Friday, 1 August 2008

Why you should hire an editor (or consider it)

Writers need editors. Have you ever come across a spelling error in a newspaper photo caption or within the text itself? Or found character and plot inconsistencies in a novel? Or maybe you noticed the numbers didn’t add up in the facts an author used to illustrate a point. For various reasons, including the ones listed, writers need editors to catch and fix errors ─ and not just typos and grammatical faux pas.

It seems basic and obvious, but it’s surprising how many writers fight the very idea of an editor. Writers write; editors edit (and sometimes we re-write, but not very often, and not without express permission to do so).

A rule any good editor goes by is this: first, do no harm. We have to approach a writer’s work with care, understanding that the material before us does not belong to us, but rather to someone else who has spent countless hours, weeks, and often years, preparing the manuscript. We can’t go in and do a hack-job, completely altering meaning and sense, rearranging sentences and paragraphs willy-nilly. That’s’ not what it’s about, and if an editor ever did that to your work, you’d have every reason to be furious. A good editor is like a gardener, weeding what has overgrown beyond the scope of the work, adding when things have been omitted, deleting when things have been repeated.

Obviously, you’ve written that book/short story/article/essay because you have something to say and communicate to the public at large. Effective communication is clear communication, free of clutter and wordiness. As a writer, you have so many ideas vying for attention that they overcrowd your brain until some become stronger than others; but, because the mind works quickly, things eventually end up getting jotted down at random. What you think makes sense, often lacks consistency, unity, cohesiveness ─ and there comes a point where you’ve read over the work so much, that it all seems fine to you, and frankly, you just want to get the thing out of your hair and onto your publisher’s desk. That’s when you stop and pause for a brief moment. Sage advice says to put things in a drawer for a while, to not think about the work or look at it for weeks or months, even. Reality says: who has that kind of time?

Enter said editor.

Hiring an editor is an excellent way to get a second opinion and have a fresh set of eyes review the material. This is a person who has studied and trained in the art of words and language. They’ll provide an impartial assessment and analysis of what you’ve written. Yes, once returned to you, your document might be covered in red pencil (or have solid red margins from all those Track Changes), but the writing will be markedly improved. I didn’t say the ideas would be improved or altered – just the writing.

An editor will make your writing clearer and more concise. What you want to say will be error-free (no embarrassing situations for you!) and will ensure that only your best face is put forth. Bottom line: an editor can make your communication messages clear, correct, and market-appropriate. Doesn’t that make hiring an editor worth it?

* Next article: How to find an editor