A student came in yesterday and asked me to take a look at a book he’s writing. Generally speaking, I’ve adopted the very wise policy of many of my fellows, and stopped looking at the work of hopefuls. There are liability problems, not to mention I just don’t have the time to spend fixing someone else’s manuscript when mine isn’t finished. But I felt a certain responsibility toward the student, so I agreed to give it a look.
He’d handwritten six pages in pencil on notebook paper. It was full of telling instead of showing, it was lacking in the kind of detail that might catch a reader’s interest, and he changed verb tenses with every sentence. I could tell that he wanted to make it better, so I carefully, cautiously pointed out ways I thought he could improve his work. He seemed to accept my suggestions, until we reached the grammar. “Doesn’t the editor fix that?” he asked.
Your editor will read your work and tell you what doesn’t fit. She will answer your questions, help you come up with titles, laugh with you over your crazy book trailer (or maybe that was just me!) She will send you jpegs of your cover sketches and squeal with you over them. She will remind you when your deadlines are looming, pass along the tearsheets of good reviews and reassure you that the ugly ones don’t define you and your work. But she will not write one word of your book.
One of the things expected of published people is a grasp of the fundamentals of grammar. Telling a story in the written medium requires that the writer be able to communicate clearly to all readers of the language in which he’s writing. This is one of those times when you must know the rules before you can break them. One or two accidental mistakes in a manuscript are okay. We all muff things now and then. If you, the writer, can’t see that you’re writing a sentence in past tense, followed by one in present, and then a third in past imperfect, then back to past again …. you’re not ready for the market.
Granted I’ve only worked with one editor, so there could be editors out there who will do all that work for you. But I’d venture to say they are few and far between. It’s still better to get it right the first time, so that your editor can busy herself with all the fun stuff I mentioned before. Wouldn’t you rather keep your editor happy?