When I tell people I’m a book editor, they generally reply: “Wow, you must be a great speller!” Well, the thing is, I’m an exceptional editor, but not the best speller. Gasp! How can that be? Keep reading, because I’m going to get into all the aspects of editing and, most importantly, why you cannot, cannot, CANNOT put your work out there without passing it under a set of editorial eyes--or several even. Even if you are able to spell antidisestablishmentarianism without looking it up. Or spellcheck. (And yeah, I needed both for that.)
First, the WHY.
Number 1: It’s an important part of the process to self-edit, but in all truthfulness, you cannot successfully edit your own book unless you are a robot. It’s impossible for us as human beings to regard ourselves with complete objectivity. I’m serious. You can’t pour out something from your head and your heart onto a page and decide whether it’s good or not. You can feel it, for sure, and some people are very good at that. But our heads and hearts are not reliable and they will also trick us into thinking and feeling that what they believe is good is actually good. (Remember these are the two jokers responsible for your last bad relationship. Still want to trust them completely?) An editor is objective, and that’s essential. (Unless it’s your mom. Don’t ask your mom to edit your book.)
Number 2: As wonderful as you are (and you are wonderful), you know it is impossible for a single human being to know everything. (Many, including my husband will disagree with me about this, but, look, it is what it is.) And hey, even if you do know everything, consider this: You may know too much! That saturation of knowledge of yours could very well affect how you present it, and you can drown your reader in confusion without even realizing it. Sometimes it’s an editor’s task to pare down, to tell you when to rein it the freak in. But sometimes an editor also must let you know what’s missing. What lacks development and exposition and what sorely needs it in order to communicate effectively with readers--scientific essay or love story or whatever you’ve written.
And finally, Number 3: The most obvious reason to work with editors is...the more you see, the less you see. The mind (remember that joker from before who made you suffer that “good-on-paper” guy you wasted the better half of a year dating?) enjoys sabotage, and gets off on tripping up even the most eagle-eyed among us. Especially when the mind is tired, and cranky, and frankly bored to death reading and re-reading the same material over and over again (no matter how genius that material may be). Look, you are always going to miss something. Deal with it. And work with an editor, whose mind (unlike yours) doesn’t care to play tricks on you, and who will see glaring boo-boos you’ve read over ten thousand times and never seen.
And Now: The HOW.
Editors come in all shapes and skill sets. Here’s a rundown.
Acquisitions (commissioning) editor.
May be considered more “marketing” then “editorial.” These are they guys that scan P&Ls to decide what’s going to work for their lists. They read your stuff, but not with the depth of someone who’s actually going to work on your stuff. If you’re indie, they don’t really matter to you.
Like a beta reader, but trained. Work with a developmental editor after you’ve completed a draft of your book--before you’ve spiffied up and polished things. The developmental editor lets you know what’s working and what isn’t, and for what isn’t, advises how to make it work. (“Kill Charlie, he’s useless!” or “Save the hot washing-machine sex scene for later in the book, after we get a chance to get to know Fred and Marva and their feelings about laundry”) Once you have this great OBJECTIVE insight, you can use those suggestions to revise and rework. And now you can polish.
These guys have a knack for writing a good sentence and a good grasp on grammar, and make sure that your chosen words are relaying your meaning correctly. And they suggest new words to use if you’re not quite hitting it. The line editor will not (should not!) re-write your book. Rather, he or she will clean up phrases that don’t make sense, help slice out redundancies, and make comments where appropriate (“AU: Fred and Marva and the washing machine...you explain on page 40 that he’s five-foot-four. Wouldn’t he need to be standing on something here?” A good example from my last book: “AU: Peonies don’t bloom in the Northeast in September.” Who knew? Not me. But the line editor did!) Line editors hone in on the details so easy to miss in when you’re all caught up in the throes of the rhythm and the music of the writing of a story (which, as the writer of the story, is where you should be, BTW).
A copyeditor’s raison d’etre is to get your grammar right. Like specially trained soldiers, “SEALS” if you will, copyeditors annihilate misspellings, missed words, wrong words, and other dumb crap, and can shame even the most confident grammarian. That’s okay. If you’re telling a story, your crisp command of grammar should not be the part you’re most focused on.
To recap: No matter how Type A you may think you are, if you’re writing, working with an editor is a good idea. Remember: Your heart and your mind are mischievous little beasts who want you to look bad on paper. A good editor is your best defense!
The Girl, the Gold Tooth and everything
A fast-paced, richly layered, and darkly humorous satire filled with quirky characters and unforgettable moments of humanity!
When a trip to the dentist leaves Mina with a new gold crown, her whole life changes. Slowly her memory and her mojo return. But when everything begins to crash down around her, she's not sure if what's happening is real, of if she's just now fully losing her mind... especially when she realizes the only person she can trust is the one she fears the most. What's it all going to cost her in the end?
Francine LaSala has written nonfiction on every topic imaginable, from circus freaks to sex, and edited bestselling authors of all genres (fiction and nonfiction) through her company, Francine LaSala Productions.
The author of novels Rita Hayworth's Shoes and The Girl, The Gold Tooth & Everything, and four feature-length screenplays, she lives with her husband and two daughters in New York.