The Six Myths of Editing: What to Know When Hiring Editors

researching editing myths

Authors come in all forms, as do editors. Personally, I love it when an author concedes their manuscript to me and puts their trust in my abilities. I also understand that many authors have a hard time with the editing process. Perhaps they had been burned in the past by an editor with an overzealous red pen, or perhaps they just haven’t worked with many editors and don’t know how to get the best use out of them.

Let’s discuss some of the most common myths about editors. In case you were wondering, these are real phrases I’ve heard from authors over the course of my career. By expelling some of these myths, I hope you will have an easier time hiring and trusting your editing partners.

Myth #1: I don’t need an editor if I self-edit or self-publish my book.

You may be the type of author who edits as you write, or maybe you conduct a more formal self-edit after you finish writing. That’s perfectly normal and encouraged, and not what this first myth is referring to. I’m talking about authors who only do this and forego hiring editors at all.

Imagine you have just spent six months writing your novel. You take two weeks off to clear you head and resolve to come back and conduct an edit. However, throughout your edit, you fix consistency errors or think of new quotes you meant to incorporate along the way. Do you truly believe you haven’t introduced new errors? Do you also believe that you have caught every grammar or style error in your 80,000-word manuscript?

No matter what route you are taking to publish, you need a professional third party who is trained to find 99% of the errors in your book (because we’re not machines, and you shouldn’t expect us to be). Editors shouldn’t be introducing new errors, because we are not rewriting content, only enhancing it.

With the anonymity of the internet, readers are sure to point out a badly edited book in their reviews. Many self-published authors experience this for themselves and end up publishing a second edition with professional editing anyway. Save yourself the hassle and heartache by investing in an editor in the beginning.

Myth #2: Anyone can be an editor.

I hear this one way more than I care to: “My friend was the editor of her high school newspaper and said she would edit my book for free.”

And to an extent, it’s true. Anyone can technically call themselves an editor. Anyone can call themselves a graphic designer too, but do you really want to hire the person designing your book cover in Microsoft Paint?

I’m sure your friend will find some errors, but they have not been trained to find them all and adhere to a style guide. Real editors have worked with published authors and have testimonials. Beyond a client list, real editors also have some level of education or training. While editing is not a formal college degree, there are courses, training, and continuing education out there through various professional organizations and universities. For example, I hold a certificate in editing from the University of Chicago Graham School. To get this certificate, I underwent two years of classes in different aspects of editing for the Chicago Manual of Style, such as developmental editing, advanced editing techniques, and editing electronically. I also regularly attend webinars through my association with the American Copy Editor’s Society, hold a bachelor’s degree in English, and worked at a publishing house.

There are so many qualified editors for hire with highly impressive resumes. Do some research and get editing samples if you are still unsure if it is worth your money.   

Myth #3: The more changes I see from my editor, the better job they’re doing.

Absolutely untrue. You’re not giving yourself enough credit. A good editor knows when to leave good writing alone. We are not the writers, and the last thing we want to do is rewrite your entire book from our voice or perspective.

Editors are almost silent partners. If I must rewrite a sentence, it’s only because a grammar rule has been broken. Any changes to tone and voice will be made with careful consideration. For instance, if your entire chapter reads a certain way, but then we notice one paragraph sounds like a completely different person wrote it, we might change the wording to make it flow like the rest.

Myth #4: I should receive a 100% error-free manuscript.  

You’ve finally received your manuscript after two weeks of relinquishing it to the editor. Everything looks great, and your editor even made sure that your manuscript adheres to the Chicago Manual of Style’s hyphenation table. But, in Chapter 7 they missed incorporating one hyphen when describing your main character’s ruby-red lips.

Is it right to expect your editor to fix every single error in your manuscript? I believe strongly that it is not. Even traditionally published books are rarely 100% error-free. You should avoid getting hung up on one small error when your editor fixed several other potentially disconcerting ones. Editors are people, and we are not perfect. If an editor can catch 99% of the mistakes in a document, that is well worth your time ad resources. If you’re looking for an absolutely perfect manuscript, it may be a sign that you need to hire two copy editors.

Myth #5: My editor should be rewriting content for me if they have years of experience with writing.

If you hired your editor to do a copy edit, then you’ve only hired them to review grammar, style, punctuation, spelling, etc. Unless something you wrote is factually incorrect, potentially sensitive, in disagreement with something you wrote earlier, or completely out of tone or character for your book, editors will not rewrite your content. You have put countless hours, weeks, months, or years into your book, and we will not change the integrity of your perspective or opinions.

If you’ve hired a developmental editor, think of them as a partner. They will suggest changes and work closely with you to implement them, but they will not write content for you.

Read more about the different layers of editing to help determine expectations from your editor.

Myth #6: My professional relationship with my editor only spans the two weeks I hired them for.

I hope not! I love to keep in touch with my authors and collaborate on their other books. If you’ve found an editor you like who doesn’t stifle your voice and provides quality edits, you should keep that professional relationship going. Maybe you even hire them to help you with your book summary or bio. If your editor is willing, try to integrate them into your process as much as possible. Have them help promote your book or recommend your book through word of mouth.

Also, don’t be shy when asking your editor to explain their edits to your manuscript, even if it’s after the two-week editing period. We love getting the chance to explain ourselves and educate people on editing. After all, if we have open conversations about the common errors we caught, it’ll save everyone a little effort on our next collaboration!

Happy editing,

Megan

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