Many years ago, I had an editing client who was unhappy with my work. That’s putting it mildly. The editing relationship ended abruptly, the client didn’t want to pay, and as far as I know the book was never published—or perhaps it was, but the title changed and the client worked with another editor at some much later point in time.
To this day, I’m haunted by this experience. It is, after all, a failure—and no one likes to dwell on their failures too much.
When I get together with other professionals, and especially professionals who, like me, depend on contract work, we swap horror stories—and it turns out that just about everyone has an experience like this. These aren’t just editors, of course, but contract workers of all types. It’s part of life. And yes, it makes me feel better to know that I’m not alone.
But of course it’s uncomfortable to think about the fact that there are people out there who really, really don’t like you, for one reason or another.
It’s unavoidable, though.
When my memory goes back to this incident, which it does far too often, I ask myself a critical question: why did this editing relationship go sour? Answers are elusive, because the truth is that I don’t know. It’s impossible to know why this person reacted the way they did, and it’s impossible to know what was motivating them to react that way at the time.
And I’ll never know.
But it might have something to do with expectations. I think, in the process of editing that book, I delivered a service the client hadn’t expected—and in the end, this client possibly felt that they didn’t get what they had agreed to pay for.
Today’s post is about why and when a writer should choose to get their book edited. It won’t come as a surprise to anyone that I’m a big proponent of editing. It’s a crucial step in the development of any book. It’s a step you absolutely shouldn’t skip.
It’s also an unnerving and occasionally unpleasant step. If you’ve gone through the editing process, you know what I mean. After all, you’re paying someone to point out your flaws—a service, you may have noticed, most people in your life are willing to do for free!
But this is where things get tricky. If you’re expecting that the editor is going to challenge you, to draw attention to parts of your writing that may be embarrassing or unskilled, to press your buttons a little bit… well, then you’ve already gotten yourself in the correct frame of mind. Because all of those things are probably going to happen.
If you’re expecting to receive validation for a job well done, then I would suggest you may not be ready to work with an editor yet.
There are a number of emerging authors today who have worked hard at their craft and have concluded that they’re ready for the spotlight. Although it may seem strange, these authors think that they need to get a clean bill of health from their editor in the same way that a fit person gets a clean bill of health from a doctor. They’ll submit their book, the editor will confirm that it’s really great, and then they’ll venture forward into big-time success.
I suppose this may happen on occasion. But not very often.
The time for editing comes after you’ve worked hard at your craft for a long time and, instead of concluding that you’ve arrived, you realize that more work is needed—but you don’t know what that work is, or what it will involve, because you don’t have the expertise to identify your remaining weaknesses.
That’s when you’re ready to enter the refiner’s fire of the editing process.
Improving through editing presupposes, of course, that there are aspects of your writing that need to be improved. And for the most part, I’m not talking about simple typos and misuses of punctuation. The kinds of things that will be improved will likely include larger issues, like pacing and focus and characterization and building a compelling narrative arc and the effective use of foreshadowing… the list goes on.
The key is, maybe you don’t know that you’re unskilled in some of these areas.
Which is okay! Because that’s what you go to the editor in order to discover. And if you’re working with a good one, although it will be uncomfortable at times, it will also be a supportive environment.
Editing is going to be good for you, and eventually you’re going to look back on your first edit fondly. As time goes by, the editing process will even get gentler as you grow as a storyteller.
So… are you ready to jump into the editing process? As long as your expectations are set, I think you’ll find it to be an intensely rewarding experience in the long run.
Evan Braun is a full-time author and editor. He has authored three novels, the first of which, The Book of Creation, was shortlisted in two categories at the 2012 Word Awards. He has released two sequels, The City of Darkness (2013) and The Law of Radiance (2015), completing the series. As a professional editor, Braun has seven years of experience working with Word Alive Press authors. He is also a regular contributor at The Fictorians, a popular writing blog.