Sunday, May 28, 2017

Why You Need an Editor. Yes, I'm Talking to YOU

This isn't a great shot, but these little girls are so awesomely adorable. We got to attend our granddaughter's spring dance recital yesterday. The costumes were amazing. So much fun.

Our topic this week at the SFF Seven is editing: do we use editors or do it ourselves, how long does editing take, etc.

As you may have guessed from the title, I'm somewhat passionate on this topic.

Not long ago I saw several authors on a thread discussing whether they still used a developmental editor. This group of guys happened to be all self-publishing authors. One had asked about editing, who people hired, etc. The conversation grew from there, with most of them saying that they used content or developmental editors - which is an initial pass, helping to shape the story - early on in their careers. But, a number of them said, "now that they knew how to write a book/story, etc.," they didn't need to anymore.

I cry utter bullshit on this.

And I'll tell you why!

When I was younger I was a huge fan of both Anne Rice and Pat Conroy. There were a couple of years there where I gave a copy of Conroys' THE PRINCE OF TIDES to anyone I thought might not have read it, for every gift-giving opportunity. Likewise I obsessively followed Anne Rice, and I'll tell you honestly that reading her book THE WITCHING HOUR was a turning point in my life. I could say that's the book that made me want to be a writer.

Not long after that, Anne Rice rather famously went on talk shows to discuss her new book deal, and she said, "Believe me - no one edits Me." (I'd say the emphasis is my own, but she totally said it in bold with capitalization, just like that.)

Then Pat Conroy's BEACH MUSIC came out, which I eagerly devoured. Only to find it so bloated that I couldn't enjoy it. Even as a plain reader, I kept thinking that the book needed to have at least a third of the story trimmed out.

It needed a good developmental editor. So did Anne Rice.

Even though - maybe even particularly if - they didn't think so.

And I'll freely say I think they're both genius writers - but genius writers need editors, too. I'll also put out there that there is no such thing as "figuring out how to write a book/story, etc." Last week at Nebula Weekend, Grandmaster Jane Yolen, who's written over 300 books, said that each novel is different for her and she relearns how to do it every time. Writing isn't making widgets - it's not like you learn how to do it once and then replicate that ad infinitum.

Besides which: I truly believe that it's extraordinarily difficult, if not impossible, for a writer to have an objective view of their own work. We need that outside lens to examine if what we intended to communicate actually made it onto the page.

So, yes, while I do edit myself, I also always use editors, also - content/developmental, line, and copy. If I'm self-publishing, I hire the toughest people I know to put my work through the wringer. In my opinion, not doing that doesn't mean you've "arrived." It only means you're kidding yourself.


  1. I've been following some of these discussions and they even try to tell themselves readers don't mind some typos. To me it always sounds like they're trying way too hard to justify not wanting to pay for editing.

    1. That's how I always hear those discussions, too. Also the whole "but my creativity!" argument - always sounds like an unwillingness to do the hard work to me. (And shell out :D)

  2. One of the frustrating elements of the self-publishing craze is the increasing number of books that DESPERATELY needed editing at several points in the creation. I know I read poorly edited books in the paperbook-ridden past, but mostly just poorly proofread. Now, it's all of it. The self-indulgence is frustrating for a reader. Unfortunately, I've only made it through one of AR's books, and I found it obsessive and bloated, so I haven't tried again. Luckily, I've discovered many authors who DO go to outside advice/help and create fascinating, re-readable works that I love. Present company included ;)

    1. Thank you for that! I do think that bloating is a sign of not allowing editing. Her earlier works were tighter - but she has a florid style, so even those were lavish and slow, particularly by today's standards. I tried to reread THE WITCHING HOUR and couldn't get through it, so that says something. I totally get your frustration! I think the balance will shift again, as reader expectations focus in on which authors deliver well-edited work, as well as great stories. :-)