From The Writers’ Tool Box: Do You Need An Editor?

Unfortunately, what I’m seeing too much, is a reverting to the former issue—the quality of writing may suffer. I suspect poor editing may be a part of the problem.
on May 11, 2020 · 8 comments

Part of my involvement in writing has put me in position to judge any number of contests, some for published authors and some for unpublished. Some request their judges to be tight-lipped regarding their involvement. Others, like the CT Magazine contest, actually publish comments by judges about the winner.

All that to say, I’ve seen an interesting trend. When I first dipped my toe into the writing world, the knock on Christian fiction was that the writing was bad. That changed over the years. The story-telling improved and so did the ability to put the stories down using fiction techniques any other writer would use, including good grammar, character development, story structure, and so forth.

Criticism of Christian fiction remained, however, largely centered on content—not enough speculative fiction, for example, and too much romance. But as self-publishing came into its own, that changed as well.

Unfortunately, what I’m seeing too much, is a reverting to the former issue—the quality of writing may suffer. I suspect poor editing may be a part of the problem. The truth is, all writers need editors. Reading blog posts can demonstrate that fact—even competent writers may miss errors in content or mechanics because blog posts aren’t edited.

According to Penny C. Sansevieri, CEO of Marketing Experts, Inc. and author of “Why Editing Is the Single Best Marketing Tool,” any serious author needs an editor.

I know my passing this information along might seem self serving, since I offer a freelance editing service, but the truth is, the editor you need might not be me.

First, why does every serious writer need an editor?

  • We have blind spots when it comes to our own writing
  • Our family and friends will love what we write, no matter how good it is
  • Our family and friends may not be able to tell us how to fix weak spots
  • Fiction without glaring errors is more apt to be the kind readers talk about
  • Critique partners, while helpful, may not have the knowledge or experience or ability to analyze what will move our fiction to the next level

If these things are true, and if Ms. Sansevieri is right, how should a writer go about picking an editor? According to Lauren Hidden, book editor and writing coach, there are a few basics someone looking for editing needs to consider:

  1. Objectivity–someone who isn’t so close they will overlook mistakes because they are too afraid of losing relationship if they say what they really think.
  2. Knowledge–a person who knows your kind of project and who knows what changes to suggest
  3. Experience–an editor who other writers can recommend or endorse
  4. Price–an editor who offers services within your price range
  5. Service–someone who provides the type of editing you require
  6. Time frame–a person who can complete the work within the time period you specify

I think along with “time frame” I’d add, “availability.” If you need your work edited at once and the person you contact has five other clients ahead of you, then you’d be wise to look for someone else.

I’d also recommend you do some comparative shopping. In the sidebar at my editing site, Rewrite, Reword, Rework, you’ll find a list of qualified editors. Some of those may also have links to other editors you may wish to investigate.

In other words, one editor does not fit everyone, nor are all editing services priced or structured in the same way. By doing your homework, you’ll have a much better chance of finding the editor that fits you and what you write. And that should be your goal.

I would stress that anyone can hang up a shingle as an editor, but claiming that role is easier than actually doing a good job. Some of the books I’ve judged name their editor in the acknowledgements, and I think, “Really?” I can’t help but wonder about the misuse of words, the improper grammar, the problems in story development or the inability to make the characters come alive. Why didn’t the editor help with those things, I wonder.

So not all editors have the same experience, the same background, the same ability. For those writers who wish to self-publish, and want to enter contests, hope to generate a healthy number of sales, even to take their books to reading expos and the like, the quality needs to be on par with books published by established publishing houses. Hence, the choice of editor should be one of the major decisions the author makes.

Best known for her aspirations as an epic fantasy author, Becky is the sole remaining founding member of Speculative Faith. Besides contributing weekly articles here, she blogs Monday through Friday at A Christian Worldview of Fiction. She works as a freelance writer and editor and posts writing tips as well as information about her editing services at Rewrite, Reword, Rework.
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  1. Autumn Grayson says:

    To comment on the objectivity thing…sometimes the people closest to us are actually the best for honest feedback. Like, they might know us well enough to realize we can take some criticism. Or they know how to word the feedback in a way that’s obviously helpful instead of annoying. So it really just depends.

    I’m not saying people need to rely on their family members for edits and beta reads, but as long as an author doesn’t get super offended (or some other thing that makes the editing/beta reading process unrewarding) their family members may very well be a good place to at least get some initial opinions, if not more thorough editing. So authors should gauge that stuff carefully and go from there, instead of immediately assuming those closest to them can’t be objective. Although some people have a hard time being objective with loved ones, objectivity is more a matter of individuals and circumstances than anything else.

    • L.A. Smith says:

      My beta readers are all family members. I haven’t been able to find anyone else to do it for me. BUT they are all people whose opinions I trust, who read widely in many genres, who know what good writing and story telling looks like. I really appreciate their feedback, it gives me a place to start at any rate.

      • And having readers who know good writing is what really matters—even if they can’t articulate WHY something is off, they can still pinpoint the places that need some attention.


    • You make a good point, Autumn. We are more apt to listen to people we respect.


  2. L.A. Smith says:

    I totally agree with you! Professional editing is so very important! But I struggle with the financial aspect of it. If it’s your first book, or if it’s not your first book but other books are not flying off the shelves, it’s really hard to find the money. Professional editing is not cheap, nor should it be. But the cost can be a huge obstacle for authors. Especially if you are self-published and are also paying for professional cover design, a good-looking website, some kind of marketing plan…etc etc. All those things that we should be doing!

    I am fortunate that I have been able to find “enough” money to hire an editor for my books, but I can only hire her for ONE pass through. For my first book, I hired her to do the final proofread. For book two, because I am learning all about this and want to have a feel for how the different edits work, I am hiring her to do a kind of combined developmental/copy edit. I will have to do the final proof read myself. If I had the money to hire an editor to do every type of editing for the books, I would. It’s so very important. But really, really hard to do in the real world, I find.

    • Yep, money is an issue. So that’s a point in favor of trying for traditional publishing. Whatever company picks up the book, shoulders the cost. But for people who want to go the self-pub route, a book that has problems isn’t going to catch on with readers—well, unless it has some other hook. It’s always a possibility, I suppose. But for most books, they need to be well-written in order to sell.


  3. Kathleen Eavenson says:

    As a reader (trust me, no one would want to read a novel I wrote … if I could finish it), one thing most books need is a good proofreader! This is especially for self-published work. If $$$ mean making a choice, please find a proofreader who can really spell & catch grammar mistakes. You know – simple things like ‘it’s’ vs ‘its’; ‘their’ vs ‘they’re’ vs ‘there’, etc. Mistakes like that absolutely drive me up a wall, drops me right out of the story!!

    If you can afford an editor, more power to you. But please don’t neglect the “simple” stuff. [Rant over now]

    • Thanks, Kathleen! It’s really good (did you notice that it’s? I double checked it, just for you. 😉 ) to hear from someone who classifies herself as a reader. You are who we writers should be writing for. And you make the point brilliantly. The errors that can and should be corrected are a problem for readers!

      I appreciate you weighing in on this topic.


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