Everyone needs an editor!
Written by
Maria Murnane
January 2012
Written by
Maria Murnane
January 2012

If you decide to independently publish, it's critical to have multiple sets of eyes review your work before pulling the trigger. I strongly recommend hiring a professional creative editor and a professional copy editor. If you don't have the budget for either, solicit input from friends, coworkers, or anyone else willing to help for nothing more than your gratitude and a signed copy of your book. (Be sure to include them in the acknowledgements!)

Creative editors help identify and fix problems with the major elements of your book, such as plot, character development, pacing, and style. However, not everyone is comfortable providing constructive criticism - especially to loved ones - so it's important to choose people who aren't afraid to tell it to you straight.

Copy editors have eagle eyes for typos, missing words, punctuation, grammar, repetition, etc. After so many hours of writing, rewriting, and tweaking, our brains begin to play tricks on our eyes, and we often see words that aren't there, or we don't see words that are. My mom proofread my most recent novel for me before I turned it over to anyone else, and she found more than 100 errors! Copyediting can be a great job for friends who want to help but aren't cut out for the "tough love" approach required to be an effective creative editor.

The bottom line is that when it comes time to edit your book (or promotional sign, see above), you need to check your ego at the door and welcome any feedback you can get - good, bad, or ugly. It's much better to hear the criticism from trusted friends now than from disappointed readers later, right?

 -Maria :)

Maria Murnane writes romantic comedies and provides consulting services on book publishing and marketing. Learn more at www.mariamurnane.com.

This blog post originally appeared on CreateSpace.com. Reprinted with permission. © 2011 CreateSpace, a DBA of On-Demand Publishing, LLC. All rights reserved.

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  • Diane O\'Connell

    Ha! I pressed "add comment" too quickly. When I re-read my comment I saw that I wrote "Beward of editors who are really copy editors." What I meant to say was "Beware....." I certainly see the irony in that comment.

  • Diane O\'Connell

    Sally, you have a lot of very good questions about finding a suitable editor. Many "creative editors" cover a wide variety of genres, which is what many editors with a long history of working "in house" have to do. When I was at Random House, I edited YA, women's fiction, proscriptive non-fiction, men's action/adventure, etc. So I'd say to first find an editor with real-life experience. There's no real standard way that creative editors work, but most of them will provide a detailed editorial letter discussing your manuscript's strengths and weaknesses, and giving specific feedback about how to improve your work. Beward of editors who are really copy editors. While copy editors are a vital part of the editing process, they come in last -- after all the developmental editing has been done.

    As far as who should be hiring an editor, anyone who wants to get published would be well advised to have a professional editor go over their manuscript. Agents these days are looking for projects that are ready to go "out of the gate," so the better polished your work is, the greater chance you have of getting published.

    As far as the "literary consultancy" goes, that just may be what the company is calling itself. They may indeed do editing.

    Hope this answers your questions!

  • Sally Panayiotou

    I've just seen that Diane was clearly typing out a response to one of my questions in response to someone else while I was typing it!

  • Sally Panayiotou

    I'd be really interested to know what anyone with experience of this thinks is the best way of going about finding a creative editor. Should we look for people in our genre (I'm currently working on a YA paranormal) or do editors tend to cover a range of genres?

    Is there a standard way that creative editors work, or do styles vary?

    Also, this something that writers should do before they submit sample and synopsis to agents, or is this more a step for writers who are self-publishing?

    I've used a "literary consultancy" before, but I'm actually not sure if that's the same as a creative editor or not!

    Sorry for all the questions, but this post has clearly got me thinking!

    Thank you, Sally

  • Diane O\'Connell

    @Lisa, it really is important to find an editor who "gets you." When shopping for an editor, you can tell a lot by the way she replies to your email or converses with you. You want to make sure you both "click." Short story: When I was a senior editor at a major magazine, we had a regular contributor who was truly funny and a bit snarky. Well, the ed-in-chief totally didn't get his humor and edited his pieces to the point where they were as bland as a slice of Wonderbread. Eventually, we lost that writer who went where his writing was better appreciated. There's no hard and fast rule about finding a good editor; it's really more about checking out the editor's credentials and seeing if you get a good feeling about him or her. I've actually turned down potential clients whose work I felt I couldn't click with. Ultimately, this was better for the writers who found editors who did understand what they were doing.

  • Zetta Brown

    I'm an editor and edit other people's work for a living. I'm also an author and I know I need an editor. I'm not so vain to think that I don't. Pobody's nerfect.

  • Nella Freund

    Editing is vital - there is nothing more off-putting than an un-edited, badly punctuated, rambling manuscript with spelling mistakes. As for promotional signs or boards, Cape Town is rife with them, many very funny. Even newspapers have their headlines on lampposts with spelling mistakes (always that damn apostrophe).

  • Marie Cruz

    I agree completely!!

  • As an avid reader, I completely agree. I don't mind an occasional error; even traditional publishing houses have editors who miss something once in a while. But so many of the self-published books I've purchased have been written by authors who don't seem to understand basic grammar or punctuation. It makes it difficult to read, even if the characters and plot are interesting.

  • Mary L. Holden

    The category "creative editor" intrigues me. I think I've been doing something like this for my clients, only my goal is to help them best express themselves through their own voice. It's a little like coaching---I used to coach my daughter's softball team because I was lucky to have had good coaches when I was a young player. I am in the process of evaluating the way in which I contract to do business with authors and the idea of "creative editing" is a new concept that I will mull and discern. This is an incredibly valuable website and I am appreciative!

  • Juliet Greenwood

    Totally and utterly true! 

    I found I learnt an incredible amount through the creative editing process. It made me a much better writer and gave me the courage to be far more ambitious and dig deeper, especially in emotional scenes. I've never worked so hard or been challenged so much. But it was worth it. 

    I've just finished copy-editing my book - my goodness, that was an eye-opener. The eye sees what it thinks is there, especially after being over the same thing again and again. 

    I wish I'd learnt all this before I found a publisher - all those years running round in circles. Hmm. 

    But better late than never .....

  • Catherine McNamara

    I have just spent six months on and off with a creative and copy editor on my debut novel. I had no idea it would be so tough! I don't know how many times we went through the book and there always seemed to be something I couldn't believe I had overlooked. I think it is near impossible to prepare your own work for publication. Best, cat

  • Barbara Bell

    I've been an editor for many years - currently I'm doing both creative AND copy editing for a manuscript that will be self-published and it is a rewarding job. I really enjoy editing - more than writing - but writing challenges me in different ways.

  • I'm on the fifth edit of my second book, and still finding some errors and sentence structure I want to change. My daughter did the proofing for me on my first book, "Ruby Rocksparkle." I had two reviews done on that book, and there was no mention of writing errors -  but that book was aimed at young adults and had only 200 pages. This one, "My Heart Remembers," is a mainstream novel about star-crossed lovers, and has five hundred pages. This time the editing is taking me forever, and of course, I can't try to market it until it is as perfect as I can get it. Wish I had the money to avail myself of the creative and copy editors you recommend, but I haven't. And then successfully marketing a book that is self-published is a real problem for me. I need some "Open Sesame" suggestions for gaining entrance through those doors.

  • Liz Carmichael

    Could not agree more. I am both a writer and an editor, and the both sides of me are shocked by the many slips made during rewrites and edits. Putting the MS away for six months works for me most of the time for finding typos - but - having someone else go over your work is a must, however good you think you are.

  • Mary L. Holden

    The best job I've ever had is being a freelance editor for people who want to self publish. Helping an author refine a manuscript is so rewarding! I wrote a novel myself (as yet unpublished) just so I could appreciate the work that goes into writing. I hope to hire an editor when I can find some time to dedicate to self publishing between manuscript projects!

  • Lisette Brodey

    Editing is everything! Great post.

  • Regina Y. Swint

    Great advice, Maria!  I wholly agree.  I always tell my other writer friends, if anyone ever tells you that you don't need any editing, thank them...and then go find an editor.  Everyone needs editing.

  • Tyra Brumfield

    I enjoyed reading your short article (love short articles that get to the point) on hiring an editor. I have some editing abilities and will use those skills on my first novel and hope to get a friend or two to read through it also (writers' groups have done both harm and good to the writing process). I'm getting anxious to publish; however, and if I follow the suggestions above, the finish line will be pushed further and further from my reach. Better to be safe than sorry, I guess, so I'll have to petition to the skill I'm least proficient in: waiting.

  • Carolyn Niethammer

    Boy,  I could not agree more.  I have 9 published books by various commercial publishers and in all cases the editors have been great.  They have saved me from numerous embarrassments.  I think editing and writing must use different parts of the creative brain, because I can edit for others and see problems that elude me in my own work.  In fact, I am coordinating a panel on cookbook writing for the Tucson Festival of Books and I'm insisting that an editor be on the panel along with several writers.  There is no genre in which a good editor is more essential. In a novel, a reader might be mystified by a character that appears out of nowhere or does something that doesn't tract, but a cookbook writer has such a responsibility to lead the reader/cook to a delicious conclusion rather than a terrible mess that doesn't rise, doesn't brown or many other awful outcomes.

  • JoAnne Graham Fletcher

    I totally agree in getting someone who will help you with any material that you are about to publish.  I wish I had such when I wrote my first novel.

  • Susan Barrett Price

    Wise words.