Writers Need Editors

Many great writ­ers need great edi­tors.

I recent­ly watched biogra­phies of Mark Twain and Jules Verne. Both of these writ­ers relied on col­lab­o­ra­tion to craft their famous works into mas­ter­pieces.

Pierre-Jules Hetzel edit­ed and pub­lished the works of Verne. According to the biog­ra­phy, Hetzel was involved in every stage of Verne’s writ­ing. The edi­tor-pub­lish­er would help with out­lines, guide char­ac­ter devel­op­ment, and aggres­sive­ly edit­ed the works of his friend. There is some debate as to how much Hetzel might have writ­ten — but that doesn’t mat­ter to me. What is impor­tant is that the works of Jules Verne seem to have been slop­py and dis­or­ga­nized with­out edit­ing.

Samuel Langhorne Clemens, the leg­endary Mark Twain, relied on many col­leagues to help shape his works, includ­ing William Wright and Bret Harte. Twain wrote a great deal, often in chop­py vignettes that had to be stitched togeth­er with some assis­tance. Friends like Wright helped Twain bal­ance his wit with sto­ry­telling. Pacing a sto­ry is not easy, and Twain rec­og­nized the val­ue of col­lab­o­rat­ing to pol­ish a tale.

While these are only two exam­ples, many — if not most — famous writ­ers share cred­it with edi­tors.

I’ve met too many aspir­ing writ­ers unwill­ing to rec­og­nize that writ­ing is a col­lab­o­ra­tive process. The self-pub­lish­ing boom is not help­ing this sit­u­a­tion. Maybe it is because a writer needs to be con­fi­dent; rejec­tion is part of the pub­lish­ing process. Maybe it is because a writer doesn’t want some­one else to alter a work that is a part of the writer’s soul. There are prob­a­bly a dozen rea­sons many emerg­ing writ­ers don’t want to call on an edi­tor.

Read about famous writ­ers and learn about their rela­tion­ships with edi­tors and pub­lish­ers. We are los­ing those rela­tion­ships in our dig­i­tal era, and that con­cerns me.

Lately, I’ve read too many sto­ries that are not “good” by the most gen­er­ous of stan­dards. I imag­ine sit­ting down with the authors and ask­ing them ques­tions. Yes, I see too many gram­mar and mechan­i­cal errors, but the prob­lems that annoy me involve sto­ry­telling. Characters sud­den­ly appear, clues are omit­ted, and hate turns to love in an instant. Books feel like puz­zles that shipped with four or five miss­ing pieces. You can still make out the image, but it is unful­fill­ing.

If you are set on self-pub­lish­ing, find an edi­tor. I don’t mean a copy­ed­i­tor, though that is cer­tain­ly good advice. No, find an edi­tor with expe­ri­ence shap­ing sto­ries. You want some­one able to tell you why the main char­ac­ter won’t be liked by read­ers. You need some­one to tell you when the sto­ry is bor­ing. You need some­one will­ing to bruise your ego a lit­tle so that sto­ry you want to tell is the one you final­ly pub­lish.

There are soli­tary writ­ers, but they are excep­tion. Most writ­ers need feed­back to be at their best.

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Author: C. Scott Wyatt


One thought on “Writers Need Editors”

  1. Good points here. I have recent­ly read at least a half dozen self-pubbed books that sim­ply… were not ready for prime time. Unlikable main char­ac­ters — or NO main char­ac­ters that could be found. Plots that crossed the line from stretch­ing the imag­i­na­tion to mur­der­ing it. Pacing mis­takes. Endings that were not resolved by an effort of the main char­ac­ter, but stuff hap­pened, the end.

    And all of them were fix­able — a good edi­tor would have been able to address those issues and make the books at least decent, if not great.

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