Things I Suck At (Or, What I’m Learning From Working With an Editor)

NOT what a good editor will tell you.

NOT what a good editor will tell you. After the Edit by Laura Ritchie. CC by 2.0.

I admit that the title of this post is click-bait, since I don’t really think I suck, but I AM learning a lot from my first go around with a professional editor.

In preparation for self-publishing my first book this Spring, I am working with Nancy Cassidy, an amazing freelance editor at The Red Pen Coach. (Any suckiness in the finished project will be entirely mine, and not hers). Nancy has an impressive background in publishing and editing and is also an author, with erotica published under the name Lilly Cain, so I feel like she really gets it. She did a great presentation today to the Romance Writers of Atlantic Canada, my local RWA chapter, and pointed out some things about working with an editor that should be pretty basic, but maybe aren’t all the time.

For example:

  • Your editor should not be mean to you. It’s crazy how many stories I’ve heard online about editors being totally insensitive to their writers – who are paying them to help improve their work. Nobody is saying authors should be coddled and lied to about their work, but there is a difference between constructive and cruel.
  • You don’t have to make changes to your work if you don’t want to. Yes, you should be prepared to make changes and take direction, but you should also be prepared to explain why your choices are valid, or at least have a logical debate about them.
  • Ask around before you hire an editor. Don’t just take the word of some stranger on the internet that they are an awesome editor. And if you don’t know anyone the editor has worked with, it might behoove you to have a contract. (I’m always looking for a way to work behoove into a sentence).

Because I think it’s important, I will separate this link from the bullet points: You can find a sample editorial contract on the Editors’ Association of Canada website. It’s pretty basic, but gets the job done, and I imagine you can find something similar for the US or other jurisdictions, or adapt this one. (THIS IS NOT LEGAL ADVICE, JUST A PERSONAL OPINION.)

Another thing I learned from Nancy’s presentation is that there are many types of services an editor can offer. Knowing what sort of help you need can save you time and money. The Editors’ Association of Canada has a very handy page describing the different types of edits there are.

So now that you have all that wonderful info, I will share some of the things I suck at with you, as discovered via the editorial process:

  1. First chapters – I already knew this, as it happens with everything I write. The first chapter is always too slow or too fast, too much backstory or no context at all. I really struggle with hitting the right opening note. Luckily, that’s what revisions are for!
  2. Overusing particular phrases – On my first pass through my book, I noticed that my main character thought everything was “apparently” this and “clearly” that. Now, a million passes later, I’m noticing that she’s always “forcing” herself to do whatever or “managing” not to do something else.
  3. Point of view issues – You know, I actually always thought I could have been an editor if I had been so inclined. After all, I have an English degree, I’m pretty good with spelling and grammar, and I totally get point of view. Except, not. I’ve had a whole batch of critique partners, but I would never have known I was doing weird things with point of view if an editor hadn’t pointed it out.

For fellow writers, what do you suck at? (Or to put it more nicely, what are you improving on at present?).

And for readers, what are your editorial pet peeves? Head hopping? Spelling mistake in the first chapter? Let it out!

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