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.”
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.