Is The Quality Of Editing The Writer’s Responsibility?

By on March 23, 2017

I’ve seen quite a few posts from readers, reviewers, bloggers about how books shouldn’t be evaluated on the basis of editing because ‘It isn’t the writer’s fault. It is the editor’s fault.’

That’s very generous but it isn’t correct.

Bad editing IS the writer’s fault. A competent writer knows when her story is badly edited. She either hires a more competent editor if she’s self-publishing or she hires an additional editor if she’s with a publisher.

Yes, I heard those gasps. We, writers, usually don’t control whom the publisher hires to edit our stories. If we’re assigned a bad editor (and there are some of those in the business, even at the big New York publishers) and the publisher refuses to change our editor AND we care about the quality of our stories, we sometimes have to fix the problem by hiring our own editors. I’ve done this. Other writers have also.

If we can’t afford an editor, there’s always the critique partner route. Again, we have control over who critiques our stories and we have control over the quality of editing. It is our job to know the difference between a good edit and a bad edit.

Should a story receive a poor review because it has two or three typos? I read, on average, a romance novel a day and I have yet to read one that has no typos. There are no perfect stories. BUT the story should be readable. The errors shouldn’t be distracting.

There Are Different Types Of Editors

There are two main types of editors.

Content/Development Editors – These are the big picture folks. They look at our stories at the overall story and the scene levels. Does the story work? Are the main characters sympathetic? Do they have solid GMCs (Goals, Motivations, Conflicts)? Does every scene work? Is every scene needed? Do the scenes flow? Is the story structure right? Is the pacing right? Etc.

Line/Copy Editors – These are the detail folks. They look at our stories from the sentence level, hunting for typos, grammar goofs, that one wrong word choice that could change the story completely, echoes (repeated words or phrases), etc.

Some editors will do both.

It is important to know which type of editor we’re hiring. The bad editing that readers often talk about is due to bad line/copy edits. The writer will be assigned full responsibility for a bad content edit.

If you’re hiring both types of editors, I advise having the content edit completed first. It makes no sense to fix a sentence if the entire scene will be revised.

How To Find A Great Editor

The best way to find a great editor is through recommendations from other writers, preferably writers in your niche (especially for content edits). Read the writers’ books. Ensure they have the quality of editing you desire.

Editors will often ask for a few pages and give you a sample edit. This ensures they like your writing and you like their style of edits.

I changed editors a few times before I found one I worked well with (ELF – . That’s normal. It might take you a while to find your editor also. When you do, I suspect you’ll never want to let her go.

If you do let her go, remember that editors talk. It is an even smaller club than the writing club. Professionalism is a must.

What Editors Do And Don’t Do

Editors point out errors or places where the story can be improved. They will note these in the comments or in track changes or in a separate note/email. They rarely fix these errors. That’s the writer’s responsibility.

And we WANT this to be our responsibility. These are our stories. Our names are on the covers. Readers are buying our distinct voices. We should always have the choice of accepting or declining any changes, especially when it comes to content edits.

I almost always agree with a content editor’s suggestion that my story/scene needs to be revised. If an editor has an issue with it, usually readers will have an issue with it also. I can’t remember the last time I agreed with a content editor’s suggestion of HOW to revise it. That is our specialty, not the editor’s, and again, our solutions will be as individual as we are. How you fix the issue won’t be the way I fix the issue.

I also don’t always agree with a line editor’s suggestion. We, writers, know what words our characters would use, what words WE would use. Line editors, because they look at the story at a sentence level, aren’t always as aware as we are.

Repeated Issues

If an issue is repeated, often editors will give writers one comment about it. It is our responsibility to change the issue throughout the story.

For example, when I was a newer writer, an editor once told me to reduce the narrative in my story. I didn’t know what narrative was (sheepish grin) so I talked to a buddy (Christine d’Abo). She explained what narrative was, pointed out an example of it in my story, and suggested a way to fix it. That was my responsibility, not the editor’s.

Brand Watchdog

I’ve worked with my editor for years. She not only ensures my stories are as good as we can make them (though I tend to continue tweaking after we’ve finalized a story and that causes errors – grimaces) but she will also tell me if a new story will shock or disappoint my regular reading buddies.

A good editor, if she cares about you and your career, will ‘reject’ a story. Again, we are the masters of our own destinies. We can ignore this rejection and push ahead (I never have – I trust ELF and have completely re-written stories based on her feedback). But at least, we’ll be prepared for the reaction from readers.

Do You NEED An Editor?

There are writers who don’t need editors. They write super clean. Their stories are as tight as stories can be. These writers are rare but they exist.

I’m not one of those fortunate folks. I NEED an editor (whether paid or a critique partner). I require help with story. I need assistance with typos. I like having the reassurance of knowing someone else thinks my story is solid.

But there are no rules in writing. And, again, WE are responsible for the editing in our stories. Do what works for you and your readers and what makes you happy.


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