by Robert Gregory Browne
The short answer to the above question we most often hear is this: Yes. Every book needs an editor. And while Joe gave us a nice set of tools for self-editing last week, I’d like to take a moment to answer this question on a more philosophical level.
I spend a lot of time on Facebook. And one day I floated the idea that not every writer and every book needs an editor.
That’s right. I said it.
I’m sure you can imagine the howls of protest. One author was so incensed by this suggestion that he simply would not leave the comment section in peace, and I, of course, took the bait (never take the bait) and engaged in a fairly heated “discussion” about the topic.
The point I made then and will float now is that in nearly every solo creative pursuit I can think of—painting, songwriting, composing, sculpting, furniture making, origami folding, calligraphy, graphic design, illustrating, etc.—you never hear anyone say to these artists, “Make sure you pass that work through an editor.”
So this begs another couple of questions:
Why do people assume—including many authors—that a book simply can’t survive without the help of a good developmental editor? Why is it a commonly held belief that every writer needs someone to help him or her see the forest from the trees before they embarrass themselves with plot holes and shaky character motivation?
Now keep in mind that I’m not talking about a copy editor. I will join the chorus in that regard and say every book needs a copy editor and proof readers, simply because the size of your typical book requires that grammar and typos be caught.
But why do we automatically assume that every author needs a developmental editor?
I’m not suggesting, of course, that some authors don’t need one, but I also believe that many veteran authors—the guys and gals who have been doing this job for years and are pretty damn good at what they do—already know how to tell a fine story, and can quite successfully produce and publish a compelling, well-written book without any help from anyone else.
I know an author who uses only a copy editor on his books, and he’s extremely successful. His books sell like hotcakes, so he must be doing something right.
My own books get a light edit from a writer friend, but the notes are usually minimal and she often says, “this is how I’d change it, but really, it’s great the way it is.” My only real reason for passing it through her is that a) I highly value her opinion; and b) my confidence as a writer is lacking just enough that I figure I should get a second opinion.
But the truth is, after writing about twenty novels, I’m not sure I need an editor at all.
I’m not huge on conspiracy theories, but I suspect the “required” editor/author meme started decades ago when authors were forced to stop self-publishing and go through publishing houses to get their work out to the public. I think the idea of each book needing an editor grew out of the publisher’s desire to make his services more attractive to the author, and to give said publisher greater control over what should and shouldn’t be published (and how much money he could grab in the process).
Now, as I said in my last post, some writers highly value the back and forth they get from an editor and it helps them write the book they want to write. And if that’s they’re particular desire, and it works for them, that’s wonderful.
But I firmly believe that many authors are seasoned enough that this step in the process is unnecessary and they can simply use Joe’s tips to edit their own work.
Just like painters do. And songwriters. And composers. And…
And lawyers writing a closing argument. If a guy who’s writing to keep someone from going to jail doesn’t need an editor, then why should we?
We are, after all, only writing to entertain, and it’s ultimately the readers who will decide whether or not our story sucks.
If you feel, personally, that your work will benefit from the back and forth an editor brings to the table, then by all means go for it. But if you have the chops, going without an editor is not a sin against literature.
Or is it? You tell me what you think.