As a book coach and editor, I find that most people I work with are very protective of their Voice and in the editing world there is a fine line between “fixing” a text into technical perfection and utterly destroying the mood and intention the writer had in mind. (Believe me, I’ve been edited too, and I know how uncomfortable that can feel!) So, handing your book manuscript over to someone else to edit is an act of great trust.
What’s more some writers are also wary of having their writing “judged” by someone else, and still others fear that the tampering an editor can inflict on their work could potentially destroy it.
These are very valid concerns and I know from experience that some editors do tend to be a little ham-fisted with the red pencil. In addition, not all editors are writers, and they might not understand the complex emotional fabric of the story you are trying to tell. And, finally, technical excellence on the linguistic side of things does not necessarily come packaged with sensitivity, visionary thinking, intellectual prowess, or multi-dimensional awareness.
Questions to Ask an Editor
That all points to the importance of asking a lot of questions of a potential editor before you start working with them. If they don’t feel aligned with you or your project, keep looking. There are plenty of great editors out there and not every editor is a fit for every project.
Being edited can be a nerve-wracking experience at the best of times, and you want to feel confident that the editor you have chosen will bring a high level of excellence to your book project and will support you to become the best writer you have it in you to be. If you have not spent your career in fields where editing is a standard part of the information-output process, being edited may be an especially vulnerable process. And this can be compounded by the possibility that your school experiences have trained you to believe you are not a strong writer. Where that’s the case, hiring an editor can feel like inviting more judgement.
But it doesn’t need to be a judgey experience!
If you are already a professional writer, or maybe you’ve been told you are a darned good “lay writer,” you might have the added concern that hiring an editor might detract from your reputation. I crossed that bridge when I hired an editor to review the manuscript of my first novel. I had been writing professionally and creatively for 20 years at that point and my friends and family thought hiring an editor was a crazy idea. But it was worth every dime. I didn’t have to accept all of the changes my editor suggested (and I didn’t!) but she did provide another set of eyes to help me eliminate hyperbole, develop better character motivation, and improve sentence structure. She helped me become an even better writer.
We are each on our own writing continuum and there is always more opportunity to improve. The more training your editor has had in linguistics, personality, and audience engagement, the more likely they are to be able to successfully replicate your voice.
So, when you’re hiring an editor, ask a lot of questions about who they are and how they work. Find out what’s important to them as an editor and what’s important to them as a human being. If you don’t hear a lot of resonance with who you are and what’s important to you, then find someone else. The more resonance you feel with your editor, the more likely it is that they will be a staunch steward of your Voice. Ultimately, this is your book, not your editor’s book, and it’s your name that will be on the front cover. And it should be your voice that is represented on the inside pages.