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An Editor Will Save You

2014-0930-137087428It’s impossible overestimate how important an editor can be to your work and to you.

I’m a former newspaper journalist, and editors helped me greatly. I learned how to tighten my prose, for one thing, but more important, I learned to question everything, and to look at what I was saying from different points of view. For example, I’d ask myself (after being asked by my editor, countless times over the course of my early days), if something was necessary, if it was true, if it was hearsay or if it was somehow biased. And then I’d try to make sure I struck the right balance between reporting the facts and writing the story with some modicum of style.

I notice that many newspaper articles, in our age of shrinking newspaper staff, are under-edited. Or not edited at all. I believe that the recent much-commented-upon article by Alessandra Stanley of the New York Times, in which she referred to brilliant “Scandal” creator Shonda Rhimes as “an angry black woman,” was just another example of something that no one other than the writer probably looked.

Now, at most newspapers, it’s up to the reporter to make sure the facts are straight. At the Wall Street Journal, where I worked, we hated having to run corrections, but we ran them if a mistake was found in the article. Such mistakes supposedly didn’t count against a reporter, but we all knew better. As a result, we double- and triple-checked, and read the gist of a quote back to someone we’d interview (rather than the exact quote), to make sure we’d understood correctly (and expressed correctly) what was being said. Still, I had my share of mistakes, and I was mortified at every single one. And now, on my own, I try to make sure that I can back up what I say.

If you’re writing a book don’t just count on the editor your publisher gives you. Often that editor is severely overworked and can’t devote enough time to your manuscript. Hire an additional editor yourself. Send the manuscript to a select group of trusted readers who will tell you the truth and spare no punches if they discover something doesn’t work.

Many books are not well edited today – fewer editors work at publishing houses. And successful authors think they don’t need editing, being that they’ve become successful. But this isn’t the case. I know of one writer of extremely popular mysteries who left her first editor – the one whose editing was partly responsible for the success of these first novels – and whose subsequent mysteries have become bloated, repetitive and less popular. The author might not realize that it was the editor who made her work harder. She probably thought she did everything on her own. Or she couldn’t bother to listen to what others were telling her.

Self-published authors often think they don’t need editing. But everyone does. We may hew to our personal vision, our own style, but we still need someone to tell us that something doesn’t work. If we disagree, fine, but at least let someone else has alerted us to our own imperfection.

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One Response to “An Editor Will Save You”

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