Going To The Dentist…Er, Editor

I thought this would be a one-time post about editors, but it seems like the subject is really too big for its britches. That means there will be more. Aren’t you excited?

Editors get a bad rap.

Oh, it’s okay. We’re used to it. We’re the dentists of the writing world. We do what’s necessary, we do what’s requested, but it can be painful and no one likes pain. (Well, except for the freaky people, but we’re not talking about them right now. Heh.) We drill, we fill, we yank and we dig. And then, we make you pay for it.

No one likes this scenario. No one.

It’s a necessary evil. You can function without an editor (or a dentist) and you can put off using their services, but eventually that rotten tooth is going to start throbbing and causing problems, and so is your story or novel.

Sometimes, all you need is a good cleaning to stave off any big problems, and sometimes you need a thorough root canal. Sometimes, you have to pull everything out and just start from scratch, with a brand-new set of choppers. There could be blood.

No one likes this either. Not even the Editor.

It’s a lot more difficult for the self-publisher, because writers who go through the “traditional” publisher (I don’t like that term, but it’s the only one I have) will see their work evaluated by an editor as part of the package deal. The book will be seen (hopefully) by a competent proof reader, copy editor and a developmental editor. The goal is to come out the other side with clean copy that is factually consistent and worthy of publication. Does traditional publishing miss the mark? Sure. Everyone makes mistakes, sometimes the work is pushed through so fast there are glaring errors — we’ve all seen them.

From what I’ve seen of self-publishers, few have had the self-discipline or the funds to polish their work to the best it can be, and the result is a flood of garbage, if I’m to be blunt.

Like picking through this. Gross.

What to do, what to do? As a self-publisher, you don’t have access to or can’t afford the same kind of services offered by the Big Houses, and yet, you really need them. I mean, you really, really do. And I’ll get to the reasons for that in my next post.

But first, you have to understand the different levels of edits and exactly what you’re getting for your investment. Keep in mind every editor is not the same as another — some will offer all these services, some will offer one, some will offer a combination. We’ll get to that.

1. Developmental editor. The developmental editor is the one that will take an overall view of your work and evaluate it for several different points. Namely, story arc, story flow, characterization, plot, transitions and logic. This is the first, and probably the biggest, step in the editing process. The developmental editor (also known as a “story doctor” or could even evolve into a ghostwriter) may suggest major changes in plot lines or chapter placement. However, all decisions are strictly up to the writer to make. Developmental editors typically do not do a copy editor’s job (but some do), although they may make suggestions of that nature. After the developmental editor, the copy editor comes next.

Are we done yet?

No. We’re not done yet. Stop whining.

2. Copy editor. A copy editor works according to the “five c’s”…Clear, Concise, Correct, Complete and Consistent. At this level, a copy editor is checking for errors in spelling, punctuation, grammar and terminology. Additionally, a copy editor also checks for errors in facts, and evaluates flow without changing the meaning of the text. A good copy editor will make your words say what you mean, and mean what you say.

Are we done now?

No, we’re not done now, either. I said stop your whining.

3. Proofreader. This type of edit is generally for punctuation, spelling, grammar and typos. Some proofreaders will work against a copy, and some will do it “blind”. (Not actually blind. They just don’t check things against a copy.) This is actually the last stage of the editing process.

Now we're done. Right??


By this point, your story or novel should be shining like a new penny, if you’ve done the work. The editors are not there to do your work for you. It’s in your best interest to submit to the editor(s) your best material. Yes, you’re paying them for their expertise, but if you aren’t submitting the best you can do, you’re just making it more difficult on yourself. You’re going to have to correct those mistakes anyway, why pile more torture and re-work on yourself?

But, Netta, you say. I’m an indie. I can’t afford this. Or, you say, But, Netta, I know I’m good. As a matter of fact, I’m GREAT. My mother/sister/best friend/writer’s group/receptionist at the dentist’s office TOLD me I’m great! Editor? I don’t need no steeenkin’ editor!


Well, now that you know what levels of editing there are and what different editors do, tune in for the next post where I’ll tell you why you need an editor and maybe help you find some alternatives that won’t drain the bank account.

In the meantime, stock up on the novacaine.

Find “Not Nice and Other Understatements” at Amazon and now at Smashwords in any format you desire! Autographed copies are still available through the link on this page. Spread the word! And thanks for all of your support!

6 thoughts on “Going To The Dentist…Er, Editor”

  1. Lots of fingers in the pie. My experience with editors has been the ones I worked for at the local newspaper, and their job descriptions must be very, very different than what you describe because I saw none of these sorts of things happening. I flew solo, for the most part. I left headline writing to him, just to make him read what I submitted! That’s how loose things can get in the news world…

    1. I guess I should clarify and say this is based on my experience in the fiction world. I’m not surprised by what you say about the news world – my mom used to write for our local paper in NY, but she actually had good editors at the time she worked there. It was a different atmosphere then – less salacious and more news, if that makes sense.

  2. I’m self pubbed and initially didn’t want to get an editor. I had friends read it, my husband read it, and I thought I could re-edit based on their comments and changes. I couldn’t be more wrong. It really was a stubborn streak and/or arrogance that made me think I could edit my own work.

    When I did have it professionally done (copy-edit only)—what a difference. Wow! As much as I knew about grammar following CMOS guidelines, and other Style books, this editor knew more—much more, and she looked at my m/s with objective eyes, which no writer can do if you have read your own m/s over a hundred times. It’s not possible.

    For some reason, many writers think they are editors, but they are not. Just because you can edit does not mean you can do it well. I can pull out my own teeth with a pair of pliers if I wanted to, but I’m not going to do it. I will seek a dentist because I don’t want to get an infection or bleed to death. For writers, the consequence is publishing work that is pure shite or could have been so much better, if only it had been edited.

    I will self pub again, and I will have it edited again. I’d rather not eat for a week if expense is the issue, but there is no fucking way my name is on a piece of work out in the world that hasn’t had a professional editor’s eyes on it first.

  3. Amen, Eden! What really irks me is writers will spend a good amount on the book COVER, but won’t spend anything to improve the quality of what’s INSIDE the cover. Gawd, that irritates me so much!

    You are so correct when you say it is not possible to evaluate your own material. You just can’t. You’ve lived cheek by jowl with your story and characters for so long — you know their back story, you know them intimately, there’s no way you can be objective. Your brain just will not see any problems, errors or gaps. I don’t care who you are.

    I work as a freelance editor, but I have no reservations about submitting my work for an honest evaluation and good copy edit. I know it’s a necessary part of the process if I’m to produce the best I can. And that’s the point.

  4. OMG. I HATE the dentist. Those teeth will give me nightmares.
    But pull them, damn it. The alternative hurts to much. I’d rather a healthy smile than the veneer of perfection.

    Eagerly anticipating the next post… with pins hovering over voodoo doll just in case… 😉

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