With respect to all the professionals I’m going to offend, let me tell you why editors are (often) a right royal pain in the arse. (And why that’s a good thing.)
There is, inevitably, a bit of a disconnect between the subjective world of the writer and the seemingly dispassionate (objective) view of the editor. You may have spent months or years working on your book, and you’ve probably sweated and strained over every syllable of it. Naturally you’re going to feel as protective as a lioness with a cub. That editor resolving into view on the horizon may very well look like a predator, but really, they just want to help you to get your story out into the world.
I’m not for one minute suggesting that editors should get an entirely easy ride. Your chosen editor still needs to prove their credentials, and it helps if they can show that they understand and empathise with your work. But assuming they know what they’re doing, your editor will soon set you mind at rest.
Need a bit more convincing? Well then, here are seven reasons why I think you should work with an editor on your memoir or autobiography…
Editors can make sense of practically anything!
Whatever state your manuscript’s in, a good editor will be able to make sense of it. They’ll be able to identify the narrative and structural issues, and make the right suggestions for necessary changes. That’s especially good news for you if, having started work on your autobiography or memoir, you’re experiencing a little bit of imposter syndrome. (I can assure you that I have seen manuscripts in all sorts of states, and I haven’t yet found one that couldn’t be worked upon and improved.)
An editor can step in at any stage
Perhaps you’re just setting out on your writing journey; if your ideas feel unfocussed in the very early stages of planning your book, your editor can untangle your ideas and streamline them for you.
Or perhaps you’re already way over your expected word count; an editor can help you make the necessary nips, tucks and writing tweaks to bring your manuscript down to size.
Your editor will make more sense of your story
Sometimes, the hardest thing in the world is to put your story in order. Yes, it’s your life, and you lived it, but making sense of all the ways the events of your life interrelate, and deciding how to make a compelling narrative out of that can be challenging. When you get over the frisson of alarm that comes of having your editor getting to grips with the threads of your story then you’ll see the value in letting someone objective weave those threads into something that makes thematic and narrative sense.
Your editor will respect your tone of voice
Your tone of voice, your phrasing, and your unique word choices are all part and parcel of your voice. Writers and editors talk a lot about ‘voice’ – it’s a slightly intangible thing, but it’s hardwired into your story. Good editors are great respecters of the uniqueness of their author’s voices and will work hard to preserve them. Yes, your editor is almost certainly going to have to make changes, but like an archaeologist, carefully wiping away the extraneous stuff, they’ll reveal the beauty of what lies beneath.
Editors save you time and effort
If writing your book felt like a wonderful expression of creativity, then editing can feel like the enemy of all that. For some people it’s soul destroying, for others, it’s merely crushing! Editing is not just necessary, I’d argue it can turn a good manuscript into a great manuscript.
The best person to edit your work probably isn’t you. How can you possibly decide which of your darlings to kill? Your editor will have no such qualms. They’ll sweep through your manuscript cutting out all the excess verbiage, making sense of the inscrutable bits, and joining up the dots in ways that help your story flow. I’m not saying that you couldn’t do that work yourself, but realistically, a professional editor who knows their craft will be able to do that more quickly than you – and with less gnashing of teeth!
Editors are used to having things thrown at them!
There may well come a point in your writing journey where you feel as if you’ve said all you can say. But if you have an editor in your corner, you can throw it over to them and let them take the strain. Editors are adaptable. They’re used to being engaged partway through the writing process because the writer has hit a sticky patch, and they’re just as used to being brought in at the last minute to make corrections quickly. So, you can throw your manuscript their way, whenever you need some help, and they’ll sort it out for you.
A good editor will fight their corner
Now, this final reason might not sound all that enticing, but in a way, it’s the most important reason of all…
The more conscientious your editor is, the more likely it is that they’re going to be a pain in the arse. For what it’s worth, I can tell you that editors (and ghostwriters come to that) don’t get arsey to prove a point. They don’t actively try to foment ill will. It’s just that they have an almost fanatical devotion to your story.
Grateful though they are for the work, good editors aren’t going to toe the line to keep the peace. If your editor thinks your approach is wrong for your audience, they’ll tell you. If they think your readers will respond to a different approach from the one you’ve outlined, they’ll say.
Of course, I think an editor who is prepared to explain why an existing concept won’t work, and can justify their alternative ideas, will always be worth their weight in gold.
The horrible truth about your editor
In short, your readers’ needs should usually trump your needs. And even though you are – or your publisher is – paying the bill, your editor will care more about writing the words that really speak to your readers.
It’s not an easy life. It’d be a whole lot easier to sweep in on a wave of elegant prose and identi-kit ideas, and take the quick win. But the pain in the arse editor doesn’t do the easy life.
Pain in the arse editors are, fortunately, easy to avoid
You can find plenty of fine editors who will help you write well, and write exactly what you want, without ever being a pain in the arse.
But if you’d like to try an editor who’s in it for the job of helping you really speak to your readers, you can find out more about my editing work, or book a free half hour editing consultation to tell me about your project. You’ll find that I’m surprisingly agreeable to work with, even if, for very good reasons, I might be a right royal pain in the arse.