Friday, January 30, 2009

Another Thing to Learn

There's always something new to learn if you're a writer. You have to learn to write, to plot, to plan the book, to flesh out your characters, etc. You have to learn to keep a book bible. You have to learn how to write a query letter and how to pitch. You have to learn to work with an agent and how to read a statement. You have to learn how to market your book, how to ask for cover blurbs, how to conduct a virtual book tour, how to act at a book signing and work with booksellers. The list just goes on and on.

And here's one more that I'm going to add to that list, especially if you're not yet published.

You need to learn to edit. Now, this may sound strange coming from a freelance editor whose job it is to edit author's books. But you need to learn how to do at least the basics for yourself. If you don't, then you're doomed to pay editors to do it for you.

Learning the basics of editing doesn't mean you'll never need an outside editor. If you can't teach yourself, an editor can be a great teacher, in fact. But the more work you put in yourself, the less it will cost you to have a professional edit done. An editor often bases her fees on the time it takes to do the edits. If you do the small stuff, then she charges you less or she has more time to spend on the big stuff and on explaining why she's making changes in your manuscript. And that's important. If an editor just makes changes and doesn't tell you why, then how can you learn and begin to not make mistakes? So look for an editor who will work with you, not just for you.

It's easy if an editor says, "You're using too many -ly adverbs -- cut them and use stronger verbs." You can search your manuscript and change the problem. She might even change one or two to show you what she means, then leave the rest to you so you can learn and avoid making the same mistake in the future.

It's less easy if the editor says, "This passage bothers me. This is why. I think you need to rewrite this so that it does such and such." Trust me, it's better if she does this than if she rewrites it for you. You re-work it, send it back to her, and she says, "yes, that's much better." Then you've learned and you'll be a better writer for it.


  1. Good advice! Writers always ask me "How much does an editor cost?" and I respond with "Depends on the level of editing required!" I've used two editors and learned from each how to correct my own mistakes ahead of time.

    L. Diane Wolfe

  2. Hi Helen-

    What a money saving post from you.

    There's a breed of author you haven't mentioned here--one that I've run into more than once and turned away. It's the author who feels that her writing doesn't need to be edited because she is a...
    linguist, Phd (I love that one),
    seasoned writer, previously published,or English teacher.

    These folks don't even get to fill out my app.

    Stephanie Barko
    Literary Publicist
    "Authors indigenous to the American West"

  3. Diane, it sounds like you had great editors. No one wants to keep making the same mistakes, but if your editor doesn't tell you what you're doing wrong, it's difficult to change.

  4. Makes you wonder, Stephanie, why they hire an editor, unless they think the editor will come back with no edits and that will stroke their ego. And if it's not an editor they've hired, but one with their publisher, then they won't be long there if they refuse to accept the edits or at least work with the editor.

  5. Great advice, Helen. I have learned so much from the great editors who went over my work early on. And I know my work still needs to be gone over by another professional editor because there are things I miss in my own work.

  6. It's not always easy to listen to what a critique partner or an editor says, but if you can step back, take a breath, and look at it with as much objectivity as you can muster, usually you'll take some value from what others tell you. I'm like you, Maryann, I've learned from others.

  7. Excellent post. Agree totally, and in fact learning how to self-edit well improves your writing.

  8. I agree, Marvin. The more you can self-edit, the stronger your writing will be.

  9. I'm in awe of the editors I have turned to - both friends and professionals. If only I'd paid more attention during grammar classes!

    Jane Kennedy Sutton

  10. Like the cliche - instead of giving people fish, teach them to fish.

    Morgan Mandel

  11. Jane, I've found that 99% of the people I have turned to for help with my work have become friends. (I can think of only 1 exception.)

    And I consider all the people I have edited for as friends. You'd have to ask them if they feel that way!

  12. I hadn't thought of that, Morgan, but it certainly fits!

  13. That's great advice. I have a wonderful editor. I learn something new from her everyday.

    Joan De La Haye


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