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The Value of Editors

[1]Lately, I’ve been concerned with an angle of the digital market that needs discussing: Editors. It concerns me that so few digital-only/digital-first writers are hiring this all-important help before the books go live.

Look, I’m a professional writer and have been for better than 20 years. I was trained to edit, and I’m pretty clean, clear, concise.  And I would never send work out without the fine, clear eye and particular talents of an editor, and a copy editor.

Here’s a story of why:

I’ve just turned in the revisions for my next book for Bantam (currently titled The Flavor of a Blue Moon) and all the way through the process, answering the questions my editor posed, considering her suggestions, tightening here, expanding there; as I plumped up two characters, rewove an third, and adored a fourth all over again, I kept thinking—would I be able to see these things on my own?

The answer is—I’d probably see some of it.  I’d let the work rest (just as it did in this professional process) and come back and see about 40% of the fixes I made.  I am not at all sure I’d see the other 60%, not because I am a bad writer or because I think I’m so brilliant, but simply because I’m standing in the midst of my creation, walking around in the fully colored, fully realized landscape of my imagination, and it all looks real and strong and sturdy to me.  As it should.

But maybe…just maybe….not every reader is as in love with cats and chickens as I am and will want to stand there admiring them for six pages.   Maybe not everyone knows—as I do—the history of the old woman who is so important to the tale.  Some of it needs to actually be there for the reader who wasn’t listening when she talked to me. The fact that little of it made it on the page somehow escaped my notice.

My editor loves my work and knows how to speak in ways that I can hear her.  I hate getting the manuscript back because I know it will be a lot of work, but I am always so desperately grateful that I’m not going it alone, that I have help and support and clear eyes to help me.  Every writer has blind spots and points of brilliance.  When you find an editor who can help you minimize the first and polish the second, you’re going to write a book that is about 20 times the book you could produce on your own.

That is what my editor does for my work.  Isn’t that what we all want? The very best book possible?

As the new models emerge, more and more writers are putting up work that is good, but could be so much better with another round of rewriting, a good editor pointing out the weak spots, a copy editor combing through for repetitive words and mixed metaphors and continuity problems.  Those services can be expensive–$50 an hour and up—but the resulting work will be so much better it is entirely worth it.

I urge you to consider seeking out the best editors you can find, and when you find one who understands your voice, who can see your flaws and your points of genius clearly, stick with him.

What are your experiences with editors? Have you had someone brilliant help you with your work? Have you found a service for discovering free-lance editors with good credentials? 

About Barbara O'Neal [2]

Barbara O'Neal [3] has written a number of highly acclaimed novels, including 2012 RITA winner, How To Bake A Perfect Life [4], which landed her in the RWA Hall of Fame and was a Target Club Pick. She is a highly respected teacher who also publishes material for writers at Patreon.com/barbaraoneal. She is at work on her next novel to be published by Lake Union in July. A complete backlist is available here [5].