorship. I’ve seen everything from $0.005 to $0.008 per word with some going as high as $0.14 per word or about $35/hour. It can get expensive very quickly, and this is not for anything other than basic grammar and spell check.


Now let’s discuss editing. This is where I’m seeing a LOT of misuse of the word in the freelance and indie author community. A lot of authors are using the term ‘editor’ and ‘proofreader’ interchangeably, and are hiring freelancers who are calling themselves editors and charging editor pricing, but are actually just delivering proofreader performance.

Some will argue authors actually need to hire both a proofreader AND an editor because they offer separate services. Others will state while an editor can do everything a proofreader can do, a proofreader is not an editor. I tend to agree with the latter. As an author, you need someone who can not only polish out the typographical and grammatical errors, but also someone who can help fine-tune your writing style and syntax to ensure your story is the absolute best it can be. Most editors, however, will not help with proofreading-type duties and will stick to just helping with sentence structure and an overall development of writing style.

So exactly what does an editor do? An editor goes one step beyond proofreading to help a writer ‘find their style.’ They help with the overall flow of the language and often will rewrite portions of the manuscript so the style stays consistent throughout. They help clear up ambiguity and syntax problems. In essence, it takes more than just a strong background in English and goes beyond finding mere typographical errors. An editor also has a measure of intuition and knows what looks and sounds right on the page. A professional editor will not only clean up the grammatical and punctuation errors, but will also use his/her knowledge of English grammar and the literary world to ensure your manuscript sounds its absolute best.

Editing can further be broken out into line edits (or a general editor, as some refer to them) and copy editing. While these types of edits share a lot of similarities, there are also a lot of differences and are handled in different ways, and once again require different skill sets.

LINE EDITS: Line edits address the writing style, the creative content of the work, and the language/syntax used at the sentence, or line-by-line, level. However, the goal is not to look for errors (again, that is technically what a proofreader does) but to help a writer develop his/her writing style, to help with sentence structure, and to ensure the writing flows smoothly. A line editor may call attention to run-on sentences, overused words and sentences, can pin-point words or phrases that are being overused or not needed (for example, I had an editor point out I used the filler word “that” entirely too much in my writing). They help find redundancies in description, help tightened up scenes (show, not tell), and can help with dialogue. In essence, an editor is not just finding mistakes in any given manuscript, but is going to help point out all the things which can be improved in your future manuscripts to help you become a better writer and a better storyteller.

COPY EDITING: A copy editor is more like a very high-end proofreader. They help read out typographical, spelling, punctuation, and grammatical errors.They also work much like a formatter to ensure font styles and formatting structure. In addition, they help weed out inconsistencies in the storyline, such as a character whose physical traits were mistakenly changed in the manuscript, plot holes, etc.

It is the job of the copy editor to fix your typos, your inconsistencies in your storyline, and your punctuation. It is for this reason that a copy edit should always come after a line edit, once the storyline has been completely finished and is ready for a fine-tuning.

This is where I feel both freelancers and unknowing authors fall into a trap. Authors need someone who can do both, or if they cannot find someone who can do both, they need to learn the difference. If given a choice, an author really needs to hire a line editor and copy editor and skip a proofreader altogether if budget permits. If not, then a line editor followed by a really good proofreader is in order. In the trade publishing industry, publishers hire editors who can not only clean up your typos, but they will also help you develop your writing style. In the land of the indie author, many freelancers are claiming to be ‘editors’ but are actually only offering proofreading services, and some of them are not up to par on the proofreading services either.

As an author, it is your responsibility to not only know the difference, but to be sure you are hiring someone who not only also knows the difference, but who is providing you with the service you are requesting. In the end, you only get one chance to make a good first impression on your reader. As the author, that responsibility ultimately falls on your shoulders. Not ensuring your work is polished to perfection can mean the difference between being a one-book author, and having real staying power with a reputation among your readers as an author who consistently provides the absolutely best quality work possible.

Advice from Random House – The Hard Truth from Editors that Every Author Needs to Hear

I am no stranger to the indie scene, nor the trade publishing scene. In recent months, however, I have noticed a growing trend among authors who are constantly losing their cool and ranting all over FaceBook, blogs, Twitter, and writing groups about the bad reviews they are getting from reviewers. It’s something that I can no longer sit idly by and watch as countless authors step up onto a soapbox that they have no business being on in the first place.

For now, I’m going to play devil’s advocate. As I said, I am no stranger to the publishing game, neither indie nor trade. I began my decent into this dog-eat-dog world some twenty-three odd years ago, when I was but sixteen, when I first started sending out query letters to every publishing house in the country. I was met by nothing but rejection letters and a lot of well-meaning editors who were more than willing to give me advice on what all I was doing wrong, and what I needed to work on to become a better writer.

A lot of what I heard from editors was cut-to-the-bone insulting. It hurt, a LOT. I cried an ocean of tears the first few years I spent trying to get published.  I, like so many other aspiring authors, thought I had written an absolute masterpiece beyond compare.  I could not understand why they were not jumping all over themselves to publish me. Their advice couldn’t possibly hold any type of truth to it. After all, all of my family and friends all raved about how well I had done. These editors had to be doing this out of spite because their own writing careers had failed.  They just wanted to take out their own inadequacies on good writers, ruining their chances of ever becoming published. Because, let’s face it, if there was a single shred of truth to anything they were saying, it would mean I was no where near as good a writer as I thought. Worse, it would mean that maybe I just wasn’t cut out to be the one thing on this planet I really wanted to be good at, and that was weaving a tantalizing tale.

I will admit that it took me YEARS of writing and editing other people’s work before I realized that 99% of what those editors told me over the years had been 100% truth. It took me even longer to admit that I actually NEEDED to hear the earth-shattering truth as to just how gawd-awful my first attempts at writing truly were. They were not secretly out to destroy me or my career; they were trying to get it through my thick skull that NO ONE writes well the first time around, and that EVERYONE needs to practice, practice, practice in order to hone their writing skills. It took me a while, but I finally stopped whining about how they were all plotting against me and actually looked at my writing through their eyes. Only then, once I stopped being so full of myself and to actually look at the work without any emotional attachment, that I realized they were all RIGHT. Most of my first few attempts at writing novels truly sucked eggs.

The self-publishing industry has done authors a great injustice because there is no longer editors standing in the way telling authors exactly what improvements they need to make to their manuscript before it can be published. Today’s fly-by-night, work-at-home editors are out to make a few quick bucks, and the scene has been flooded with phony basement-built publishing houses filled with ‘editors’ who will take anyone’s manuscript, tell them how greatly written it is, and be more than happy to publish it on Amazon for a cut of the royalties.

It’s a business built out of scores of poor, unsuspecting writers who are so eager to become published that they will do, and believe, anything, so long as they get to see that book in print. These people never stop to think that, out of hundreds of thousands of submissions sent in to the several hundred publishing houses in the country each year, only about 1/3 of them ever get any type of contract. So why on earth would some no-name publishing house suddenly take their first attempts at writing and be willing to publish them? It never occurs to these writers that these companies are not about quality literature and making your manuscripts the best it can be; they are only out to piggy-back off of the little bit of royalties you might can make them if you have a strong enough social media presence. These writers have never had a professional editor tell them the honest truth about their manuscripts. And since none of them have ever had any type of rejection letters or had anyone to tell them the cold, hard truth of just how badly written their work really is, it has left them unable to adequately deal with reviewers who not only know what makes up a good book, but also may be editors and authors themselves.

I can honestly say that, as a freelance editor with nearly two decades’ experience, a good 95% of what I have seen come across my FaceBook feed would NEVER be allowed to see the light of day by any self-respecting, professional editor. At least, not as-is.

One of the best pieces of advice I ever received in a rejection letter came to me when I was about twenty years old , and it came from an editor from Random House. The rejection letter I received (and ripped to shreds in a fit of rage) called my work ‘amateurish’ and my writing style ‘bland.’ The editor went on to say that it was ‘painfully obvious’ (one of my favorite things to say now) that this was my first attempt at writing a novel (it was) and as such he had this advice to give to all aspiring writers: Never try to publish your first book, your second book, or even your third book, because it takes a writer approximately four novels before they settle into their ‘writing voice’ and really get a feel for what they are doing.

I cannot possibly stress how right this editor was. I have seen it happen time and time again, not just in the indie community, but in the trade publishing industry as well. Those who like to read series have no doubt noticed the change in an author’s style as the series progressed, the storyline becoming richer, the characters more tangible, and the overall flow of the writing much more palatable. Whether you like to admit it or not, the first thing that you write is going to be utter crap, pure and simple. The second thing is not going to be much better.

Now that I have adequately pissed off all the authors reading this, let me say that there is hope for every single writer out there, and it comes in the form of criticism and practice. A lot of authors are cutting their noses off to spite their face by NOT listening to all those negative reviews. Sure, it’s easy to chalk it all up to haters, jealousy, people just trying to pull you down. And while there ARE legitimate cases of weird people out there who make it their sole mission in life to ruin an author, most reviewers’ only intent is to warn people away from a book they deemed truly heinous.

We have all seen the mountains of astro-turfed reviews sitting on independently published “Amazon Best Sellers,” reviews  that are all the work of family, friends, fellow authors, ass-kissing bloggers and hundreds of street team members all singing the praises of an author. So you buy the book, get a chapter or two into it and wonder how on earth anyone could think it was actually a good book. So you start looking at the one-star reviews and realize that it’s not just you, there actually ARE people out there who thought the book stunk as much as you did.

But now here’s the question: how many of those authors blew a gasket on FaceBook and proclaimed to the social media world that they were being ‘picked-on,’ ‘bullied,’ or otherwise had jealous people ‘hating’ on them because of a few bad reviews? If you see any of them doing this, what is your first reaction? Chances are you feel like telling them to grow up, and take some notes, because you actually thought the book was terribly written as well.

You’ve heard the old saying, “The proof is in the pudding.” Well, in the publishing business, editors like to say, “The proof is in the one-star reviews.” It doesn’t matter how many perfect reviews you have if people are also complaining that your manuscript sounds childish and is an editing disaster. It’s one thing when someone just doesn’t like a story for no reason other than they just couldn’t get into the storyline. There’s not a whole lot you can do when they hate romantic comedies but read it anyway and still hated it. However, when you have people complaining about actual, tangible problems within your manuscript that an editor would have warned you about, such as typographical errors, bland writing style, formatting issues, etc., then it’s time to stand up and take notice.

I have often told writers, “If you want someone to stroke your ego and tell you how great your writing is, go talk to your mother. If you want to actually learn how to become a better writer, come talk to me.” What separates a mediocre writer with great potential from a mediocre writer without any potential is ability. Not the ability to get better, but the ability to WANT to get better. A mediocre writer who thinks they don’t need to practice or listen to criticism or to improve on their craft will never be anything BUT a mediocre writer. They will turn their noses up at the fountain of help that reviewers are offering, think none of it applies to them, and will continue to float around in their self-absorbed bubble until one day their rose-tinted glasses come off and they see their writing for not only what it IS, but what it COULD HAVE BEEN this whole time, if they had only listened and taken heed to what others had been trying to tell them.

This is not meant to discourage. Writers who are willing to listen to the criticism and try to get better WILL get better. It is those writers who want to throw pity-parties about how everyone is against them that will not improve their craft. Writers need to be encouraged, yes, but they need the RIGHT kind of encouragement. So if you want to get better, to really, truly become a better writer and have a snowball’s chance in hell of making it in the writing world, you are going to have to put on your big-girl panties, listen when others are trying to help you better your writing, and DEAL with the criticism. Otherwise, you are just another lonely, bitter author raving on FaceBook about how the whole world is out to ruin you. No, they’re not. But they may be trying to tell you to take that manuscript to a decent editor who isn’t afraid to tell you that you suck.