Working With An Editor
When I think of an editor, I picture an old person hunched over a desk behind massive organized piles of paper with a red pen in their hand. They magically know how to spell every word (in every language), memorize the entire thesaurus, and contain all the knowledge in the universe. They use this intense wisdom to perform tasks like Arnold Schwarzenegger in The Terminator. They ruthlessly find and correct every single mistake without ever sleeping.
In some ways, this far-out description is accurate. Editors locate most mistakes, and they usually have a relentless attitude. However, they are much more than that. They check facts, look at flow, move sections around, check logic, alter descriptions, delete junk, ask questions, and make comments.
Authors write from their perspective, and this is an enormous problem. For example, an author might use “trippy” five times on each page. Why? That is how they speak. Of course, this reads fine to the author but annoys readers. An editor would see this tick and reduce this word use.
This example also highlights a significant failure of programs like Grammarly. One of my ticks is to describe something, and two sentences later, I describe it again. Grammarly never catches this mistake.
Yet I keep hearing that editors are now obsolete because of artificial intelligence. Nothing could be further from the truth. Why? Editors look at the structure, flow, and overall tone. They might delete sentences, move them around, and add comments. For example, “Expand this section.” “More about the motivation.” “This makes little sense.” “Unnecessary, consider deleting.”
Editors also check facts and logic. For example, “WWII ended in 1955.” A simple mistake like that would upset readers. Programs can never know what to do with such a sentence. Does this story contain an alternate reality where this is an accurate statement? Is this statement from a student that incorrectly answered a question? Or is it a genuine mistake?
There is a downside to working with an editor. First, they make me depressed that my grammar, spelling, and story concept is not better. They also bland the overall tone in the name of good sentence structure. “Dis is a funky-fresh day. Yo!!” Which is changed to, “This is a nice day.” A properly edited document is less edgy, but the result is universally understandable.
The worst part is when an editor confronts me that something big is not working, translating to, “You have failed as a writer.” My only condolence is that the hardest lessons are the most important.
It is essential to locate a superb editor. How? I looked up reviews and asked them to send me a document they had edited. Then, I look for mistakes they missed, comments, and their results. If their approach matches my style, then I give them a chance.
Editors are people, and they have quirks, strong opinions, ethics, and they make mistakes. To further complicate matters, an author can have their work reviewed by multiple editors. But what happens when one editor thinks a sentence should read one way, the other likes it another way, and Grammarly/ProWritingAid corrects it to another? The author turns into a rag doll in a fight between four dogs. Remember that, ultimately, this is your work.
Another challenging part of working with an editor is that they are expensive. Expect $40-75 per hour. As an unprofitable self-published author, this expense represents a significant burden, but to be taken seriously, good editing is essential.
Now that you have an editor, it’s time to come clean with all your dirty laundry. Tell them about your writing ticks so that they know what to look for. Ask the editor to be completely honest. It is far better to have an editor say something is wrong rather than 100 critical reviews.
The most important part of working with the editor is to know how to use them. Never think of them as a stupid tool. Grammarly, Microsoft Word, and ProWritingAid are stupid tools. They only do what they are told. (Fix grammar and spelling.) Yet, they do it very well. Here is a sentence that is perfect for a stupid tool to correct, “Jim met sally at the playyground.” “Sally” is not capitalized, and “playground” is misspelled. Programmers designed those tools to deal with these basic spelling and grammar problems, and there is no excuse for a writer not utilizing them before sending a document to an editor. Also, remember that editors are people. If you give them a stupid document, they will think you are a stupid writer and not put in the effort to help you.
It is essential to provide the editor with the absolute best document possible. This means reviewing your work at least twenty times (self-editing) and using Grammarly/ProWritingAid. Show your work to friends (beta read). The feedback is instrumental even if they do not have a writing background. You want comments like, “This section makes little sense.” “Why did Bob leave the house?” “You keep saying trippy.” These comments are gold mines. The result is a more robust document so the editor can better apply their skills instead of mucking about with trivial stuff.
Another way of looking at this is that with a proper sentence, the editor can see the big picture. Changes to a proper sentence will be much better than changes to a poor sentence. Also, reviewing edits is much clearer because the editor did not clutter the document with grammar fixes.
And finally, trust your editor. You need to pick one you trust and go with their changes. What if the changes do not look correct? Email them back. If they stick to their guns, go with their advice. This can be difficult, but editors are a writer’s best friend. They distinguish between a rabble of words and a polished document.

You’re the best -Bill
October 17, 2018 Updated September 23, 2023

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