Friday, September 30, 2011

A Writer's Best Friend

By Peg Brantley, writer at work, stumbling toward publication

Every time I open the cover of a book (literally or figuratively), I'm filled with anticipation. It's a brand new journey, sometimes with old friends in a familiar setting, and sometimes with brand new characters in a place I've yet to discover. Usually, I'm not disappointed.

I used to give all of the credit for great reads to the writers. That was before I began to write.

About a year ago, I downloaded a free book written by a man who has co-written with other novelists in the past, and I figured on another good read. The plot intrigued me, but the way the story was put together? Not so much. Because this book was published by a big New York publisher, I assume an editor was involved. Well, "involved" might be too strong of a word. The story was a mess.

A few weeks ago, I downloaded another free book written by a woman whose work I've read in the past and enjoyed. I've met the author. She's smart, approachable, and completely prolific. Published by a different big New York publisher, I know she's experienced the edit process. I think, for this one, she decided she was smart enough not to have to pay for an editor. She was wrong. It was a DNF. (Did Not Finish.) An interesting story, but not one I cared enough for to put up with the junk I had to wade through to get to the story. Know what I mean? I guess maybe she isn't as smart as I thought she was. Either that, or she should ask for her money back.

Both of these books are currently available, but no longer free—$7.99 and $4.99 respectively in the Kindle Store. At least one of them sports an entirely different cover than the version I'd downloaded earlier. Maybe they've been edited. Maybe not.

I don't disparage "free" at all. That's how I discovered Joe Finder (Paranoia) and Tim Hallinan (A Nail Through the Heart). Both of these authors have lived up to the anticipation I have for a new book time and time again. I'm quite certain they each have a wonderful editor. An editor who truly cares and takes the time to work with them to turn their pretty good stories into much, much better stories.

The next time you read a book and love it, consider that there is probably one terrific editor in the background who helped nudge the writer to a better story.


  1. Thanks for this terrific reminder. I've done enough freelance editing—and been edited enough—to know what a difference it can make.

    Sometimes though with big-name authors and NY publishers, there may be other stuff going on. An editor pushing an author to write a story their heart isn't into or pushing them to meet a deadline that's too soon. Or sometimes an author may simply not want to be edited, and it could be because of a bad experiences in the past. Editors have been known to ruin books too, I'm sad to say. It's the exception, though!

  2. I thought I would share this news clip from Shelf Awareness today:

    The e-version of Neal Stephenson's new novel, Reamde (Morrow), has "missing content" and many typos, leading Amazon to "recall" the Kindle version. The Awl reported that Amazon notified customers yesterday that a corrected version is available. A key sentence in the Amazon missive wasn't encouraging: "The version you received had Missing Content that have been corrected." That are good news!

    Seriously, everything needs to be edited!

  3. Excellent points, Peg. As both a freelance fiction editor and a voracious reader of fiction, I couldn't agree more.

    As a reader, I've been frustrated many times by slogging through (or putting down) books that desperately needed an editor - or a better one!

    I once bought an early copy of John Grisham's first novel, A Time to Kill, at a second-hand store, and it was riddled with errors! On every page! Obviously, that edition later got cleaned up and reissued.

    And as an editor, I of course thrive on - live for - being a major influence in the transformation of a so-so novel into a good one, or a good novel into a great one. Some novels need developmental editing before the copyediting phase starts, and others just need polishing for style, pacing, spelling and grammar - all of which can be irritants to the reader, to the point where they'll even put down a good story.

    Bestselling authors often thank several editors in their acknowledgements, which makes those authors more endearing, I think.

  4. Well, said, Peg.
    I can't count how many times in the recent past I've read print books that are riddled with errors, both spelling and grammatical.

  5. Apparently, I need an editor when posting comments, too.

  6. I'm excited to form a relationship with an editor when I'm ready. My favorite critique partners in the past have been those who make me stretch. Usually that involves digging a little deeper and working a hell of a lot harder.

  7. This is an extremely important point and one I can't stress enough. It doesn't matter how good a writer you think you are. After numerous rewrites of a manuscript (which is just as important) you are too familiar with your work and have lost all objectivity.

    An editor with a fresh and critical eye will bring things to your attention you never knew existed, both developmentally and in the line/copy editing. These are the people who will help bring a novel to the next level. I consider their work to be an invaluable part of the process.

    And for those who say they can't afford to hire one--I say you can't afford not to. If you're serious about selling your book, then this is a step you simply must take.

    Thanks for the post, Peg.

  8. So very true, Andrew! And advice serious writers really need to take to heart.

    There are a lot of excellent fiction editors out there (like me, for example). Be sure to check out their credentials and testimonials, and get a sample edit of at least 8-10 pages of your manuscript before making a decision. Not a sample edit of someone else's writing - you need to know how they'd handle your work.

    Thanks for this excellent, critical advice, Andrew.


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