EDITS, EDITORS, EDITING—The Secret Weapon of Every Successful Writer

by Ruth Harris

Editing is life. The blue tie? Or the yellow one? Peter or Paul? Or Mary?

You’re an editor—whether or not you know it yet—because to edit is to choose.

As a former editor, I’m obviously biased. As a writer, I've learned that for me (and for just about every writer I know or have worked with), editing is the most interesting and exciting part of writing a book.

In my experience, editing takes longer than writing and can turn an OMG-did-I-write-that? draft into a book you can be proud of.

Your editors are your teachers especially if you are a beginning writer. Pay attention to them and you will come face to face with your worst habits—passive characters and/or passive verbs, adjective overkill, adverb and/or pronoun abuse, dangling participles, untethered plot points, run-on sentences.

You will also learn how to polish your strengths and turn interesting narrative into compelling storytelling, good dialogue to great, plot-twists-that-fall-flat into a breath-taking, never-saw-it-coming shocks.

Editing is expensive and choosing an editor is like picking a great date for Saturday night—without help from OkCupid or eharmony. Due to contractions in TradPublishing, there are many knowledgeable and experienced freelance editors offering their services. Most offer a sample edit of ten pages or so, a useful try-before-you-buy option.

Whether you plan to self-publish, want to work with a small press or are looking for an agent and a TradPub deal, hiring an editor to take a cool, calm look at your book is essential because—as if you didn’t already know—the days of Maxwell Perkins are long gone.

Define how much editing you need: 

Valerie Comer wrote a succinct analysis of the differences between a rewrite, revision and editing that will help clarify your thinking.

Where to start looking for an editor: 

Elisabeth Kauffman lists professional associations and sources and dispenses solid advice about what questions to ask as you search for your perfect editor.

Network with other writers in your genre: 

They will be able to suggest editors who know what they’re doing and warn you away from those who don’t. Writers’ Cafe has yellow-page lists of editors and threads about editors and editing pop up often.

Understand the different kinds of editing:

Learn the difference between developmental (or content) editing and copyediting.

Joanna Penn describes the functions of different kinds of editors and offers valuable guidance about how to find the right editor.

Developmental: A developmental/content editor’s contributions involve a broad overview of the manuscript, its structure, scene and chapter placement or rearrangement, even the basics of plot and character. A developmental/content editor (sometimes called a book doctor) can answer an SOS when a manuscript is on life support and needs rescue.

Victoria Mixon delves further into the various aspects of editing and describes how the editing process works between writer and editor. She also addresses the circumstances that involve trimming, re-writing, rearranging, and even the writing of new material.

Editor Belinda Pollard warns writers not to depend on editorial labels but to find out exactly what to expect from different kinds of editors no matter what they’re called. She also reminds us that “the right feedback at the right time is the secret weapon of every successful author.” I couldn’t agree more!

Copyediting: Copyediting takes place at a later stage when all the nuts and bolts of a story are in place. The copyeditor is concerned with clarity, clarity, cohesion, consistency, and correctness (the "4 Cs”) according to Amy Einsohn's The Copyeditor's Handbook.

Proofreading: Proofing is yet another stage in the editorial process and comes last of all, just before you send your book out into the world. The good proofreader is über detail-oriented, on the look out for typos, typographical glitches and lapses in spelling and punctuation.

The Writers Center posted a good article that covers the art and craft of proofreading.

The Chicago Manual of Style offers a Rosetta Stone to proofreader’s marks and squiggles.

Not all editors are the same. Some edit with a light hand, preferring to let the writer’s own voice come through. Other editors take a firmer approach, making an effort to conform your manuscript to current industry standards. Decide which approach you prefer and which one will work best for you and your book.

Choose an editor who’s an expert in your genre. S/he will be knowledgable about current trends, best practices and no-nos. A sci-fi specialist will not be up to date on the latest in romance. And vice versa.

Your editor is your partner and guide—not your overlord. Feel free to disagree with suggestions but be sure you have a good reason for your choices. Sometimes a brief discussion will lead to a third solution that’s even better.

Even billionaires need editors. Warren Buffett’s long-time editor at Fortune, Carol Loomis, spills the beans.

Basics to take care of before you send off your manuscript. 

Doing some advance clean-up will save you and your editor time and money:

India Drummond takes on editors (the cyber kind) in this review of White Smoke, Style Writers, Serenity Software, and Autocrit.

I don’t recommend self-editing for beginning writers who will probably need help with at least some or possibly all of the following: pacing, character, structure and/or story arc.

With more experience, though, plus a crit group or beta readers, you will be able to read your manuscript with a more detached and professional eye. If you’re not sure whether or not you need an editor, Derek Murphy pinpoints some important issues and suggests affordable alternatives.

If you want to go ahead on your own, be on the lookout for:

Deborah Rains Dixon addresses story structure, why it’s crucial and includes different examples of structure.

In Self-Editing For Fiction Writers, two professional editors cover such aspects of fiction as dialogue, exposition, point of view and interior monologue.

If you think all this sounds too picky and painful not to mention too time-consuming and expensive to bother with, think again. As someone who served time in the slush pile, I guarantee: an unedited manuscript is the mark of the amateur, the bane of the pro, the kiss of death, a sure-fire route to nowheresville.

It’s your book. You decide.

What about you, Scriveners? Do you hire your own editor? How did you find your editor? Do you use the cyber-kind? Do you have any other tips for self-editing? What are your biggest problems that you need to address when you edit? 


A hilarious, fast-paced read from Ruth Harris! "Chick Lit for Chicks who weren't born yesterday"

The Chanel Caper is $2.99 on Amazon USAmazon UK and Nook | Kobo | iBooks

THE CHANEL CAPER Nora Ephron meets James Bond...or is it the other way around? Blake Weston is a smart, savvy, no BS, 56-year-old Nora Ephron-like New Yorker. Her DH, Ralph Marino, is a très James Bond ex-cop & head of security for a large international corporation. At a tense time in their relationship, Blake and Ralph are forced to work together to solve a murder in Shanghai and break up an international piracy ring.

Ruth Harris is a million-copy New York Times and Amazon bestselling author and a Romantic Times award winner for "best contemporary." Critics have called Ruth's fiction "brilliant," "steamy," "stylishly written," "richly plotted," "first-class entertainment" and "a sure thing."


WHAT COULD POSSIBLY GO WRONG? CONTEST. Creative Writing Institute Short Story Contest. NO ENTRY FEE. First prize - $200 USD or a Writing Course with a Personal Tutor, valued at $260.Second prize - $100 USD or a Credit of $150 toward a Writing Course. Third prize - $50 USD or a Credit of $100 toward a Writing Course. Word limit: between 1,000 and 2,000 words. Your story may be any genre, but this exact sentence must appear in the story: "I have a list and a map. What could possibly go wrong?" Deadline August 9

CHICKEN SOUP - HEARTFELT STORIES BY MOMS Pays $200 for 1,200 words. Stories can deal with the pains and highlights of motherhood, the wonders of parenting grandchildren, special moments of raising a newborn, being a role model to a teenager, or anything that touches the heart of a mom. Deadline September 30.

Barthelme Prize for experimental flash fiction. $17 Entry Fee 500-word limit. $1000 first prize, $250 hon. mention prizes. Online submission form. Deadline August 31.

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