Friday, December 12, 2014

Conference Insights: What to Look For in a Book Editor

October 2014 saw the first Writers' Retreat in the Rockies, hosted by Michelle Theall of Creative Conferences and Kerrie Flanagan of Northern Colorado Writers. Speakers included experts in craft, publishing, the editorial process, and more.

One such memorable speaker was Coralie Hunter, former book editor at Knopf/Doubleday. She gave a presentation about how editors (and agents) think, search for new authors and voices, approach their work, and why one work is rejected over another.

The most memorable thing she imparted, in my estimation, was her definition and explanation of what makes an excellent book editor for your work-in-progress.


Ms. Hunter contends that the best book editor of all is actually an expert close reader, someone willing not only to skim your work looking for and correcting typos and misspellings but also to do everything possible to make the work the best it can possibly be and still preserve the author's intended message, voice, and style.

A close reader is someone who will give each word, line, sentence, paragraph, page, chapter, and section of your book the attention it deserves to make it the best it can be.

The best editor will recognize that he or she is a pseudo-reader first, someone in a position to look at your manuscript the way a potential reader wold, and a detail-oriented analyst second, and that the two aspects (the forest and the trees) have to come together to be effective.


What to look for in an editor?

According to Ms. Harper, an expert editor will be visionary: someone who can see the work as it could be and is willing to help get it there.

An expert editor will be an advocate: someone who commits to your work and your message and works tirelessly to ensure that each page conveys the same style and voice consistently.

An expert editor will be invisible in the final draft: someone whose influence is appreciated simply by his or her blatant absence. This point is much like that of the pit orchestra accompanying a musical production. The goal of the pit orchestra is to be invisible, and to play as well as possible the accompaniment music to what's going on onstage. If the audience notices the pit orchestra for any reason --- an out-of-tune note, a wrong entrance, a missed pause) --- there's a problem.

An expert editor will be objective with the craft of writing: someone familiar with the standards and reader expectations for your particular genre and with writing as a whole so that the final draft is publishable.

And an expert editor will be involved in the story line: someone as committed to the story you are telling as you are.

Things to Remember

Editors are human, too. We make mistakes. I've missed more than one comma in my time and had to go back for a second, third, and sixth read-through to ensure that I had done everything in my power to make the manuscript the best it could possibly be.

Some of us come across as nit-picky, never satisfied people. Keep in mind that if you want your work to be the best it can be, we need to be nit-picky to help you. If you wanted praise and accolades, let a friend read your manuscript; if you want it at its best, find an editor. We let you be creative while we handle the analytic side.

Finally, an expert editor will get you as far down the road to publication as possible, but even an expert editor is not a miracle-worker, and getting your manuscript professionally edited is not a guarantee of publication. There are thousands of writers in the world, and only so many available slots in a publisher's lineup.

Nonetheless, a professional editor will get you a great deal closer to publication than you might could get on your own.

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What do you look for in an editor? What qualities do you find most important? What qualities do you find least important? Do you edit your own work? Why or why not?

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