-or- How Editors Make Every Better and Where Can I Find One?

There’s a lot of mystery wrapped around the role of editor. Most of us have a vague idea that it’s some sort of big deal. After all jobs that end in “tor” usually are. But beyond that, the title means a lot of different things to different people. But editors can shape a written piece almost as much as authors. I’m sure some of you have noticed when your favourite writers changed editors and how it affected their works (cough Martin cough).

I’m not going to pretend to be an expert on the subject either. However, just like DJs and music producers slowly started to get a share of the spotlight, I think it’s time we acknowledge the fine work editors do. 

writing is really hard guys

If I am to believe anime and manga (most manga having an editor or two. Just saying it may not be the most impartial source is all), editors are long suffering, eternally working angels. Half of their job seems to be wrangling selfish eccentric authors, keeping out of trouble at their own expense, taking care of all their personal needs like a parent, then praising non-stop to protect their little egos. We see these selfless souls go through heck with no recognition at all, simply for the joy of seeing their clients succeed. We rarely see them edit anything.

I have a sneaky suspicion some of that may go down a smidge differently in real life. First, I’m not certain how much of the editor’s job consists of being a personal assistant. I’m inclined to say 0 but I’m sure it does happen from time to time. I mean none of my job is baking but I have brought cookies to work on occasion. I also doubt there’s that much babysitting going on. Unless you’re a huge author already, your publisher is way more likely to drop you if you can’t get your act together, than to pay an editor to hold your hand.

that’s a relief…

In practice, a lot of people think of editors as a combination of proof readers and fact checkers with a sprinkling of media consultant for good measure. And in some instances that may be a fairly accurate description. However, all of these jobs exist in their own right, and just because you  already have someone correcting all your typos, doesn’t mean you can’t use an editor.

Editors are a second brain, a fresh pair of eyes. After spending any amount of time writing something, you will inevitably lose your ability to appreciate it objectively. Even on basic levels. For instance, it’s not that easy to gauge common knowledge. Something that’s completely obvious to you may not be to your audience. How many times have you said or heard “I thought everybody knew that…,”? Since we can’t go about explaining everything, it becomes incredibly useful to have someone else come in and simply make sure everything is clear.

A good editor will greatly help with flow of your writing as well. They aren’t reading the price as it’s being created, or rereading it for the 15th time on autopilot. As such, they are usually much better at making sure everything is structured in the best possible way and points follow in a logical manner. Sometimes, just moving a paragraph around can make a world of difference. In fact, even image placement


in a post or article can have an impact.

Moreover, a great editor can considerably enrich your writing. After all, this is an entire second brain with a separate wealth of knowledge and a unique perspective to draw on. They can suggest angles you may not have considered or add some interesting information on the subject you were not aware of.

However, editing is very hard. Rather, like most things, it’s hard to do well. Let me use myself as an example. My writing gets edited at work. All of it. For the most part I write very dry legal/technical text which are painful to read. I mean that. Most patents will give anyone that’s ever had so much as a passing interest in the literary arts, nausea. Sometimes I think they’re written that way just to be impossible to understand and make patent layers sound smart.

But I also write to correspondents and clients. Depending on nationality and the nature of our relationship, these communications vary greatly in formality and warmth. They need to stay professional of course but you have to be careful not to alienate anyone or make your work sound mass produced. There’s also a matter of corporate entity. The firm itself has a specific tone it wants to convey through all correspondence. However, these should remain personalized and accessible.

These writings are also edited and here is where it gets tricky. I will occasionally use slang or colloquialisms with people I have known for a long time or with people who are uncomfortable with overly stuffy language. I will write in short, trite sounding sentences when sending instructions to certain countries because I know they will be easier to translate in the local language.

I’m just considerate that way!

I will write with elaborate and flowery language when dealing with younger examiners, while being careful to drop the pretence and be as clear and concise as possible with more experienced ones.  There are a ton of variables that will change the tone, structure and vocabulary I decide on.

As a result, I often find myself “uncorrecting” work… I forgot to mention, we also make up words a lot. These are brand new innovations after all, sometimes the names don’t exist yet… So a well meaning editor or underwriter will have gone over a letter, improved it considerably, expanded the vocabulary, corrected sentence structure deleted repetitions, and in the process completely destroyed the tone I had carefully created. I tell this guy to sign the forms in three seperate paragraphs because I know he’ll just read one at random then delete the email. So I put all the important stuff in every paragraph through all the info that legally has to be there but it’s ok if he doesn’t read….

You may think that none of this applies to a blog. You’re writing for the same readers everyday after all. But there are still subtleties to consider. Your voice is unique and personal, this can get lost if you’re not careful. After all, if we all wrote with perfect non regional grammar, in the clearest and most concise way, our posts would start to look very similar.

why is this so hard!

Then there’s a question of style. A while ago, I was seeing people type out stuttering for some reason. My own writing gets erratic and the concept of ending sentences gets thrown out the window when I get excited about something. I’m simulating breathlessly getting caught up in the subject with my poor sentence structure. Yup, totally on purpose. It’s not like I’ve always been prone to running sentences or sumeffin.

How is a poor editor supposed to seperate stylistic and tonal choice from plain old errors? I dunno. I think they’re wizards maybe. Certainly it helps if the editor and writer know each other well. But beyond that, it’s always going to be a give and take. A compromise and union of both voices. Sweet, wouldn’t you say.

Let’s then all take a second to appreciate how difficult and important an editor’s job is. And if you happen to know one, introduce me will ya?

maybe we can come to an…understanding

42 thoughts

  1. Even though I’m not qualified to be an editor of any kind I’ve actually got experience in this field. It’s typically me reading over what a friend, or a rando has written for a fictional story, and wanting my opinion on it. I do that being as honest as possible to them about what I think about it. I always tell them before sending over their work that I’ll tell them how it is. All the times they appreciate my feedback, significantly less than half of them even bother sending me any follow up material to review.

    This one script was painful to read because throughout the whole the writer didn’t put the name of the characters who were talking. So I read dozen, upon dozen of paragraphs trying to work out who is saying what. There’s another person who work I read where the story went nowhere, and so I asked what the theme of the story. They reply to me asking what’s a theme. I face palm at that moment.

    I also worked as a “editor” for a friend who had a teaching gig reading over a few assignments, and reading their reports. Ugh, I’ll tell you I really hate reading a report, and seeing simple spelling mistakes. Someone forgot to write their name correctly once, and didn’t try hard to hide the fact he basically copied, and pasted things from their history books. My friend appreciated my help the few times he asked me, but hey, I got free food out of it at his place so it worked out for me.

    I’m less than qualify to be an editor of any kind, yet I still occasionally get asked to basically like one XD. Don’t know, guess it’s must be the fact they know I want them to improve, and will be honest with even if it’s harsh.

  2. As someone who’s current;y completing a languages degree, editing is one of the jobs I’m quite curious about. If anyone happens to have any info on how to get into editing that they’d like to share I’d be immensely grateful :3.

  3. (1) Destracting people with an image of someone being distracted to make a point about distraction is ingenious.

    (2) Since people have different ideas about what’s “concise” and “clear”, a simple goal (and perfect grammar) isn’t enough to make people sound very similar. You need fairly restrictive style guides to achieve that.

    (3) It’s not that big a deal if you don’t know whether something’s deliberate or not, especially not during a developmental edit. You flag things and ask questions and listen to the author’s reply.

    As a writer my assumption is this: if an editor doesn’t get that I did something purpose, I didn’t get my purpose across. After all, the editor is likely going to be one of the more experienced and versatile readers I’ll be getting. Does that mean I should take the correction? No, it doesn’t. Shoot her/him a comment on what I tried to do, and either dismissing it as an unnecessary affection (I’m prone to those) and re-write, or figure out another way to do it, or figure out if there’s a problem elsewhere in the text that interferes with my intention (example: I recently read the word “poster” as “something you pin to your wall” rather than as the intended “person who posts a reply”, because I read the word “logo” in the same sentence).

    In the only thing I ever a published (two poetry translations with article in a workshop situation) somehow “not very desirable” turned into “not only desirable”, which sounds like a copy editing goof. It’s a tad unfortunate, as the line makes not sense whatsoever now, but it’s also not that much of a shame, because the article wasn’t very good. I’m not being modest; I undertand, or more precisely I can imagine, why the goof had happened, and I’m fairly certain that a developmental edit would have caught the problem. Here’s the problem: the workshop situation replaced the developmental edit stage, but it was a university course on poetry translation which I’ve retaken quite a lot because it was fun. So have some other people, so whoever read that article would have known me pretty well, auto-reading stuff as “typically Dawnstorm”. And that’s a problem of target readership right there. I got lazy and relied on Dawnstorm quirks and shortcuts. It’s no wonder that someone at another University who’d read my text without the benefit of knowing me would get confused, and if streched for time they’d just place the most common collocation and hurry on. (They’re copy editors who shouldn’t have to deal with developmental problems; this one’s definitely to a large part on me.)

    The point of this? Communication: if there’s something to talk about don’t hold back. Don’t assume the editor knows better than you, but be aware that just placing something deliberately doesn’t make it work. Also, be aware of the deadline. If there’s no time to solve a problem (or solving a problem won’t make the text that much better), there’s always Option C: “When in doubt, re-write to avoid the problem.”

    (I’d probably be less rambly with a good editor. Heh.)

  4. Recently finished a pair of related books by the same author (basically, books on the Apollo program). He credits the split and the structure of the books to his editor pointing out that the mass of material he was trying to massage into coherence actually wanted to be two books. The books are the better for it, but I wish they’d had the conviction to say “you really should read book y first”.

  5. Wow, you make the position sound so glorious! I intern as an editor and am currently aiming to be a full-fledged one someday. Aside from the grammatical/technical bits, a lot of it is about having good intuition (which I am…currently still developing)!

      1. Thank you. I admit, with my blog posts and other casual writing I can sometimes get a bit lazy though. I’m always bound to be way more careful with client work then I am with my own.

  6. This is why fanfiction is so important as a stepping stone for new fiction authors. They post their stories online and the readers comment, which works as an editor to point out the flaws in the story. Most bad fanfiction authors shrug and try not to make the mistake again, or correct the error in spelling or grammar and post the chapter again, replacing the flawed one. They can gradually get better that way. Bad authors post their stories without hitting F7 (spellcheck on every single word processor), don’t fix the problems reviews point out, leaving the errors up and they get bad reviews and end up dropped. Structural problems in the story get pointed out in reviews too.

    The most active authors like Christopher Nuttall, post their work on Forums like Spacebattles, which has very active reviews and lets reviewers comment on each other too, which is like getting an entire editorial board, not just a single editor. And its free. This is more difficult to accomplish in blogs, since few bloggers will fix errors in a post, as they are busy writing the next one to keep their numbers up.

    1. “This is more difficult to accomplish in blogs, since few bloggers will fix errors in a post, as they are busy writing the next one to keep their numbers up.”

      Not just that, but few commenters will make more than polite noises. There are occasional stilted polite discussions, but rarely do commentators take issue with a blogger’s arguement or structure. (That’s setting aside the issue of how few comment at all.)

      1. As it happens: no. Though Nuttall did through using Spacebattles. So yes very rarely. But mostly, people can’t get read with original fiction. You have to use a fandom that others are familiar with to get useful editorial information, both from interest and from familiarity of the characters and settings. This is critical. You have to use something people are familiar with in order for them to tell you if you’re doing it wrong. Do you see? And those comments help you become a better author, able to first copy another’s characters and setting and styles, and then use that learning experience to come up with your own setting, like several YA authors did. 50 Shades was fanfiction, after all. Based on Twilight, which was itself fanfiction based on Harry Potter (without credit). Its the fan base that make up the potential readers. If you write for fanfiction nobody likes, you get no editors and gain nothing much from writing in it. That is why some fanfiction genres, like Harry Potter, remain popular decades after the last book was written.

        1. I much prefer original works and those are the ones I read. There are a lot of fantastic self published authors on the web. I loved reading john dies at the end when it was coming out before a publisher picked it up for instance

          1. And that’s great, but it isn’t relevant to the available pool of free editors who read fanfiction and are happy to post reviews of what you write in their preferred fandom. And that’s the issue here. Original fiction doesn’t have a premade audience, so you don’t get free editing. See what I mean?
            I haven’t found a fantasy author that’s better than Terry Pratchett, but his books are so well written nobody complains about the endings so there’s almost no fanfiction. There’s no audience for that, and no editors. Books have to have bad endings to get fanfiction. That’s one of its quirks. Most fans are angry with JK Rowling so there’s 850,000 fanfiction stories for that series ALONE. Think about that.

            1. What I’m saying is that there are plenty of platforms for original fiction that has no copyright issues and is regularly checked out by industry professionals. As such maybe fanfiction is not the one and only option available for aspiring novelists

            2. Uhh.. Good luck with that. Professional editors mostly won’t work for free once they start getting paid. The whole point of fan fiction is the guaranteed audience gives you amateur editing for free. Yes, there’s lots of places to post stories of original fiction, including here. But if your followers don’t happen to also be editors who can read and comment in useful ways, this doesn’t do much for you. Fanfiction works.

            3. And the other issue with publishing original fiction. Unless you have the ability to destroy the post and remove the content, including from the WaybackMachine, you have to have a special publishing contract for “2nd rights” rather than first, and it cuts your profits by half. This might not be so bad, depending on the company, but keep in mind that Amazon is now actively censoring content, including already-published works, without reason or appeal. They even lie about porn, which is currently listed as “Romance” and is about half of what Amazon sells, and half of the purpose of public libraries too. Plenty of irony.
              Original settings and original stories are original, and they’re what people will pay to read. You don’t really want to post those online for free, because they take more work to write, and you then have to pay an editor to review and correct it and still keep it secret for publication. That’s how its always worked. Fanfiction can’t be published for money. It is strictly for practice and improving your skills. *shrug*

      2. If you just want to write fiction of a specific genre, you MIGHT be able to drum up enough interest in the right forum to get useful editorial comments. But it has to be the right genre with a big fanbase and a very active forum with lots of users. Spacebattles is a great example of that, having both Potter and Star Wars and Warhammer fanfics crisscrossing on their creative writing section, but they also have Worm and My Little Pony, which mostly seems to be there for the gay people and rotten girls to offend others with. MLP apparently has a nuke at the conclusion, and Worm is relentlessly evil superhero villains. There’s been Dresden Files and Stargate and Battlestar Galactica fanfiction there. Nuttal is one of the few original authors, and he was given a pass on the requirements because a) his writing is really good quality b)he has an ROB story which are favored there c) he actually uses nukes at least once in his fantasy setting because transfigured uranium 235 and perfect timed shields go together like cornbread and honey and d) he posted his entire series one chapter at a time and it was a good read. I am unaware of any other serious authors posting original fiction there.

  7. I’ve been lucky in this regard. Thanks to the publisher, I’ve had the same editor on all the books for my current series so far, and they are so awesome! Not only do they help correct things that don’t flow as well, check some of the slang – the odd bit of british does seep in sometimes, even writing a Chinese-Canadian character, and she helps pick me up on that – but she also points all the bits that she thinsk work really well or make her laugh. Having that balance in positives and negatives has been great for helping me grow as an author. I certainly appreciate her and the work she puts in. Aside from anything else, my manuscripts must be rpetty ngihtmarish when it comes to having to remind me that I don’t need to sue the word ‘that’ as much as I use it when I speak :p

      1. It was scary to start with, honestly. I’d not been assigned an editor before, so I had no idea what to expect. I’ve seen a few horror stories too where people have had the wrong editors for them. This has definitely worked out well though, so yay 🙂

  8. I have a great respect for editors, especially for action and comedy things. A good cut can really help sell the impact or punchline of a scene.

    Bad editing is also equally as obvious, especially when it attempts to tell a completely different story from the original vision.

      1. Ever seen “Kung Pow: Enter The Fist”? That was a bad martial arts movie edited into a completely different film with comedy voice overs. One of the characters was called Wimp Low and I always think of him when I read the whining of SJW Snowflakes online or on TV. They #owngoal so very hard, and he did it first, as a joke.

        There. That’s what I’m talking about. Film editing and commentary turned into respectable parody from crap source material. Wonderful stuff.

Leave me a comment and make my day!