So, you’re a writer. You slave over your masterpiece. It is a part of you. It is part of your heart and soul. Why would you want to hand it over to some editor to cut to ribbons?
I don’t want to cut your masterpiece to ribbons. I want to hone it to a fine polish to make you look the very best you can look. Think of it as taking you out of your ragged blue jeans with the paint splotches on them and the torn tshirt and putting you into a nice outfit that shows off all of your best attributes. When we’re finished, your hair is done perfectly and you feel like a million bucks. You’re ready to take on the world. That is what I try to do to your manuscript.
I fix all the spelling errors (even spellcheck doesn’t get them all!). I fix the grammar and punctuation (except where it needs to remain awkward to make a point). I suggest ways to make the writing tighter and smoother. As the author, you always retain the right to dismiss any of my suggestions, but I hope you’ll be open enough to consider them.
I’m not a drill sergeant, living for the moment when I can scream orders at you. I have a gentle voice. One filled with nurturing suggestions. First, I read through your manuscript so I get the whole picture from beginning to end. Then, I slowly and carefully begin my work. I don’t want to supplant your voice with my own. I am happy to remain in the background. I may make suggestions on phrasing or different words you could try, but the ultimate rewriting should come from you. The manuscript is your baby, after all.
We can work together to make your book the best it can be. Doesn’t it bug you when you buy a book and it is full of sloppy errors? I can’t tell you how many books I’ve read that would have made a much better impression if they had been edited before they were published. No matter how good the story is, it is hard to get past those errors. I want your book to be as perfect as possible, so you don’t have to have readers write to you and point out simple errors. And they will. It is worth the extra effort to fact check anything technical. For example, I recently read a passage about a woman having an amniocentesis and finding out the sex of the baby. Unfortunately, in the book, they scheduled it at 13 weeks gestation, when in reality, amnios are only done between 15 and 20 weeks of pregnancy. How would it have changed the story to move it ahead two weeks so it was accurate? Try as I might, I had a very hard time getting past this wrong timing. Now, perhaps only a few readers would be bothered by that, but I’ve spent years studying childbirth, so it really bothered me. Too bad, too… the story was good and well written.
If it isn’t childbirth, it will be something else. Maybe what kind of flowers bloom in June in Massachusetts, or perhaps when the storms hit on the Firth of Forth. Somewhere, someone will notice your inaccuracy. As an editor, it is my job to help you make your book so good that there are no errors for people to pick up. You want your readers to be so engrossed in your story that they can’t put it down; finding errors will wake them out of their thrall with your book. It can ruin the experience for them. Take the time and work with an editor. It is worth the effort and the cost.
John and Toni Rakestraw are the owners of Rakestraw Book Design. Toni is the editor; she keeps all those words in line. John is the voice of the company. He can often be found hosting Google+ Hangouts on writing and issues writers face online. Archives for his shows can be found on YouTube.