Who needs an editor?

Jeff Carver has a post on the Hugh Howey article I recommended.  He says:

It’s pretty interesting, although I don’t necessarily agree with everything he says. (For one thing, he doesn’t mention the role that traditional publishers play in helping writers, especially new writers, improve their craft and produce better books. Some say that that role is diminishing these days, but I think it really depends on the publisher and the editor.)

This got me to thinking about just how much help my various editors have been to me.  The answer is: not much. Probably the best known of my editors was Judy-Lynn Del Rey, who bought my first novel for the Del Rey imprint of Ballantine Books.  She did two things, as I recall:

  • She made me change the book’s name to Forbidden Sanctuary, claiming this was a more commercial title than the one I had come up with.  Can’t say if she was right or wrong about that.
  • She pointed out that “He shone the light” should be “He shined the light.”  That’s a fair cop.

And that’s it.  Well, she also ordered a cover that was ludicrously unrelated to the actual events of the book.

My other editors were similar.  They made various small suggestions, some of which were good, some of which weren’t so good (in my opinion).  None of them helped me improve my craft, or made any of my novels substantially better.  They didn’t have the time or the interest.  Or, possibly, the talent.

This is not to say that a good editor can’t help a writer.  I just don’t think the odds are good you’re going to find such an editor in mainstream publishing.  If your book isn’t deemed publishable as it stands, it isn’t going to be published.

What most writers do need is copy-editing.  But, as Howey points out, you can hire a copy editor, just as you can hire an artist to create your cover.  There are lots of people out there who know the difference between shone and shined, even if you don’t.  And they don’t charge very much for their expertise.  When you’re self-publishing, you’re the boss.  That can be a bit scary, but it’s also liberating.

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