I originally wrote this as a guest post for Joel Friedlander’s wonderful self-publishing resource site TheBookDesigner.com; it sparked a lot of great conversation and feedback, and it occurred to me that the information might be of interest to a more general readership. If you’ve ever groaned at typos, continuity errors, plot holes or just plain bad writing in a book or blog post, here’s my prescription:
I’ve edited lots of books — children’s books, fantasy, memoirs, self-help, textbooks, and especially books about myths. Myths? I like myths. Heck, I love myths — if we’re talking about myths as “great poems, [that] point infallibly through things and events to the ubiquity of a presence or eternity that is whole and entire in each.”*
If we’re talking about myths in the more negative sense of “untruths,” however, I like them less — especially if they’re myths about my profession and vocation.
Myths and Misinformation about Book Editing
There’s a lot of misinformation and misunderstanding about editors and what they do. Here are seven of those myths that I’d like to clear up:
Myth #1: A good writer doesn’t need an editor.
In these days of self-publication and “service” publishers — who take a percentage of sales for letting the author do all of the work — you hear this a lot. “I’ve slaved over this manuscript for years. I checked it through a hundred times. Microsoft Word’s Spelling and Grammar comes up clean. It’s ready for publication.”
Want an example of a professional book from a world-class author who convinced her publishers to put out the book as-is, without a deep developmental edit (see #3 below)? Look at J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. Pretty good book, and it’s sold millions of copies, absolutely — but it’s at least a hundred pages longer than it needs to be. There’s needless repetition, uneven pacing, and side-plots that go nowhere. You’ll notice that the previous and subsequent books in the bestselling series were much shorter and much tighter. Rowling worked more closely with her editors.
Here’s the fact: if you want your book to be strong, clean, professional, and appealing, for it to affect the readers as you want it to affect them, you need to have it professionally edited. There’s never been a text written that didn’t need editing. By the time you’ve spent weeks, months, or years on a project, you can’t see the words any more. You can see the ideas — the concepts, arguments, plot, and characters — but not every word that’s on the page, or that isn’t, or where there are gaping holes in logic or jumps in style. An editor will. It’s what they’re paid to do. Continue reading Seven Deadly Myths and Three Inspired Truths About Book Editing