Wanted: A Good Editor
Blogger: Janet Kobobel Grant
In Shakespeare’s Richard III, the king famously begs for a horse so he can join in the fight to save a war by proclaiming, “A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse.” Woe unto the king, who is about to lose his kingdom for want of a horse. Authors, too, might well cry for an integral player in a book’s (and career”s) success, “An editor, an editor, my career for an editor.”
A few weeks ago I launched into a novel I had been eager to start. But by the time I had reached page 10, I was wondering if it would be presumptuous for me to write an email to the acquisitions editor (to whom I’ve sold a number of projects) to gently mention the three glaring grammatical errors that tweaked my nose out of shape and interrupted my appreciation of the book: the word “unique” with a modifier; a dangling participle that changed the meaning of a sentence; and a misused noun.
I know not everyone would find these errors worthy of proclaiming a kingdom lost, but haven’t you read a book and wondered how the editor could have allowed the shambles of that manuscript to be typeset? I belong to a local book club, and as the only person who works in publishing, I’m often left trying to explain to the group how a disjointed text ended up being published. Uh…
That lack of editorial skill and oversight doesn’t occur just in publishing houses but also among free-lance editors. A wise writer knows his or her weaknesses, and if spelling and grammar aren’t your keenest skills, you know you can benefit from not only spell-check (which too few writers actually use) but also the eagle eye of a copy editor.(A copy editor is adept at cleaning up the details of your manuscript.)
If you know your story could use the help of a content editor (who looks at a manuscript’s larger issues such as structure, logic, characterization, etc.), then by all means seek one out.
But here’s the catch: Many individuals who have had a couple of books published have declared themselves free-lance editors. Being an author does not necessarily qualify someone to be an editor. They are two different skill sets. I can edit a novel, but I don’t think I could ever write a good one.
Buyer beware! Don’t just accept that someone is a skilled editor because he or she has been successfully published or because someone teaches English. Here are a few questions you could ask to determine how adept a person is at editing:
- What editing training have you received?
- What courses have you taken that taught you to edit?
- Who has mentored you in editing?
- What books on editing have you studied?
Before you invest in an editor, take a moment to ask questions that go beyond, “What projects have you edited?” Because some publishers no longer have in-house editors, they rely on free-lancers. That means even those with less than stellar skills can show you a list of their achievements. Keep in mind that the editor you’re talking to might have been the editor of the book I read that was laden with examples of bad editing.
Have you employed an editor? How did you find him or her? What criteria did you use to select that person?