The Necessity of Editors

There is a lively debate among indie writers about the critical importance of editors. Almost unanimously, indie authors will say “You need an editor!” But that begs the question, “What kind of editor?”

Herein lies the rub, O Intrepid Reader. We need to know what type of editor we’re looking for before we lay out cash for the services of any of them. And of course, finding good ones is a tightrope walk.

No author can get away without any edits. That’s how so many poor quality books have made it onto the ebook market. You know the ones – misspellings, grammar mistakes, horrid things like “should of” for “should have” – you get the idea. So there is always a need for editing. No one’s perfect.

But there’s a lot of scams going on right now. They started during the “Gold Rush” days of Kindle Digital Platform (KDP for short) publishing, which Amazon created to remove the boundary between writer and reader. The traditional publishing industry decried the move with slanderous and libelous statements indicating what would follow would be, and I quote (though I don’t know who it was), a “tsunami of crap.”

That particular moron was wrong, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of poorly edited manuscripts masquerading as finished product out there. It happens for a lot of reasons, but I’m going to mention just two of the biggest.

Indie authors can’t afford the editor

This is the number one reason indie authors skip buying editing services, period.

Editors don’t come cheap, and some charge as much as 6ยข a word. Do the math; for an 80K word book that’s $4,800US. I’ve seen “affordable” rates of half that, which still makes the cost about $2400US. And that, O Reader, is frickin’ pricey. Matter of fact, it’s beyond my reach. Now, imagine someone who’s writing eight or ten books a year. Do the math.

Pretty ridiculous, right? And if the book doesn’t earn at least that much, then the property stays upside down forever. That would be considered a bad investment.

Indie authors don’t know what services to buy

Editors offer a barrage of services, all of them touted in language that might leave an indie with a spinning head and and empty bank account. Knowing that the different types of editors are and do can save you boatloads of dough and time in the hunt.

Finding a great editor is like meeting a life partner. Hang on with both hands.

What editors should do

A good editor should help a writer find their style and refine it. They should assist with things like consistency in style and grammar, and flag nitpicks the writer may have missed.

Editors should be about grammar and punctuation, and know enough not to edit out things the writer may have put in deliberately even if they’re wrong.

What editors shouldn’t do

No matter what type of editor an indie author hires, the one thing they should never do is alter the author’s voice and style during editing. The editor has no right to consider the manuscript a collaborative effort. It’s not.

The writer is the writer, and the editor should only help the writer, not inject themselves into the edits.

Types of editors

There are a lot of variations of the title “editor” running around in the wild. But the people who summed it up best for me, and the definitions I think I’ll adhere to going forward, are set forth by Dean Wesley Smith in chapter six of his writing book called Heinlein’s Rules. Or, because he’s generous, you can find those entries for free on his blog.

Basically, the editors most writers can’t really do without are the copy editors. They fix up the grammar where it needs help (without altering voice or style, of course) and make sure punctuation and such are all in order.

DWS goes on to say, content/development/”story coach” kind of editors are scams. If you are so insecure you’re willing to spend thousands of dollars on this type of service, I don’t know what to say about it. Letting someone else tell you how to write your story is an error in judgment no one should ever make.

But, there are plenty of them out there, so beware.

Other very valuable, but according to DWS, also very rare, editors are line editors. Line editors can help writers find consistency in style and wording. Very rare to find good ones, but if you do, hang on. And those might be more expensive, so keep that in mind too.

The copyediting and proofreading of a document is the key for most writers. A lot of services are out there offering to help you with your story. But according to Kristine Kathryn Rusch – an award-winning editor who has, in her time, trained copyeditors, is a professional writer, and has been part of the publishing industry for more than 30 years, including being and independent publisher – says no one collaborates with writers on their stories. (Except, y’know…collaboration work with other writers.)

It’s the writer’s story. No one should change it. They shouldn’t change your style, your author voice, and your story should never fall into Serious Writer Voice (a term coined by Kris Rusch) because of edits. Or at the urging of an editor.

Shop before you buy

I’ve become more and more confident, over time, that I can catch most of my typos and spelling mistakes with a good First Reader (I have one) and a crack beta reading team (I had one for my last novel). I don’t see myself ever buying content editing, and I surely won’t pay to have someone tell me how I should write my story.

My voice, my stylistic choices, maybe unsuitable for everyone, but they will suit my audience just fine. Editors you pay should never consider themselves collaborators; it’s your story, not them. They’re employees, paid for a specific job in your production line. Make sure they understand that, and that you’re not overpaying them for that job.

I recommend reading DWS’s post linked above. It’s eyeopening and helped me understand a lot better what I need from an “editor.”

The opinions of those editors notwithstanding.


4 thoughts on “The Necessity of Editors

  1. When I finished the third draft of my novel, I thought it was “ready.” I figured I’d find a copy editor on Elance; she’d make a couple of minor changes, primarily grammar mistakes that I’d overlooked; and I’d self publish my book to rave reviews.

    I don’t know how good or bad a job your copyeditor did, ORP, but I know this: we’re going to disagree on the drafting thing as well as editing. I think a writer should be strong enough to write clean and straight the first time through. One draft for me. But that’s another post.

    Instead, my editor tore me up mainly over stuff like lack of tension.

    Well, I think a first novel’s going to be a learning experience. Basic craftsmanship doesn’t have to be as expensive as an editor, IMO, but that’s me. At least you grew from the…”edits.” (I’d call that criticism, personally.)

    It was a painful experience, but I’m so glad that the editor I choose didn’t restrict herself to grammar and punctuation. The 6th draft that I ended up publishing still isn’t perfect (I still hope to become a much better writer in the future), but it’s a whole lot better than if she’d just helped me put a little lipstick on a pig.

    To each their own, ORP. Good luck with your future endeavors.

  2. See here’s a lesson for me. I do the no-no of proofing my own stuff. Then later I flick through and spot more errors. And then later do the same. Fix them as I go, but I do need to get myself a copy-editor to pick up my typos and so on.

    I have another comment indicating someone’s favorable use of editors, Sean. I guess that person doesn’t read DWS or KKR. ๐Ÿ™‚ But as a new writer, it’s a jungle out there, and a lot of hungry predators (preditors?) will prey on anyone.

    BTW, I do the same as you. And I have a fantastic First Reader who catches a LOT, but I’ve used betas too (which DWS says is a no-no too). ๐Ÿ™‚

  3. Great advice and wisdom there, Babe. It’s sad how many writers get sucked into that editor vacuum and lose their voice, their spark.


    Thanks Love. Wish I could take credit. I can’t – h/t to DWS and KKR for their amazing wisdom though. LTY2!

  4. The editor I’m currently working with just finished a pass that was more content than typo/grammar. It’s been very useful to me, as I wrote the book over a very long time and had kind of forgotten what was in there. She pointed out several setups that I didn’t pay off at the end as well as a couple of things that deserved a setup near the beginning. Also, there was stuff that flat out didn’t make sense, as lots of storyworld had stayed in my brain and didn’t make it to the page. There were also a couple of viewpoint issues that needed to be fixed, or they’d be distracting. All in all, I am extremely happy with her suggestions, which were always more like “This doesn’t work” than “this is how to fix it.” Basically she’s like a really useful team of alpha readers all rolled into one. And she’s charging far less than $2400. Once I get off my duff and finish my edits, she’ll do a typo/grammar/polish pass.

    Anyway, rather than this sounding like gloating (after all no money has flowed my way yet), I think the important thing is to know exactly what you want out of an editor and just keep looking around until you find it at a price you’re willing to pay.

    I think this is interesting, Bryce, considering you’re paying someone to do something a few of us who know you on the ‘Net have done for free. I believe I did similar things for you with The Journey of St. Laurent, and if you didn’t think the suggestions were good, you never said anything. I thought a few of us helps with Oasis too; again, from ‘Net, and maybe largely in comments on your blog as you posted it, but I did offer to do a complete pass when you were ready to publish it. My point is, while I think you’ve got a valid points, and I’m certainly glad you’re happy with what you’re paying for and getting, a group of alpha- or beta readers might have done a good portion of this for you. I paid a very, very reasonable fee for my last copyedit, but it turned out to be unnecessary because the beta readers I asked to look it over found everything the copyeditor might have flagged.

    As always, good to have your insights to the topic. ๐Ÿ™‚

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