Writing and editing, the two endeavors are intrinsically entwined. Even the most experienced scribe can benefit from a good editor. (A couple of very famous authors come to mind—no I won’t name names—who’ve insisted, contractually, that they not be edited. Sadly, it shows in the work, proving that, as with lawyers, writers who edit themselves have fools for clients.) We don’t need someone to simply gush and insist every word is a gem plucked from the mouths of the divine literati. Grandma Esther does that. She’s family; it’s her job. An editor’s job is to be supportively ruthless as they make our work better.
I am a graduate of Bennington College, the author of The Dragon Keeper’s Handbook (Llewellyn Worldwide, 2011), Dragons for Beginners (Llewellyn, 2012), and numerous short stories, published and not. And I have been a freelance editor for twenty years. While I can and will edit most anything, I prefer working on fiction, both short and long. A fantasy/sci-fi writer myself, as long as the words captivate, I will delve into any genre and edit with relish. My only hard and fast rule is that the work demeans no one regardless of race, creed, gender, sexual orientation, or species.
As an editor, I bring fresh eyes to an author’s work, look for awkward passages, incongruities, weaknesses, even disasters waiting to happen. I help a writer strengthen their prose, and, honoring their voice, help them sing. Of course, an editor can only recommend; ultimately all choices are yours.
If I have a particular redactor’s bone to pick it would be with people who expect an editor to be a janitor cleaning up their sloppy writing. That’s your job, not ours. I am not a ghost writer, not even a major re-writer. One of the things I have noticed in much self-published work is what I would call an “anyone can write” mentality. And while this is true on a certain level, it leaves the field wide open for people with stories to tell but lacking the craft for the telling. A writer is first a craftsman—a wordsmith. Hone your craft if you want your work to soar. To that end, read great books and write, write, write. And before handing your hard-earned cash to an editor, polish your manuscript within an inch of its life. At the very least avail yourself of the tools of our trade, especially spelling and basic grammar checks. They’re not infallible, but they are a start.
I would also suggest using standard reference works. I have been a crossword-puzzle editor for years and so have a plenitude of dictionaries at my fingertips. That said, you can’t go wrong with Webster’s New World College Dictionary, American Heritage Dictionary, and the OED (which is just a blast and a half to read!). I use Chicago Manual of Style as an editing baseline, but don’t consider it the Holy Grail. Strunk & White’s Elements of Style is also invaluable. I’m all for celebrating individual eccentricities if they are the result of deliberate, educated choices and not the by-product of lazy writing.
Read your work aloud. This is one of the clearest ways of finding cumbersome sentences or tinny dialogue. If your tongue trips over itself, something needs to be fixed. Remember: you are stepping up, striving to enter the big leagues, and should respect your work enough to make it as good as it can be before sending it out into the world—even to your editor. Just because you write at home in your teddy-bear slippers and pjs, doesn’t mean your work shouldn’t go forth in full-on Ascot and morning coat. This is your baby. Be proud of her.
Finally I’d say, as a writer, I look for an editor I can trust—who gets me—and who pulls no punches. As an editor, I look for work which, flaws aside, engages my mind and imagination. In the quest for such a proper fit, I believe the exchange of samples can be mutually beneficial. For a sense of my style, feel free to check out my blog or look inside my book, The Dragon Keeper’s Handbook. As for recommendations, I would direct you to Karen Elliott’s generous words: I thought I was a freaky-good editor until I met Shawn.
I do both line and structural/developmental editing; proofreading, too, though as a stand-alone activity, it’s not my most favorite. If you are submitting your work to someone with specific guidelines/requirements let me know; I will gladly adjust. Rates on request.
I realize that not every editor/proofreader is perfect for every writer. This is why I am presenting the series, Editor Spotlight. If you know an editor or proofreader who would like to participate, ask them to contact me at karenselliott AT midco DOT net. The Editor Spotlight series will be presented throughout the next several months in between my regular blog posts and special theme weeks. – Karen S. Elliott