5 Myths about Editors: And Tips on How to Find a Good One

Most writers know they need an editor. But how can you be sure an editor won’t do more harm than good?

Authors on social media feed this doubt with myriad editing myths—with some posters voicing plausible concerns and others ranting without reason.

I’ve selected five editing myths from social media. Below are my replies and tips on how to find a good editor.

Myth 1. Editors Destroy Your Book

Unfortunately, many writers have experienced the havoc of bad editors.

Editors exist at all rungs of the quality ladder. Some laymen start calling themselves editors and throw out their nets on Upwork, LinkedIn, and Facebook not because they know what they’re doing, but because it’s an opportunity to work from home.

During the COVID lockdowns, we saw new editors launching like popcorn from a pot. Many of these were untrained and unskilled—in language and in craft.

But there are thousands of good editors out there. They cost more, but they handle your manuscript with respect and won’t make changes you don’t approve of.

Here’s what a recent customer of mine said:

“I’ve worked with 10+ book editors, and Niels has been the best . . . by far.”

By working with me, this author learned that editors are not all of one class.

Myth 2. Good Editors Work on Paper

I read this myth in a Facebook thread about editors. In neighboring offices, other freelancers must have heard me yell, “What the @#$%?!”

This is a destructive myth. The dozens of authors who must have read and believed it will start looking for editors who avoid word processors. And that means blacklisting the vast majority of competent editors.

Though I prefer hard copy, I work digitally. That’s the way to go nowadays. It allows me to use tools in my word processor that speed up my editing process, without which I can’t compete in the market—I mean, are you willing to pay a thousand dollars more so I can work on paper?

I’ve studied editing at the University of Washington. My fellow students and I had one lesson about editing hard copy; the rest was digital. Does this imply that no good editors are being trained today?

I’m working and connecting with brilliant editors who never print manuscripts. None of us has the time.

Myth 3. Editors Want to Make Your Book Their Own

Good editors will study your voice, tone, and intentions. They want to enhance your author’s voice—not change it!—and improve the book you are writing.

Requesting a sample edit is the best way to judge whether you found your editor. Do the edits convince you? Do they sound like you?

If the revisions sound off, talk with the editor. If he keeps defending changes you would never make, you’ll want to look for another editor.

Under the penultimate heading, you’ll find more tips on how to assess editorial quality.

Myth 4. Editors Reduce the Magic of Your Book

Editors remove things—yes, even things authors might call “magic.” Good editors, however, never delete anything without a reason.

This pure, unbridled, twinkling magic is distracting and over-the-top to the average reader.

A few examples:

  • Adjectives and adverbs. Authors who want to show how emotional their story is tend to accentuate this by stacking adjectives and adverbs. But each added adjective subtracts from the strength of the sentence. Best is a strong noun or verb that says all without modification. If you do need modifiers, use them sparingly—usually, one is better than two.
  • Hyperboles. Though possible as an effect, hyperboles easily turn your story into a parody by blowing everything up until it cracks.
  • Overwriting. When you overwrite, you’re often overenthusiastic or -supportive of your subject and overstating everything about it. You indiscriminately use words like “amazing,” “incredible,” and “life changing.” Alternatively, you’re antagonistic toward the object of your writing, and you equate everything about it to the inner circles of hell.
  • Entitlement. You feel your understanding surpasses that of your reader or your subject, often resulting in an I-know-better kind of pomposity.
  • Poetic language. You’re using soaring cliches—clusters of words that once were original and inspiring images but are now hackneyed and skimmed over.

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Good editors will delete these things or substitute better phrases. When they do, writers are advised to pay attention.

And don’t worry; you can always undo edits you don’t agree with.

Myth 5. Only Professional Writers Can Afford an Editor

While having your book edited is a huge expense, it should be attainable for everyone.

Think of it this way:

A car is a huge expense, yet most of us have one. A fridge is a huge expense, and none of us does without. Washing machines. Televisions. Vacations.

Why should editing your book be any different?

If you approach your book edit as an investment, like the things mentioned above, you realize editing is something you need to save up for. Most nonfiction books take years to complete. If you start saving the day you start your project, you’ll have a good stack of money by the time you’re done. It might still not be enough, but the investment will be less impressive.

Make it a part of your project management.

And there are other things you can do to minimize your editing costs:

  1. Get coaching. Writing coaches can help you get off to a good start. They can tell you whether your idea is workable, and they can help you focus your story and create a tight outline to work from. They’ll also help you tighten your writing. If you perform these tasks well, your editor doesn’t have to do them for you. Pay two hundred dollars at the beginning, and potentially save thousands later.
  2. Read blogs and books on writing. By studying the hacks of those who went before you, you can greatly improve the quality of your final draft.
  3. Follow a writing course. There are many good courses on how to plan and write your book. Get it right from the start, and your editor will send you attractive quotes.

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Learning narrative techniques and exposition strategies takes time—a lot of it. But editing your book will be much cheaper if you apply the rules of focus, organization, and tightness to your drafts.

How to Find a Good Editor

The myths above do not come from nowhere. There are many bad editors around, so before making your pick, I recommend checking them out carefully. Here are a few questions you could ask:

What are their clients saying about them? 

—Think of recommendations, case studies, or talks on social media. Are their customers satisfied? Do you see statements like “He understood my style” or “she maintained my voice”?

What impression do their websites give you? 

—Is the web copy well conceptualized and error free? What about their blogs and social posts? Of course, everybody makes mistakes, but if web content doesn’t attract, is illogical, or is packed with typos, you know it’s time to run.

Do you like their editing style? 

—Editors are people, and therefore, they’re unique, having their own styles and preferences. Before making a deal, ask the editor for a sample edit on your book. This is a service you pay for—I would distrust editors who give real editing away for free—but it is worth your dollars.

The sample helps you see if you and the editor match. And you’ll have a number of pages that have been professionally edited; you can use these as an example for further self-editing, which might eventually lower the editing costs.

If you do these things, you’ll find an editor who understands you and knows how to find and enhance the treasures in your book. It will still be 100% yours—minus the glitches.

Finally, let me state that good editors are trained to adapt to your style. I have helped writers of many voices finish their books. And they testify that I did a good job. For examples, check the testimonials on my website.

Any More Questions about Editors?

If you have any more questions about editing and editors, don’t hesitate to book a discovery call or send me a message below.

Enjoyed this blog?

Have a look at my other posts. And if you need help finishing your story, let’s chat.

5 Myths about Editors: And Tips on How to Find a Good One

Niels Kwakernaak

Nonfiction Editor

Thanks for your interest in my experience and ideas. I write these blogs to help you overcome the hurdles of being a writer.

Would you like some one-on-one input? I’d love to help you develop your stories.

Connect with me via LinkedIn or my contactform.

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