I recently posted a meme on my social media pages that depicted an editor (represented by a dragon) and a book (represented by a castle). The dragon was breathing fire on the castle and burning it down.
Playfully imagining Daenerys Targaryen commanding her babies to burn down my novel made me laugh. But, let me be totally clear. My editor, Jill Shultz, is not a dragon. Nor do I believe she in any way destroys my book.
Quite the opposite.
Over the years I’ve heard authors claim that having a professional editor wasn’t necessary if you have good writing skills. I think I have good writing skills. Plus, I have friends with good writing skills. Maybe I don’t need an editor. I’ve also heard opposing advice that skipping the editor in the self-publishing venture was a big mistake. I decided to err on the side of caution and hired an editor for my work. After having written two books and seeing the difference in how they look before and after, I am glad I made the choice I did.
I realize that I have fair writing skills. I am not an editor and I do not have anywhere near the level of expertise that my editor has. I didn’t know that using an em dash would work better in one situation while an ellipsis was more suitable in another. When do I use a singular pronoun and when do I use a plural pronoun? I dangled modifiers, butchered honorifics and mangled timelines like you can’t imagine. I also made grammatical errors that I can’t repeat because I don’t really know what they are.
I realized that while many of us can tell a story that holds readers attention, there is a difference in putting out a product or brand for an online group and creating a literary work of art that will survive the ages. The latter is what I intend to do. And for that, I accept that I am an apprentice who, at this stage of my writing, needs the master’s oversight. I need my editor.
The beautiful books we read don’t generally happen magically. The editing process is complex and grueling. Here’s how it goes in my world:
- I write what I believe is pure brilliance.
- I send it to Jill and hold my breath for 4-6 weeks.
- I get the edited version and cry at my lack of brilliance.
- I read through every line of cut, changed, or moved language and decide what to accept and what to reject. I don’t have to agree with every suggestion Jill makes, but she’s the expert. Why would I pay her and then ignore her recommendations? I would say that I accept about 90% of her suggestions.
- I re-read the finished novel and marvel at my brilliance.
What you see is my ideas, my voice and my choices. However, the brilliance would be a shadow without the craftsmanship and expertise of my editor.
I offer an example of a scene in both my original version and the edited version.
Cold, hard ground. Briana’s heart hammered a hole in her chest. Her breathing paced for a three-minute mile. Crackle and snap turned her attention to the orange and red glow of a campfire. Fire! Frantically running hands over her body, Briana quickly assessed for burns, pain, or anything to indicate that she’d just been burned to death. Nothing seemed injured or painful. Patting her baldric confirmed that the horcrux was safe and sound.
“Tis break of day and lonely yet, the sun comes… no… wait… the golden orb … no, that’s not it,” a creaky voice spoke from near the fire. “One… two… and three… four… five… six…seven… ah, eight measures.”
Humming ensued and Briana strained to see the shadowy shape by the fire from whence the humming and prosing came from. “Tis break of day and lonely yet,” the voice paused. “The sun a brightly shinin’ orb. Oh dear…”
She saw nothing but gray stone around her and what might have been the dark opening of a cave. Could be nighttime. Feeling around for any vomiting that might have occurred during what was becoming a bad habit of teleportation, and finding none, Briana pushed herself up from the prone position she’d landed in. Squinting, she peered toward the flashes of firelight to get a better look at the person whose cave she’d crashed.
“Greetings, Queen Briana, High Lady of Evalon. Are you alright?”
Briana bit her lip. Friend or foe? He sounded old, so perhaps no physical threat. He seemed to know who she was so might be magical and if so, on whose side of the fence did he sit? She remained still and silent, thinking through her options.
Cold, hard ground. Briana’s heart hammered a hole in her chest, paced for a three-minute mile. A crackle and snap turned her attention to the orange and red glow of a campfire. Fire! Frantically running her hands over her body, she found no sign of injury. Patting her baldric confirmed that the spirit trap was safe and sound.
“’Tis break of day and lonely yet, the sun comes… no… wait… the golden orb… no, that’s not it,” said a man with a creaky voice who sat by the fire.. “One… two… and three… four… five… six… seven… ah, eight measures.”
Humming ensued. Briana strained to see the shadowy shape. “’Tis break of day and lonely yet.” The man paused. “The sun a brightly shinin’ orb. Oh dear…”
She saw nothing but gray stone around her and what might have been the dark opening of a cave. Could be nighttime. Briana pushed herself up from the prone position she’d landed in. Squinting, she peered toward the flashes of firelight to get a better look at the person whose cave she’d crashed.
“Greetings, Queen Briana, Tuathla of Evalon. Are you all right?”
Briana bit her lip. Friend or foe? He sounded old, so perhaps no physical threat. He knew who she was, so might be magical. She remained still and silent, thinking through her options.
Subtle changes that bring polish to the story. If you don’t think they sound too different, that’s good. That means Jill kept my voice but cleaned it up. That’s the role editors play. They make us look brilliant.
I hope the takeaway here, especially for newbies like me, is that if you want your book to be a work of art and you don’t hold at least a BA in English, you must shell out the bucks for a professional editor. It ain’t cheap, but there are good freelancers who are less expensive and the return for cost is…priceless. (oh, shoot, was that supposed to be an em dash?)
By the way- see any errors in this unedited blog. That is why I suggest an editor.