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Monday, April 14, 2008

What You Need to Know About Finding an Editor

Here's what first-time authors need to know about finding an editor before they publish. Maybe those who have already published and been embarrassed by poor editing can use these pointers, too! And, of course, you'll find tons of information about how to partner with good editors and poor editors (even how to act as your own editor!) in The Frugal Editor: Put Your Best Book Forward to Avoid Humiliation and Ensure Success ( ).

Just know that editing your own book is not recommended; having said that, most of us will need to self-edit some of our material at least some of the time. Like query letters. Every time you write one, you'll do it slightly differently and every time you'll need to be sure it's edited well. Obviously, hiring someone to do it for you could get expensive and time-consuming. There are some things you can do for yourself and some things you shouldn't. Just know that the more you know about editing, the better off you'll be.

Here are some basic tips:

You can't rely on the editor provided by your publisher. I've seen even the biggest publisher let boo-boos go through in books. And many small publishers hire inexperienced typo hunters, not real editors.

Most authors know less about editing than they think they do. They may know grammar and some (or many!) of the elements of fiction. But what about indexing? What about frontmatter and backmatter? What about tricky little formatting things like widows and orphans?

You can't rely on even the best editor you hire. You need to be a partner with your editor. If you know little or nothing about the process, how can you know what to accept or what to reject? How can you decide when you want to break a rule? When you want to consider what your editor is telling you, even if his or her advice goes against your established pattern or makes you uncomfortable? When you want to compromise? "Partner" is the keyword here. You want to be able to do that even if you're publishing with Harper's and your editor turns out to be a channeled Jacqueline Kennedy. (-:

Anyone who is publishing subsidy or self or POD or whatever term you're using for it, needs an editor before he or she goes to press. The Frugal Editor gives you guidelines for the way to find a good one. It's also there for people who have the best intentions and just don't follow them. We tend to make a thousand excuses to ourselves for not following our best instincts. Well, OK. I know I did with my first book. I had lots of excuses. One was, "My publisher assigned an editor. Why should I duplicate?" My most infamous excuse was, "I AM an editor!" Ahem!
People who are good grammarians or good typo hunters aren't necessarily good editors.

One pair of eyes is never as good as two. Two readers who got As in English or teach English are never as good as the one pair of eyes of a real, bona fide editor with years of both writing and publishing experience.

Good editors will be good grammarians, spellers and typo hunters but they bring a whole lot more to the table. So start saving your pennies for a good editor and in the meantime, read up on the process for yourself.

PS: When my first editor edited my novel, This Is the Place, she told me it was the "cleanest" copy she ever saw and raved on about it. OK. I'm an editor. But, I have to tell you. She missed so much! I'd love to go back, review it myself and then have another editor look at it again and then--and only then--republish. I probably won't do that. I believe authors should move on and not dwell on past works. But the story illustrates why I am so adamant about it.

Oh, another thing about that. We will all grow as we write more. As we read. As we take writing classes. So the fact that we would make changes if we were rewriting an old novel is only natural. I just don't think we need to be kicking ourselves over it. I think we need to be patting ourselves on the back that we have grown. (-:

I want to remind you that this blog at is made for you to ask questions, contribute answers and learn. Use that little comment link at will.


Carolyn Howard-Johnson edits and consults on issues of publishing. Find her The Frugal Editor: Put Your Best Book Forward to Avoid Humiliation and Ensure Success on Amazon. Learn more about her other authors' aids at


Kathe Gogolewski said...

I like the word you use for working with an editor: partnering. It's such good advise, because let's face it, none of us knows it all - even the experts use second opinions! I know you partnered a lot in doing the research needed to compile the Frugal Book Promoter. You created a complete and comprehensive edition!

Allyn Evans said...

I agree with everything you said, Carolyn. I have had the wonderful fortunate of having the best editor on the planet!

If she ever turns me down, then I'll be in big trouble. :)

Great Editing Is Great Marketing

Your First Marketing Offense: Write and Edit Great Query Letters