This post first appeared on August 6, 2014, at TheBookDesigner.com.
Most of us look on a trip to the dentist with a mixture of guilt and dread: we know we need it, but it’s going to hurt. The sight of the needles, the sound of the drill and the thought of the final bill are enough to induce hyperventilation. Sadly, we’ve observed that some writers perceive editors the same way.
Don’t editors also probe and poke a little too deeply and strike a nerve when you least expect it? And don’t they tell you to rein in your head-hopping POV and avoid adverbs, just as a dentist will caution you about the perils of red wine and too much candy?
Now, we know that dentists provide essential and worthwhile services, and so do editors. They’re necessary, but they aren’t always pleasant. Just for fun, here are a few more ways an editor is like a dentist, along with some tips for getting the most out of an editing experience.
1. When needed, a dentist will refer you to a specialist. There are specialties in editing, too. Do you need your teeth straightened? Then you should see an orthodontist. But if your manuscript needs straightening? Ah—there’s an editorial equivalent: a structural editor. For cleaning and polishing? A dental hygienist…or a copyeditor and proofreader. Need a new set of teeth entirely? See a denturist…or perhaps you need a ghostwriter. The list goes on.
Ideally, when you choose an editor for a project, you’ll want someone who is familiar with your genre and with the kind of editing your book needs. Each kind of editing requires a special skill set. Most editors develop specialty subject areas and genres, and many will have an educational background that matches your requirements. The key is to conduct a thorough search for someone who has the experience and knowledge you’re looking for.
|Tip: Look for an editor who has experience with the kind of book you’re writing and the kind of editing you need. Consult editors’ profiles at professional editing organizations for this information:
You can also ask authors whose books you admire to share the names of their editors. Improve your chances of getting the best editor for your book by selecting authors who write books in the same genre.
2. Dental work can be expensive, and so can editing. And for both, you can get a quote up front about exactly what work needs to be done and how much it will cost. Sometimes, though, in performing a service, a dentist will discover an underlying problem that will add to the total bill. That can be true for editing, too.
|Tip: To prevent any surprises, ask your editor to tell you right away if she uncovers something in your manuscript that could cost you time or money later. The problem, once identified, might be something you can address on your own or with your editor’s help, early in the editing process.|
3. Dentists perform extractions, and so do editors. In both cases, it can be painful, but it needn’t be. A good dentist will only extract a tooth when it’s absolutely necessary. She’ll offer and administer anesthetic and pain medication, and the result will be a healthier mouth. An editor may suggest that you cut out areas of text that are not working for the project as a whole. As painful as this may be, paring down almost always improves a book.*
For example, if there are many instances of telling instead of showing in your story—something that will most definitely cause readers to zone out—wouldn’t you want to know about it? It doesn’t feel great when an editor points this out, and getting that news will likely require some rewrites on your part. Dealing with the problem now may prevent you from wondering why your book isn’t selling later. Keep in mind, too, that a good editor will deliver news in a respectful and constructive way, with steps you can take to fix the problem.
|Tip: Be brave: ask your editor what’s not working in your story. The answer might mean more work for you, but it could also mean a better book. Remember, an editor reads with the reader in mind, but he also wants to help you to write your best book.|
*You should probably not count on your editor for pain medication, although she might buy you a nice bottle of red when your manuscript is published. Don’t tell your dentist.
4. In dentistry and in editing, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Having regular check-ups and following your dentist’s advice about brushing and flossing can save you discomfort and money later on. You can say the same thing about editing. Here’s what an editor can do for you if you check in early—even before you begin your first draft. An editor can
- help you structure your novel or nonfiction book, preventing hours of rewrites later
- suggest other ways of presenting information that will be more accessible to the reader (nonfiction)
- help you create a sample chapter (template) that you can pattern the rest of your chapters after
- highlight quirks in your writing (we all have quirks), which, once identified, are easy enough for you to fix on your own
- suggest resources that will help you improve your writing
|Tip: If you’re not sure what kind of editing you need, ask for a mini-manuscript evaluation. An editor can do an assessment of 50 pages of your writing that will tell you what you can do to improve your book, without the expense of a complete edit.|
5. Dentists have an abundance of tools at their disposal, and so do editors. If you walked into a dentist’s office and saw these in your dentist’s toolkit, you’d probably turn and run. To stay current, dentists regularly invest in the best equipment and tools, and they also invest the time needed to learn to use them effectively.
Editors, too, invest time and money in tools and training. An editor’s toolkit, while just as varied as a dentist’s, is hopefully much less threatening. It’s possible to edit a manuscript without tools, but editing tools can make all the difference, as they help editors complete editing projects more quickly, accurately, and efficiently.
|Tip: Writers can learn to use some of the tools that editors use. Some tools, like writing and editing macros, are free, and involve a willingness to try something new and a small amount of time (see this 20-minute macro course for a an effective tool that won’t take too much time to learn). Others will require some study and will cost money. All the editing tools automate tasks and can help you to improve the quality of your book.|
Finally, there’s one important way an editor is not like a dentist: Your dentist will never encourage you to work collaboratively with him. He will never say, “Hey, why don’t I freeze your mouth, then I’ll give you the pliers and you can pull out that pesky tooth yourself. I’ll be right here if you need help.”
But an editor might. Hiring an editor doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing proposition. At least, at Beyond Paper, we don’t think so. We think editing can be a collaborative process between the author and editor.
Sure, you can hire an editor to fix your writing for you—which is traditionally what authors have done—but this option often costs more than a self-publishing author is willing or able to pay. When presented with the potential costs, self-publishing authors opt out of editing entirely, not realizing that there is another workable and affordable option.
Consider approaching editing in a new way: participate in the editing process by asking your editor to point out what needs to be fixed, and then do some of the fixing yourself with your editor’s guidance, if you like. If you’re willing to do some of the heavy lifting, this approach to editing can save you money on editing costs, and you’ll also gain valuable insights into your writing that you can apply to your next book.
|Tip: Editors often know a great deal about how to make writing better, so don’t be afraid to tap into that knowledge and, in the process, acquire some of it yourself.|
We’re fairly sure that we don’t need to convince you of the value of going to the dentist. Similarly, if money weren’t an issue, we think more self-publishing authors would avail themselves of editing services.
Bestselling books usually go through an editorial process that helps to create the best possible reading experience, and you’d probably like to provide your readers with a similar experience. If you’ve suspected that working with an editor may be more pain than you’re willing to endure, try suggesting a collaborative approach to editing. And don’t forget to floss.