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Every Writer Needs An Editor – Period. Period. Period.

This week, I am featuring a guest post by author P.C. Zick:

In my first job as an editor, I inherited a stable of writers who weren’t used to an actual editor who edited their work. Fortunately, the majority of them expressed relief that the publisher who hired me was paying attention to the editorial content of his magazines. One gentleman who fancied himself a “writer” informed me on my first day in the job, “I’ve never had an editor, and I don’t need one now, so I’ll be submitting my copy just as I have in the past: directly to the publisher.”

Not only was it my first day as an editor, it was also the first day I fired someone.

There are many types of editors, and each have a place in the life of a writer. As a writer of books, I consider my beta readers to be editors of a sort. They may not be marking up the manuscript for grammatical errors, although mostly I work with folks who can’t help themselves. A beta reader’s main job is to discover the best and the worst in the first draft. My beta readers are trusted friends who love language and read fiction. But something else distinguishes them from my other friends. These friends aren’t afraid to let me know when something doesn’t work, when they’re confused, when they find something out of order, or when they have doubts about the believability of my fiction. These aren’t the friends who tell me everything I write is perfect – I love those friends, but they won’t help turn my book into the very best it can be. Some writers find beta readers from critique groups or online writing groups, and perhaps will go that route some day. Right now, I’m comfortable with those folks who feel honored to be my beta readers because they know I’ve invested all my trust into them.

After the revisions to the first draft, comes the copy editor. The copy editor pays attention to the small stuff that becomes huge in the life of a manuscript. The copy editor finds the errors spell check won’t correct, as shown in this sentence: “Hear are the documents cent over by there accounting folks because their to busy to pick up the phone.” Not once did spell check underline a word in this sentence so riddled with errors that even the least astute readers might ponder the meaning. We all need copy editors, and even with a copy editor, mistakes still slip and slide onto the page of a manuscript – all the way to publication.

A few years back, The St. Augustine Record planned an event to recognize its 100th anniversary. All the big shots from northeast Florida came to the party where the front page of the anniversary edition, blown up and placed on an easel in the center of the room, was covered with a sheet for the grand unveiling. The headline should have stated, “The St. Augustine Record celebrates 100 years of public service.” Except when the publisher removed the cloth, the crowd gasped. Somehow, no one noticed until that moment that the “l” was missing from the word “public.” I heard a copy editor lost his job over that embarrassing snafu.

I usually don’t pay for a copy editor. I know enough folks who are well versed in grammar and the mechanics of writing who can do this job for me. I’m an editor and former English teacher, so I also read the manuscript several times just looking for the technical errors. It’s best to take a break from the work before starting this process. If you don’t have anyone close to you who can do this job, find someone you can pay to handle this task. Sometimes, it’s possible to find an overall editor who can both copy edit and serve as an editor for content, continuity, conciseness, and clarity. The last editor I worked with was able to do both for me, but she also knew I was sending her a manuscript that was already copy edited. World Literary Cafe’s Author’s toolbox provides a list of editors and others who can help you bring your book up to the highest standards. Also, ask other authors you’ve connected with online or otherwise. I use an editor I found through an online group. I submitted the first chapter to her and several other potential editors, to see how they edited. I chose mine because her comments showed she understood my work and its audience.

The final editor is the one who will judge and review the overall merits of the story. Is there repetition? Are actions believable/understandable? Does the dialogue sound realistic? Is there enough tension? Are the characters developed?

The final editor is you, the writer. You must read your manuscript repeatedly. As I make suggested edits from the various readers of my manuscript, I’m rereading. Pay particular attention when you’re cutting and pasting. It’s very easy to cut too little or too much.

It’s still likely some errors will appear in your book, despite your very best efforts.

When I was a journalist, it happened all the time while working under the stinging pressure of a hovering headline. I asked Bill Maxwell, a columnist for The St. Petersburg Times, how he dealt with the mistakes that snuck into print.

“Stomp your feet for about ten seconds,” he said. “Then get over it and start your next story.”

My advice to all writers is simple. Always present your very best work to the public – when it’s ready for public scrutiny. And brace yourself, even the best of editors sometimes miss a mistake occasionally. If that happens, stomp your feet and then begin your next novel.

Contact information:

Author Central: http://www.amazon.com/P.C.-Zick/e/B0083DPN4E

Website: http://www.pczick.com

Blogs: www.pczick.wordpress.com and www.pittsburghwriter.wordpress.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/PCZick

Twitter: https://twitter.com/PCZick

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9 comments on “Every Writer Needs An Editor – Period. Period. Period.

  1. Michele, Thank you for featuring me and allowing me to rant a bit about one of my passions. I hope that last sentence is correct – no editor with me today.

    • My pleasure. Thanks for a great post on such an important topic. It’s very timely, as I am finishing up revisions on my upcoming book before sending it to my trusted editor!

      • Best wishes, Michele. You can take a breath while you wait for the manuscript to be returned to you. I believe that taking a break from our work is essential to being able to “see” it fresh, before we edit it some more. The editor may raise red flags, and as Chantel Rhondeau notes in her comment, the editor is only human as well.

  2. Great post! It’s important too, I think, to have as many people go over your work as possible. I hired an editor who is only human and missed several things in my first novel. For my second novel, I’ve enlisted the help of many beta readers who agreed to also be on the look out for errors on my mostly-finished version of the book. It’s really helped my confidence level that not as many of those things will slip through and make it to publishing and I’ll have less foot stomping to do 🙂

  3. So true. That happened with my new novel. My husband was doing the final read through as my technical adviser because I wrote about coal mines and oil drilling (he’s an engineer specializing in mining). It was shocking how many little mistakes he found. I kept checking to see if I’d given him the final, final draft, and I had. That made me go through the whole thing myself for the twentieth time. All the eyes the better.

  4. Very nice article and great points. As a writer/editor I am grateful to the people who were kind enough to edit my work and yes after it went to print we still caught errors. It’s a hand in glove relationship to be sure.

  5. So true. I learned long ago to let it go at a certain point.

  6. […] Good morning – Today rather than writing a review, I’d like to offer a press release announcing the release of Aggravated Circumstances, a new women’s fiction/legal saga by author Michele Shriver. Michele is a fellow Indie Author and blogger. She’s hosted me twice on her blog: February 13 author interview and March 8 with a guest blog, Every Writer Needs an Editor. […]

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