Why Even Best-Sellers Hire Editors

Posted on October 9, 2013



If you are reading this, then you are probably a writer of some sort. Let’s imagine you are a novelist who has recently finished a great novel, the great novel – your best work to date. You took all of your talent and creativity and produced this one crowning achievement, the apex of all your artistic capacity. You know in your heart that you couldn’t make it better than it is and you could publish this book right now and be a millionaire. What should you do? Should you go straight to the publisher? You could hire an editor, but why cut someone else in on your success?

Let’s carry this purely hypothetical situation a step further by imagining that, in addition to you, there are a large number of other talented writers who are also producing great works of literary genius. In fact, let’s imagine that the market is inflated with an overwhelming number of highly talented authors, each pushing desperately to have their great work be the next award-winning title to hit the shelf.  If the situation seems to be growing less and less idealistic, that’s because I’m describing the world of modern writing, and the problem every modern author faces.

A big issue many authors take with the idea of somebody editing their work is that they think of an editor as a corrupting force upon their own creative ideal. It’s a reasonable idea, since editors must alter a text in some regard. Still, the position that editing must be bad simply because it involves changing a text is fundamentally flawed. Change can be one of two things – positive or negative. To be a good writer, one has to recognize that the capacity for positive change is always present. An editor’s job is to make changes for the better. If an editor consistently made poor changes to their clients’ work, he would not be employed very long.

Most great authors had editors, and those who did not were great despite a lack of editing, not because of it. Take as an example the poet T. S. Elliot. Much of Elliot’s poetry went edited. One of Elliot’s greatest successes was The Wasteland, which is often approached as one of the greatest poems to be written. The Wasteland was edited by a man named Ezra Pounds. Elliot recalled fondly that Pounds covered his manuscript with blue ink and criticisms. Elliot noted that it would have been impossible to take all of the criticisms into account while maintaining the poem, but he still valued the critique as a whole and used it to produce the version of The Wasteland we commonly recognize. While Elliot had his critics like all writers, none of them criticized him for having his work edited.

Even today a writer is more likely to be criticized for not having their work edited, than for adhering to the process. This is for good reason. The bottom line is every writer needs an editor. No writer is so great that their work does not require a second pair of eyes to be the best that it can be. Whether they be a technical or fiction writer, neophyte or master, a writer’s goal is ultimately the same: to convey their ideas effectively. If a good writer is an effective conveyer of ideas, then a good editor’s job is to enhance how effective a writer is at conveying his ideas.

An editor does not want to change the ideas that the writer conveys, only how effectively those ideas are conveyed. Consider this: editors are better at editing than writers. Editing is a skill which improves with practice, and editors have the most practice. The writer is the master of scripting ideas. Even if a writer edits his own work, he can only dedicate a relatively small part of his time to the art of editing. Most of their time goes to the creation of new content, or the extensive revision of content. The editor becomes unparalleled at applying polish to a text because he’s made a career out of doing so.

Never believe your work so good that it is impossible for it to be improved. For a writer, stagnation is death. There is always room for improvement. I’ve spoken with writers who, even after retiring, found themselves going back to their earliest work and recognizing what could have been done better.  Even if you have a talent for editing, hiring an editor would still likely improve your work. This is because seeing the edited version of a text alters one’s perspective of how it can operate. The edited version can also show how things could be different, and open up doors within a writer’s own imagination. The better the editor, the more a writer will acquire from having his work edited, but a writer may still recognize new aspects in his writing with a poor editor.

So what happens if a writer doesn’t hire an editor? The cost of not having one’s work professionally edited can be devastating. When you read a book by a published author, or a professional manuscript, how many spelling or grammar errors do you allow before you stop taking it seriously? How many poorly constructed sentences or confusing paragraph structures do you accept before you put the book down and walk away? For many people, the cumulative number for a novel-sized text is less than five.

One of the worst things that can happen to a writer is that his work isn’t given the chance it deserves because of something as easily fixed as unresolved technical errors.  Don’t regret hiring an editor because it costs money. Financially speaking, editing is a necessary step to guarantee the stability and success of the text as a product. Whatever indignation or financial regrets a writer might feel about hiring an editor are unwarranted. These minor regrets are also far less substantial than what could come of publishing a text that has not been professionally edited.  As one writer to another, I implore you to seek an editor for your work. You have little to lose and much to gain.

Cody Barnette, Writer and Editor, Asta Publications


Asta Publications has a long history of helping writers tell their stories and get published. Since 2004, Asta Publications has helped hundreds of authors bring their book concepts to life and we are ready to help you too! Our dedication to our authors is unmatched. We deliver first-class products and services that are accurate, high quality, and exceed our authors’ expectations.

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