The editor can fix that…


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?


9 comments to The editor can fix that…

  • Yikes. Is he possibly confusing ‘editor’ with ‘ghost writer’?

  • I’d love to say it’s just that he’s so young, but I’ve heard perfectly intelligent adults say the same thing before.

  • My editor does many things to my manuscript (and I’m in the middle of going through his edits on a manuscript right now) including dealing with meta-issues like plot, character, pacing, etc. He’s also good at finding certain mannerisms that I’ll pick up in the course of writing a book (I know that other authors have this problem at times as well) — little phrases that I’ll repeat or fall back on when nothing else comes to mind. And yes, at times he’ll find syntactical stuff that I miss or ignore.

    That said, you’re right. I try to clean up my manuscripts as much as possible before sending them in, not only because I want to keep my editor happy, but because I can find the mechanical stuff myself. What I need from my editor is insight. I need him to help me make this book as good as it can be. If he’s constantly dealing with grammar and the like, he can’t delve into the larger issues, and he can’t help me as much as I want and need him to.

  • Michele Conti

    I can see where the confusion would be with a student especially.

    My boyfriends younger brother often asks me to “Edit” his homework for him. Reports, Short stories for Lit… all of that. Part of my job, as big sister Editor lady, is to put on the TRACK CHANGES and start changing all the stuff that isn’t right. Then go over it with him, explain why what was there wasn’t right, and then explain why what is there *is* in fact right. <<< That, so wasn’t right. TeeHee.

    Then, I prod him full of ideas like “Well, if you were to do some more research, you could confirm what your opinions are, then you’d get a better mark.” Or, “What if you added some more detail here, like how this dude you’re writing about looks, or why that girl is sooooo sad all the time?”

    But, the first thing I have to do is check the grammar and spelling. Subsequently, the next time he writes something there are so many less changes that need to be made. Of course, it’s still not perfect, but the big problem areas are gone. Even when I make my changes, the little things I leave, because really…if he gets an A all the time he’ll never learn anything.

    So for a kid to say “Doesn’t the editor do that” really does make sense to me, especially if that kid has someone like me “Editing” their work for them.

  • Misty, you are so right. Even adults do that. Okay, a lot of adult writers do that. And then they wonder why they are never published. It is very sad that so many writers sabotage themselves by not learning grammar and then blame the publishing industry for not publishing their work.

    We writers have to produce a product. Just like a blue-jeans maker has to put in hems and straight seams, the writer has to do his job in producing a product with correct spelling and an active voice and a good plot. I make hundreds of typos in a first draft. But I fix them before anyone important sees the mss. (Read agent or editor, here.)

  • I know that the writer has to have a pretty good controlover grammar, but what happens, when there are mistakes infrequent or so that show that the writer has skills, but lacks in a certain field of grammar? I’m curious to know whether the writer gets totally dismissed from the business or is helped by agent and so on to prosper in that field.

  • I have problems with loose and lose and loss. I know a writer with problems with your and you’re, and its and it’s. One of those brain fart things.

    An editor and / or agent is always willing to help with them, but only after one has developed a relationship with said VIP. Rule of thumb? This means that your first 5 pages have to grammatically perfect. *Perfect!* If you have baited and hooked your VIP by the first five, then they will usually be willing to assist with detail stuff, and even much bigger stuff. Or at least that has been my experience.

  • Harry, it’s like Faith said. Once you’re in, you can make a few boo-boos and the world won’t end. But if you do make those mistakes, your editor will send you the pages and let you fix the boo-boos.

    A good critique group (or a good beta reader) can help with making those first five pages perfect.

  • Thank you for your replies. I am just interested, because there are fields, where I am pretty unconscious of my mistakes and spelling is not one of them. I simply make too many mistakes because I try to type with 100 words per minute. Hah! I say this, because I see how many mistakes I made in the upper post. Thanks again.