Why should you hire an editor? I mean, your neighbour, who taught high school English, looked over your manuscript and said it was really good, so probably it doesn’t need any work, right? Or you gave it to a friend who has a degree in English literature and they said it was fine. In fact, your manuscript is probably perfect and could just be published right now, as is, without any further intervention, right?
I love you dearly, and you’re wrong. A manuscript is NEVER done. Not even after it’s been published. Even eagle-eyed copy editors and proof readers miss things. I *guarantee* you that your friendly neighbourhood English teacher, who might be an excellent English teacher but who probably isn’t a trained editor, is going to miss things. I guarantee you that your well-intentioned English major friend probably has plenty of errors in their own papers; they may or may not have even understood what the errors were in the first place. You wouldn’t expect someone with journeymans’ papers in electrical work to do a good job on your plumbing, would you? Or a mechanic to do your drywalling? Or a doctor to provide you with good legal advice?
You probably think it’s painful to spend time with those of us who sniff in derision at restaurant menus. “Look,” we say. “Can you BELIEVE they did THAT with an apostrophe? Give me your pen. Give me. Your pen.” Or worse, we stop you in the middle of a story to tell you that you didn’t really mean to say “the beer cans emulated from section X of the stands”, because “emulate” means “to imitate or reproduce or to surpass in imitation”, and that you PROBABLY meant to say “emanated from section X of the stands”, which isn’t *exactly* right but it’s a damned sight closer than ’emulate’. The truth is editors are insufferable. We love each others’ company because we can get all pretentious over things like a transitive verb being used incorrectly or – holiest of holies – humourous dangling participles. We’re insufferable and we’re hopelessly nerdy.
We will agonize for days – DAYS – over whether that sentence ought to read “he had run out of shotgun shells” or “he ran out of shotgun shells”. We are moved to tears by a superbly placed piece of punctuation. Good syntax sends shudders of pleasure up our spines. We choose to study editing because we are perfectionists (even if not all of us can button our shirts properly), because we are detail-oriented (in language; please don’t ask how detail-oriented I am at cutting the dogs’ hair), because we love challenges (‘does this sentence say what you intend it to say? It reads this way. Unless you assume this. In which case, oooooh!’), and because we love language (I am ashamed to admit how many listserves/RSS feeds/mailing lists I belong to that talk about word origins. It’s a lot).
Editors’ work is usually undervalued because folks think anybody can do it. Folks think that because spell check exists, you don’t need to pay an editor (let me remind you that ‘pubic’ and ‘public’ are both spelled correctly in this post, as are ‘can’t’ and ‘cunt’). Spell check won’t make your writing sound as good as it can, and it certainly won’t correct your pubics and your cunts. Assuming you want them corrected to publics and can’ts.
We do a hell of a lot more than just check your spelling and your diction and your syntax and the flow of your work. We check facts (I’m working on a manuscript right now about cowboys and ranches, and while I’ve spent time working on a ranch, I had no idea what a sleigh bung was or what calf scours were, so I looked them up to make sure the terms were being used correctly. I researched the places mentioned in the manuscript because although I didn’t know many of them, the people reading this book will, and you don’t want a town’s name spelled wrong), figures, charts, and in some cases we even check your arithmetic. We move things around within your manuscript so that the narrative is logical, whether it’s fictional or non-fictional. We make sure your voice comes through in a way that no one could tell anyone but you has ever touched it.
We are ghosts; we are the wind behind your words – you should never be able to tell that an editor has ever been through your work, but without us, you don’t shine the way you should.
Also published on Medium.