Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Editors: It Takes One to Know One

Editors. We all need one. Or do we? I know a few authors who successfully self-edit, but for the most part, authors rely on editors to perfect their books prior to publication. But how do authors find the right editor for their book? Some rely on references from friends. Others carefully review samples of the prospective editor’s work. Some sift through the tons and tons of advertisements and websites of those who edit professionally. I’d say most authors use a combination of these three vetting methods.

If you’re an author who doesn’t know the basics of grammar, or if you’re an author who doesn’t do a lot of reading, how can you be certain the editor of your choice knows what they’re doing?

You can’t.

If you don’t know the basics of grammar, you can go ahead and write your book. I’m not here to tell you not to follow your dream. I’m not going to tell anyone to give up. But I am going to tell you this: If you don’t know the basics of grammar and sentence structure, you won’t have any clue as to whether or not your editor does good work. You won’t know if you’re getting a well-edited finished product. Until the bad reviews come rolling in, you won’t know you’ve been ripped off. Taken for a ride. Betrayed by a wannabe editor who pocketed your money in exchange for a substandard editing job.

Same with reading. If you don’t read (a lot!) you won’t know whether or not your book has a decent plot. Good characterization. If you don’t read, how will you know whether or not your book is readable?

I’m seeing this more and more often: Authors who list editors in their acknowledgments, but then publish a book that is clearly poorly-edited. Authors who pay good money and expect (and deserve) a well-edited book, but end up with a barely readable mess-terpiece instead of a masterpiece.

Do you know what all these authors have in common? They don’t know any better. They don’t know their book is a mess. They took the ‘editor’ at their word. Until their dream was crushed under a mountain of bad reviews, the author didn’t know anything was wrong.

Am I saying these authors deserved to be scammed? Absolutely not! No one deserves to be victimized by an incompetent editor. No one deserves to have their dream crushed or their money stolen. Because that’s what it is. Someone who claims to be an editor and then subsequently takes money without producing an acceptable finished product is nothing but a thief. These authors are victims and do NOT deserve to be treated in such a way.

How can we be certain we’re hiring a reliable, experienced editor? Clearly, relying on recommendations from friends is helpful, but not enough. Perusing advertisements on blogs and other writers’ sites is not enough. We have to do our own research. Authors must be able to rely on their own instincts. An author who doesn’t have basic editing and writing skills is at a distinct disadvantage. An author who lacks basic writing skills is not able to make an informed decision when hiring an editor.

A savvy author who knows some basic editing and writing skills can tell after one glance at an editor’s website if there’s a major problems. Errors on the editor’s website should raise a big, red flag. Authors who don’t know the basics will miss the glaring errors on the prospective editor’s website, whereas author’s who know some basic editing skills will give that bad editor a pass.

As authors, we have to know the basics. Some people will try to convince you the story is king and that readers these days don’t care about grammar. I’m sorry, but this simply isn’t true. If you want to be a writer, but don’t know the basics, go ahead and write. Get your story down on paper. Read as much as you possibly can because this will teach you more than any creative writing class ever could. If you can’t afford to take a basic grammar course at a community college or distance learning center, there are free courses you can take online. (ESL online lessons are particularly helpful. Even if English is your first language, these courses really break it down into bite-sized, easy-to-understand portions.)

Write your story. Don’t EVER let anyone tell you not to write. But before you hire an editor, make sure you know what you’re looking for. Make sure you know the difference between a real editor and a scammer. Know what a well-edited book looks like. Brush up on your editing skills and you’ll be better equipped to make a solid decision when it comes to hiring an editor. Take control of your writing career.

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