When to Hire an Editor

Some time ago I posted the advantages of Autocrit software, and the wisdom found in Writing the Breakout Novel. Autocrit enabled me to catch repetitive words, and I ferreted out problems in my novel when I applied techniques from Writing the Breakout Novel. However, the devil is in the details, and a small press editor once told me that no writer sees their own mistakes. So I kept going through my work again and again.

The time is coming for me to step up to the plate: either submit my next novel or publish it through Night to Dawn. A lot more authors are turning to independent publishing, but I’m hearing complaints about the spotty editing found in self-published books. The books on the table are Steel Rose, the novel following Dark Side of the Moon, and Dead Folks Stalking, a short story collection. The child in me insists that since I edit Night to Dawn material, I should be able to edit these books myself, right?

The adult in me hollers, “Wrong!”

After looking at comments workshop leaders made about so-called “ready” material, I decided to send Steel Rose off to an editor. This will include content editing. Editing any book is a big job, and takes time, so I proceeded with work on a sequel and the short stories.

I went through the short stories that had seen publication in small press magazines. There’s a lot to be said for putting one’s work aside and then reviewing it weeks later. When I looked at the tales with a fresh pair of eyes, I saw areas that needed rewriting. Perhaps a paragraph had too much tell and not enough show. So I did some rewriting and sent these off to an editor for polishing.

Good thing I did. The content in these stories was addressed by the editors who published them, but there were quite a few typos. Had I sent these tales to press, the errors would make them look less than professional. Mind you, typos make it to print in a lot of books. Two or three errors in a book may not harm sales, but two or three typos on a page will. “Sunset Kill,” a tale featuring dead nursing home residents who resurrect and feed on their caregivers, had that many on some of the pages. Not any more.

So why couldn’t I see my own mistakes? I think because I consider my stories like family members, and I’m too close to them to edit them effectively. At most hospitals, policy dictates that health care workers not treat family members because they’re too close to their situation. Perhaps the same policy should apply to writers and editors with their own stories.

Barbara Custer is the publisher of dark fantasy and science fiction.

About Barbara Custer

Author of: Twilight Healer Steel Rose Life Raft: Earth City of Brotherly Death Close Liaisons Infinite Sight When Blood Reigns Infinite Sight Publisher / Editor of Night to Dawn Books & Magazine
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  1. Rayne Hall (@RayneHall)

    The issue gets confusing because “editing” means different things to different people. It used to mean a professional editor selecting material for a publication and/or improving a writers’s work. These two are confusing enough (other languages have different words for them).

    But now it can also mean “proofreading” (catching micro-mistakes such as typos and misplaced punctuation), “critiquing” (feedback on what works and doesn’t work) and “revising” (the writer improving her/his own work).

    So five people talking about “editing” their work may be talking about five different things, and this can lead to misundertandings.

    For example, one writer may advise a novice “Don’t edit your own work” (meaning “Don’t proofread it, because you won’t spot your own spelling errors”) and the novice thinks she doesn’t need to revise her writing.

    Another example: an novice indie author proudly proclaims that her book has been “edited” (meaning she got feedback from a crit buddy) and is therefore ready for publication.

    With the changing role of editors in the new publishing world, the definitions are getting more and more muddled. Hopefully, new words will emerge to replace the old and make things clearer. Until then, writers and editors need to be very careful to clarify what they mean and what they want from one another.

    • That’s why it helps for editors to specify the type of editing that they do. They might proofread, that is, catch typos; copy edit or line edit – making the lines flow more smoothly, and finally content editing, in which the editor points out problems with the plot.

      Content editing is really important if you’re self-publishing a book.

  2. Punctuation is another sore spot too. One of my tales had colons sprinkled on it. What got into my head when I put them there I don’t know. It will be interesting to see how the book goes.

  3. I agree, kind of like a lawyer defending him/herself. Don’t do your own edits. I’ve edited other writer’s work, but I’ll be darn if I can see my own mistakes. Our brain tells us we see what we think we wrote, not what is actually on the page. Even if you just have someone not close to the story proofread it, they will find a lot of your mistakes. I think one of the biggest typos I see in major publishing house’s books is that than switched. The editor and proofreaders miss those two words all the time. If professional editors miss them, what about us lowly writers (sigh)?

    • Yep, I also edit other writers work and God can I pick out issues from structure, line-editing to proofreading. Then it comes to me and my “Telling” feels so vivid that it should stay. And my view on the same section a few weeks later? Eiw. No imagery. Flat.

      I agree with the family analogy; we get too close so no matter if it looks ugly, we still sing our high praises for its merits.

  4. Informative post…an editor will always bring a fresh perspective to the book

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