Your Best Editor Is the One Who Shreds Your Writing

I was just talking with Kyle Lacy’s and my editor, Katherine, about the editing of our book, Branding Yourself.

We were talking about the strong-arm nature of our development editor, Leslie, and the work she did for us on our book. Leslie was tough, asked a lot of hard questions, and really made us work. There were days I spent almost as much time fixing her edits as I did writing the original chapter.

“Would you ever want to use her again on future projects?” Katherine asked

“Oh absolutely. She kicked our asses.”

These people made Branding Yourself as good as it is.

That’s the beauty of a really good editor. They won’t let you get away with anything. They do whatever is necessary to make your writing the best it can be. And for me and Kyle, that was making sure our book wasn’t a piece of schlock that came across as one long hastily-written blog post.

A good editor will ask questions, point out errors, make corrections, show inconsistencies, and make you revise your work. A bad editor will read your work, tell you they liked it, and maybe point out a couple punctuation errors.

A good editor will make your life hell, a bad editor will make your life as easy as possible.

A good editor will make your writing rock, a bad editor will let your writing suck.

I can’t tell you the number of times I got irritated with Leslie’s questions and comments in the manuscript that personally attacked me and questioned my ability as a writer. I would work on them at my dining table at 1:00 in the morning, writing snarky responses to most of them.

It took the light of day to bring a fresh new perspective to her helpful questions and comments that showed me where I skipped an important piece of information or had a poorly-constructed sentence. I quickly deleted the snarky responses, happy that I had waited until the morning before I finished making the changes. (I learned to stop reading her edits when I was running on empty at 1 in the morning, but started making them during the day when I was fully rested. She became much nicer when I did that.)

I have learned over the years that editors are only there to make your work better, not to make you look stupid or to make you question why you ever pursued writing and didn’t just go into roadkill cleanup as a career. If you’re lucky enough to find an editor for your work, whether it’s a professional editor looking at a manuscript or a know-it-all friend with a hyperactive red pen, treasure this person. Hold on to them for as long as you can, and give them as much of your work if they can handle.

And when they hand you back your baby, filled with more questions and red ink than you think can fit in one pen, say thank you, get a good night’s sleep, and then make the changes they suggested.

After all, it’s your name and your reputation going on that piece. You look like a genius because of them, and all they get — if they’re lucky — is their name on an inside page of the book.

My book, Branding Yourself: How to Use Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself (affiliate link), is available on Amazon.com, as well as at Barnes & Noble and Borders bookstores. I wrote it with my good friend, Kyle Lacy.

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    About Erik Deckers

    Erik Deckers is the President of Pro Blog Service, a content marketing and social media marketing agency He co-authored four social media books, including No Bullshit Social Media with Jason Falls (2011, Que Biz-Tech), and Branding Yourself with Kyle Lacy (3rd ed., 2017, Que Biz-Tech), and The Owned Media Doctrine (2013, Archway Publishing). Erik has written a weekly newspaper humor column for 10 papers around Indiana since 1995. He was also the Spring 2016 writer-in-residence at the Jack Kerouac House in Orlando, FL.

    Comments

    1. Great post. Like Kevin I am fortunate to have two editors, on our team, that drive me crazy (yes – I know it’s a short trip). Thank you Josh and Nancy.

    2. Leslie T. O'Neill says:

      Erik, this is an awesome post. You capture both sides so perfectly. I hope you guys know I never intended to make you feel personally attacked, but I totally get it. It’s hard to be on the receiving end of the red pen, especially when you put so much of yourself into the work. That’s the tricky part, trying to balance the feelings of the writers with the need to make the work as good as it can possibly be. Your book was never “hastily written shlock,” though! And I’d be lucky to get to kick your asses again. Truly, thanks for the kind words. If I had a scrapbook, I’d paste this onto the first page.

    3. Katherine Bull says:

      I’m glad you both appreciated the hard work of your editor. I remember the first article I wrote as a cub reporter and the editor sent it back to me with comments like “What the hell does this mean?” and “This is terrible.” I was so traumatized but I was glad I forged ahead because it did make me a better writer.

    4. This is an absolutely excellent article Erik. I am guilty of not thanking our Senior Copywriter for his quick answers, let alone long arduous edits, nearly enough. I should count my blessings to have a copywriter with 30 plus years experience a mere fifteen feet away. p.s. If he reads this, I am sure he will be all to happy to point out my errors.

    Trackbacks

    1. […] Have a good editor. I learned a long time ago that while I’m a stickler about grammar and punctuation, I make a crapload of mistakes. Even though I catch them on second and third edits, I still usually find one or two that has to be fixed. Pearson just sent Kyle and me the “gathers” of the book. Individual chapters that we need to read over and mark any errors before the second printing. Believe it or not, with two writers and four editors, I found a couple errors. (What’s worse, they were mine!) […]

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