For Writers: What Your Editor Knows and You Don't
It's been a while since I've written a "Working with an Editor" post, but after my most recent experience, I was reminded how much I don't know. Seriously, my use of misplaced modifiers and certain overused words is embarrassing. Let's not even talk about my incorrect use of lie/lay/lying and so on. Let's move forward and ignore all of the errors I will make in this post.
Without an editor, my books could not be published. Not only do we have fun with
the comments (she teaches, I hem and haw, she teaches more, I grumble, she often wins), I learn a few things in the process. There is a significant difference between the mistakes I can recognize now and what I could see when I first started publishing. The editing process has become streamlined, but that is 100% because of my team. Beta reader, editor, proofreader, and back to the editor. Take away a person on the team, and it does not work.
The beta reader, editor, and I make a great team for short stories. Easy to read, easy to edit, but novellas and novels are different beasts, aside from the obvious word count. Those extra words may not seem like much, but they are a big deal when determining how many people it takes to properly review and edit a book. Enter the proofreader. That magical member of the team who has not already read the book multiple times. They sit with the manuscript for the first time, waiting for all of those pesky errors to reveal themselves.
It so happens that the proofreader for my upcoming book, Wild Montana Winds, is a retired English teacher. I've had the pleasure of working with her on a few books, and poems, and boy, does my editor know how to pick the good ones. She picks grammatical errors out of a manuscript like a pro, because she is one. And that's the key—professionals.
A lot of people hang their editor shingle, but not all of them are qualified. It's true that even editors at big publishing houses can miss an error or two, or three. It happens. The ONLY author whose books I've read that appeared 100% error-free are those of John Grisham. I'm convinced it has to do with his multiple self-editing process (which we should all adopt). However, even if we self-edit multiple times, most of us authors lack that finely-honed skill to find what doesn't belong. We've spent so much time with the story, that the words jumble together in our minds until we read what we want rather than see what is actually there. At least that is how it works for me.
Enter the team. Beta readers are rarely professionals. They are readers, people who know what they like in a story and can help the author with the "big picture." Editors are the ones tasked with making sure the manuscript will meet the needs of the publisher, author, and reader, in both technical terms and overall quality. The proofreader is as I mentioned above: the fresh set of eyes to help root out misplaced modifiers and incorrect tense usage (and more) that I cannot get away with keeping.
What does the editing team know that I don't? A lot. Even after six years, I am in awe of what I still don't know and what they do. There is a reason authors aren't meant to work alone, and why reputable publishers have legions of editors and proofreaders—because we can't do it alone. It takes a team to turn what the author has labored, wept, and sweated over into a book ready for readers.
Be kind, be humble, and write on!