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Do I need an Editor?

The short answer to this question is “yes”. No matter who you are, or how long you’ve been writing for, you need an editor. And yes, all your favourites, from Stephen King to JK Rowling and everyone else besides – they have an editor. And as a new writer, you need one even more (your favourite writers make fewer mistakes, but they still make them).

I’ve enjoyed writing since I was a kid - I just didn’t know it was what I wanted to do until I was much older. Friends and family have often commented that I was a "good writer", or that my stuff was "easy to read", and I was always encouraged to keep writing. Deep inside, though, I lacked confidence, so I held off for such a long time that I didn’t write my first book until I was 40.

That lack of confidence is both a help and a hindrance, however. I see many new writers that have had similar feedback from friends and family that come out of the gate extremely confident in their skills – but in the end, they, like me, are new writers, many of whom may not have studied the craft.

In high school, I enjoyed my English classes, but for some reason, I shied away from English Literature and Creative Writing classes and focused on the sciences. As a result, my knowledge of some of the concepts that writers use can be quite basic. That said, in 10th grade, I was tasked with a creative writing project, and I put a great deal of effort into it, submitting 10,000 words when only 2,000 were required (there was no max limit). My teacher at the time gave me an A+, saying I had talent, and that I was especially good at creating believable characters.

I took this as a badge of honour, but never doubled down on it. Clearly, though, It stayed with me for many years.

The problem is that friends and family will ALWAYS support your writing. They will always tell you that they like your work and will often choose not to comment on the negatives for fear of hurting your feelings – they want to lift you up rather than drag you down. That’s wonderful, but it doesn’t help a new writer learn. And we all make mistakes - plenty of them.

Truth is, though - friends and family can see issues with your work – as readers, they will often have read enough high-quality publications that they know yours may not quite stack up by comparison. The difference is, they don’t quite know how to articulate the issues for the same reason some new writers have those issues – they haven't studied the craft. They don’t know the techniques. They don’t know how a book should be structured, what drives an exciting scene, character arc, encounter, whatever.

An editor, on the other hand, does. And a good editor will tell you. Ruthlessly.

At this point in my career, I’ve only detail-orientedworked with three editors. They each had their pros and cons – one, in particular, was notably more organised than the others (with style sheets and character/location notes that they took as they edited), but in the end, all three knew their job.

The editor I worked with for Pyramidion, for example, did a fine job of editing my work, but that was all – they fixed the glaring errors, they reworked awkward sentences, and made the book better overall. But when I read it now, having learned more, I wish they had been more engaged with helping me be a better writer, as there are many areas I would rework. I’m not bitter, though – they did the work I paid them for. What I needed at the time may have been a different service altogether.

The second editor I worked with was extremely structured and taught me quite a bit about how to better track my characters and locations. They were also very thorough in their work, but were perhaps not experienced enough to be prepared to give me the advice I sorely needed.

At present, I am working with an editor that has the experience and the good nature to not only want to do the work I engage them for, but also to help improve my writing. They have suggested I read certain books on writing (particularly scene structure at this stage) and are actively telling me what is holding me back and how I need to change in order to improve.

This is exactly what I need at this point in my career (well, maybe I needed it before I started, but it’s never too late).

Will everyone find an editor like this? Probably not. I really think I lucked out.

More importantly, though, does everyone have the money for an editor?

That there is the million-dollar question (not that editors cost a million dollars, of course).

Self-publishing a novel is easy (I’ll publish a step-by-step guide in future weeks!), and if you really wanted to, you could publish a book for free. Write it yourself, get friends to help with editing and proofreading, design a cover yourself, manually do the typesetting… But honestly, this is not the best way. Writers need editors, and we need editors that know what they’re doing. If your work is no good, it will be hard to sell.

It’s the same with the book's cover – you want something that will appeal, otherwise, nobody will buy your book.

Of course, there are writers out there that just want to write and put their work out into the world – they don’t care for sales, they just write for writing’s sake. I can respect that, but still… that’s a lot of work for no return but self-satisfaction.

Me? I enjoy writing and I want to let my work out into the world, too. But I want people to read it. And I want them to enjoy it and recommend it to others. Ultimately, I want to be able to quit my day job and write for a living, but that day may never come. I’m ok with that, but only if I’m putting in the best work that I can.

There is also the topic of tools such as Pro Writing Aid. With a tool like this, writers can very easily pick up problem sentences - consistency, length, passive voice - you name it, Pro Writing Aid will report on it. Yes, you can (and possibly should) use this tool to fix the glaring problems before you send it to an editor - but it still needs to go to an editor.

Why? Because software can't pick up the nuances - things that would be boring or unnecessary to readers, stating the obvious, weak storyline, poor characterisation, etc., etc. Only an editor can pick up that stuff. So as you learn more about grammar, structure, plotting, and so on, definitely look to assimilate that into your work... but you still need an editor. You're just saving them the time to focus on how to really make your work shine.

I’m intensely proud of Pyramidion and it represents a stepping stone along the path to me becoming a more accomplished author. And I hope that with each release, my readers can watch as I grow, learn, and become better at the craft.

And that wouldn’t happen without an editor.

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