What to Expect from an Editor #4
Who is the best editor?
Not every book needs a literary edit. I think that every book should go to a professional editor for style and format (copy-edit), but a literary edit isn't needed for everything. But how do you know if your work needs one or not?
I suspect the only way to know is to go through the literary edit process at least once. It also helps a great deal to talk to other writers who use, or have used, a literary editor. Those who can tell you why they decided they didn't need to will be the ones who help you to discover if you need to. So why not?
For one thing, it is expensive. A book of 120k words will take me anything from 30 to 50 hours to edit, more if you include communication with the author. Your first two or three full length novels will take longer to edit than later ones, which means that those who charge a fixed rate per word may have to do a lighter edit than your work really needs, and those who, like me, quote based on an estimate of the time required, will charge more to edit your early, weaker work than for your later, stronger work. This is one of the ironies of our profession - but it applies to everything that authors do:
The more you write, the faster you write, and the fewer errors you make. So even if you don't use an editor, the effort it will cost you to write your better work (the books you haven't written yet) will always be less than the effort you are investing now.
Many writers see using a literary editor as an investment. They hope that it will lead to their becoming a better writer faster. I hope this is so, too, since this is my main professional intent: to help you become a better writer. It is both a privilege and a pleasure to watch this happen, when I am the right editor for you.
There's the crux of the issue. Not every editor is the right editor for every writer.
It is far more important, in my opinion, that a writer find an editor who is a good match to his immediate needs, than the writer find an editor who is a good match to his purse, or who he perceives as being the best editor*.
This is a major reason for my posting the kind of things that I do here in my blog. I want you to have a chance to discover what sort of edit you will get, and to discover a little about my personality and my approach. I think that if the kind of things that I say appeal to you, then we can probably work together.
But you can't know if you have the right editor until you try him or her. There are plenty of us out here. It makes sense to try more than one. More than two.
And if you have a bad experience with an editor, it is likely that the editor was a poor match to your needs. Probably more likely than your impression that he or she was a "bad editor". If you found your editor on Kindle Boards, they're probably good. If they were recommended by another author, they're probably good.
Even for copy editing, a good match is necessary. Some editors will, unless otherwise instructed, edit spelling, punctuation, grammar and vocabulary in strict accordance with an approved Style Guide. They are absolutely right to do so. Some authors find this sanitizes or anonymizes their work. Others are glad they don't have to think about those details. Some editors will copy-edit with a very light touch indeed; correcting obvious errors, but not standardizing anything. The are absolutely right to do so. But some authors find that certain (ahem, fussy) readers make comments that suggest that editing has been sloppy or nonexistant. You can't please all the readers all of the time; having an editor on board if only for a light copy edit can help you to go into this with your eyes open.
If you have an editor, and you think they are the best, then you have found a good match. Please gush about them on your blog in and in KB - but try to say why they suit you so well, and this will help other authors to find the right editor for them**.
A discussion started on Kindle Boards a couple of days ago about editors and editing. The tone of the discussion is rather forceful in places, but as a crash course in what you should expect, what attitude and approach to take, and how to protect yourself from a bad experience, this is REQUIRED READING:
Editing Rant (via Kindle Boards)
*You will notice that my style in my blog, occasional caveats notwithstanding, is very authoritative. That just happens to be how I talk and how I write. It doesn't mean that the opinions or statements in these posts are necessarily the most correct or the best - indeed I disclaim any such conclusion, and I strongly encourage disagreement. If you are impressed by what you read here, proceed with caution; get a second opinion; better still, prove me wrong. Comments that show either by argument or reliable cross reference that I have been talking bollocks are guaranteed to be published.
** So far I haven't had a customer who's been unhappy or even disappointed. But I do have customers who only come to me for certain specific types of edit, and who go elsewhere for other services. I don't take this amiss – on the contrary, it is a very sensible way to proceed. Once you have used a few editors, you will know what you need, and who you need it from.
*** Edit March 2012 ***
Since posting this I have had one customer come back to me with a complaint that my copy editing had failed to spot mistakes. This was after beta-readers and people who had bought the book responded by email to say that there were editing issues. I am uncomfortable with defending editorial decisions. In the book in question there was a punctuation error in the very first line. The rest of the complaints were either arguable points of style, and therefore editing or authorial decisions, or they were plain wrong. Although I feel very bad about that stray quote mark in the first line, authors and editors alike need to be ready for the response of readers and reviewers who may, due to their education or personal preference, describe as an editorial error a style choice that they don't approve of. An editor has to take responsibility for these choices, and if the main readership of a book has a preference or a distaste for certain styles or constructions or even formats, he ought to be aware of this. This is getting more and more difficult, however, since ebooks can be read by anyone, anywhere. You might not get the predominant demographic you are expecting. This is probably a topic to be treated more fully.
*** end of edit ***