A lot of writers have misconceptions about professional book editors, which is understandable. After all, giving your book to an editor feels like passing your baby to a critical relative. Before he or she says anything, you’re bracing yourself for negativity.
However, if you can embrace the editing process, you’ll discover that book editors are incredibly helpful. They catch embarrassing problems before your readers can see them. They open your eyes to new possibilities in your writing. In general, they just make your work better.
Before you can get excited about working with an editor, though, you’ll have to get the facts on a number of myths about book editing. Below, we cover six of them.
1. Your writing will become “cookie cutter.”
This myth tends to rear its ugly head when writers have their work looked at by editors at big publishing houses. The fear is that the publisher will want to make your work sound like other published books so it will appeal to a general audience, and their editors are simply tools to accomplish this.
True? No way! Book editors want the best manuscripts they can get. Period. While they may attempt to make parts of your book more conventional in the interest of understandability, no editor wants all books to sound the same. Can you imagine how boring that would be for them and their customers?
2. Editors hate writers.
Maybe they’re failed writer themselves, or they’re sick and tired of reading other people’s work. Perhaps they’re just envious of writers getting all the acclaim. Whatever the reason, they hate writers, and they take out their frustration by doing whatever they can to destroy the books they’re hired to edit.
Can you really imagine a scenario where this is true? If book editors destroyed the manuscripts they were given, they would quickly be out of work. You might feel frustrated with an editor’s note if you disagree with it, but he or she didn’t give that feedback because of animosity toward you. In fact, most editors absolutely love writers and writing, and they got into this line of work to help make amazing books.
3. Editors want to put their voice in your work.
Remember the “failed writer” myth above? This belief falls squarely into that category. Because editors aren’t good enough or driven enough or lucky enough to become “real” writers themselves, they’re going to change your work to get as much of their voice into it as they can. It’s the only way they can put their thoughts and feelings out there.
While there are certainly editors who start out wanting to write, and some who have successful careers as authors, they’re not looking to make your work theirs. After all, you would be lauded as the writer, not them! If an editor makes changes, it’s only because he or she believes those changes will strengthen your work.
4. Good writers don’t need an editor.
Not true! Even the best writers need good editors. Sometimes, it’s the truly gifted writers who need editors the most. Why? Because writing a book means you have to lose yourself in it. Doing this can make for great writing, but it also makes it nearly impossible for you to judge the quality of your own work.
A chapter that seems absolutely vital to you may seem superfluous to an editor because you’ve done a good job of covering that ground elsewhere. Good editors help writers who are mired in the trees of their work to stand back and see the forest again.
5. Editors just change things to justify their jobs.
The idea here is that writers or publishers won’t think editors are worth their salt unless they make a lot of changes. There’s a fairly easy way to disprove this: Ask for the editor’s rationale behind any edits that seem strange or wrong. Skilled editors will always have a reason, even though you may not agree with it. Once you know what that reason is, you’ll be better equipped to decide whether to keep the change.
6. Anyone can edit a book.
Why shouldn’t you just have your spouse edit your book, or your best friend, or your neighbor with an English degree? After all, they know how to write, they understand grammar, and they read a lot of books. Doesn’t that qualify them?
Ask yourself a different question: Do you think just anyone can write a book? Probably not without a high level of knowledge, talent, and some good old trial and error. The same is true for editors. Book editing is a skill. The best editors not only make sure your manuscript is error free but also point out areas of confusion, fix repetition and tonal inconsistencies, and offer overall suggestions to make the work better. Those are skills that have to be developed over time and through specialized training.
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