The Year of the Editor?

The last three or four years have been interesting ones in my industry. When I began freelancing in 2004, the Kindle didn’t exist, Nashville’s Davis-Kidd Booksellers did exist,* and folks who wrote novels sought deals with publishers who handled everything from editing to print to marketing. Sing it with me: Those were the days, my friend; we thought they’d never end.

As the industry began to change a few years later, one of the things I found most surprising was the lack of knowledge about publishing—and most specifically, the kinds of editorial attention a manuscript should get. Folks thought, maybe, editing meant making sure all the words were spelled correctly and the punctuation was where it should be. It never occurred to them that they needed an editor to help them with their own stories. They didn’t understand there were different types of editors either. And they got sticker shock when they asked for quotes on editorial services.

All of this is important knowledge, of course, because these days it’s completely possible and sometimes desirable to self-publish. Knowing hasn’t always translated to doing, though; plenty of folks have self-published without a lick of editorial, I’m sorry to say, whether due to ignorance or lack of funds or supreme self-confidence or who knows what.

But this subject—and it’s an important one to me because it’s how I make my living—seems to be reaching critical mass. People with bigger, more important platforms than mine (mine, actually, is more like one of those little plastic stepstools you can pick up at Walmart for $6.98) have been talking about it. It may be that 2013 is the Year of the Editor. At last.

Over at Writer Unboxed, author Barbara O’Neal wrote “The Value of Editors,” a post that warmed the cockles of my cold little heart.

My editor loves my work and knows how to speak in ways that I can hear her. I hate getting the manuscript back because I know it will be a lot of work, but I am always so desperately grateful that I’m not going it alone, that I have help and support and clear eyes to help me. Every writer has blind spots and points of brilliance. When you find an editor who can help you minimize the first and polish the second, you’re going to write a book that is about 20 times the book you could produce on your own. That is what my editor does for my work. Isn’t that what we all want? The very best book possible?

Oh yes, yes, that’s exactly what I want for you: the best book possible.

Inspired by this article, Porter Anderson, in his feature Writing on the Ether, took it one step further in “Pros vs. Your BFFs,” reminding folks about the importance of hiring industry professionals.

Professional writers like O’Neal know not to go to market with something that hasn’t been handled by professional editors—developmental editors and copy editors. Many non-professionals, clearly, don’t easily get this. … But you come across folks frequently these days who believe their lay relatives and best bubbas can analyze their narrative arcs, discern the drawbacks in their characters’ inter-relationships, and impose a stylebook’s standards on their prose.

As Anderson says: no, kids, you can’t edit yourself. And neither can your mom. You need a professional.

You can find plenty of folks who are calling themselves editors, of course. (That’s another post entirely.) But publishing expert Jane Friedman, in an interview at All the Write Stuff, says this about that:

The biggest change by far is the growing voice and footprint of the self-publishing and e-publishing community, and the associated explosion of services for the independent author. While some of these services are much needed and welcome, it’s difficult for a new writer, without a history of experience, to distinguish between a service that’s worth her time or money, and one that is not. When in doubt, look carefully at the background and qualifications of the people who provide the service, and avoid those that don’t clearly identify who you’re working with.

She’s said a mouthful, there, so parse it carefully. I emphasized some for you.

So, just to recap:

• You should learn about the industry.
• You do need an editor, for every single manuscript.
• Neither your best friend or your mom are professional editors, probably.
• You can find one, but better check the qualifications.

All of these posts came out in the same week of February, so it’s got me thinking that maybe, just maybe, this could be the year. Librarian! A round of books for everyone!

* The less said about that bunch who bought it in 1997 the better, though.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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6 Comments

  1. Grace says:

    I’ve been thinking about this for a while. I’d be more than willing to save up (if I needed to) to hire someone to edit my book, but, here’s the tricky part, where to look first? Any suggestions?

  2. Grace says:

    You offering? It depends on price, really. Like I said, I’d be willing to save up, but it’s like buying a car or something else really valuable; as much as you like the first one you see, and despite the fact that it’s most likely the one you’ll come back to, still check out the others, just in case.

    • Jamie says:

      Thank you, I think. :) I asked because I had a guy stumble on one of my posts and ask the same question (and he truly hadn’t realized it). You might read my FAQs (http://www.jamiechavez.com/faq.php) for more about obtaining a quote and how long my queue is. I haven’t really ever developed a comprehensive list of my competitors (I should do that, though, agreed) although I do have a list of editors I know personally (and trust) to whom I pass inquiries when I am overbooked.

  3. Grace says:

    Another quick question – does it make a difference if I live in the UK? I assume not because of how much it’s e-mail exchanges rather than anything else, but thought it best to check anyway.

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  1. […] state of the industry lately, and I’m tempted to say that’s because not much has changed since the last time we did. But really it’s just that I’ve had a busy year without much of myself left over for […]

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