While visiting a friend’s blog recently, I was intrigued at something Amy Reade’s guest, an author and freelance editor, mentioned in her interview – “English teachers are not editors.” Her comment took me back to a terrible experience I once encountered with an editor I hired after being referred to her by a highly successful author friend. At the time, I was just completing my final draft for my 3rd book – Menowhat? A Memoir and was already quite happy and comfortable with my previous editor but somehow got caught up in the hoopla of this highly recommended editor who my friend claimed had brought his book to a new level.
I carefully vetted the editor, looked at testimonials and checked out her work, and even had a free chapter edited by her for her to demonstrate how she works. And for some unexplained reason I decided to try her out for a change of pace. I emailed her and even followed up by calling her because I wanted to get a good feel for her and her work. . . and the nightmare began.
I submitted my manuscript and anxiously awaited it to return to me with the edits, and what I got back was a holy mess.
The manuscript I was reading didn’t read like it was my voice anymore. All of who I am as a writer was stripped away from my story. My story had no emotion left in it, it read boring and almost clinical.
As I continued to scroll through the initial first pass of the edits, I literally shed tears and felt like shredding the whole manuscript. Nothing was jiving. Everything I’d read about this editor wasn’t adding up to the praise she had been given by many. And after I did a first scroll through I turned on the track changes in the review section of the Word document to read further – the explanations in the viewing panel from the editor, the panel that not only displays comments and suggested changes, but is stamped with the editor’s initials, or full name. THE NAME I SAW WAS NOT THE NAME OF THE EDITOR I HIRED!!
I was livid. I immediately drafted a letter and sent it off to ‘the editor I hired’. I let her know how I felt about the shoddy work done on my MS, and that I discovered that she did not edit my book! She replied to me with a bunch of malarkey to soften the blows and proceeded to explain to me that she was behind in her work and subbed out my MS to an English school teacher friend of hers. She did not inform me of that when I hired her, or when she sent me back the MS, hoping I wouldn’t notice!
I chewed her out and told her I would not be paying the balance owed and if she had a problem with that I’d have no problem exploiting her on social media. Then I put my tail between my legs and emailed my original editor of my other books, explained how I betrayed her and apologized, told her about the mess my book was in and asked if she’d take it on and start from scratch with the original manuscript before it was hacked to death. And of course, the good person she is, she consoled me and told me it’s not unusual for writers to want to explore other editors and that she was happy I came back to her. I wanted to hug her.
I’ve read many times how we as writers aren’t effective enough being our own editors and I know this first hand. I’ve read many a tale of woe where writers cried in protest their editors had stripped their voice from their manuscripts. And I’ve also read several times that English teachers don’t qualify as editors. Then I learned why.
I recently visited Amy’s blog where she was featuring author/editor Cindy Davis, talking about one of her books and touching on several insights about writing. Her statement and explanation below is what reminded me about the importance of hiring a real editor:
Amy asked: What advice would you give to aspiring writers?
Two things. Never think you’re done learning. Keep striving to improve your writing skills. And second, get your book edited. Not by an English teacher. I know I’ll take some flack for this and I agree that teachers are awesome for punctuation and grammar, but they aren’t trained in story development or the fine-tuning it takes to bring your story to the next level—things like filter words, head hopping, and show don’t tell.
And I will add to that the importance of maintaining voice. Voice is how we project our words, how they are received by a reader with a distinct and familiar narration just as we all have our own unique sound of our actual voices, our voice should carry into our writing. We are the storytellers of our books. The editor’s voice is not the one that should emit through the story.
Remember, not every editor is suited for every book. We have to do our diligence and vet the editor. In my situation, I did my diligence vetting and when I had my MS returned to me, nothing about it gave me a wow factor as I’d expected and my suspicions proved correct because the person I hired wasn’t the person who edited my MS.
Have any of you here ever been duped or unsatisfied with a hired editor? Please share your experience with us.