Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The Friendly Old Editor

Do you remember the friendly old editor, the guiding light of all the best publishing houses? The person who took a writer’s manuscript, sat beside him or her, and ticked off all the places a text could be improved? We owe a great debt to these people who, over a cup of coffee (with a large cognac on the side), laboured to turn good books into great ones.

Well, you might remember him, but I don’t. I don't have an editor. I’ve had my books read by amateur editors, paid by my American publisher, who asked the most shockingly ignorant questions, and tried to shoe-horn every story into a Walt Disney template. I even paid a grasping lady to ‘edit’ my first book – what a waste of money that was!

Mind you, to be fair, I did learn one thing from her. The book was an early draft of Where Gold Lies, a re-telling of Treasure Island. As a throwaway comment, she said ‘The language is a little difficult for children.’

Children? What was she talking about? I read books like that – why couldn’t she enjoy it too? I had not even thought about my potential readers. Now I imagine they are looking over my shoulder all the time. I try to imagine what effect my sentences have on them.

Another good thing came from the wretched woman’s attempt at editing. I resolved that no-one would ever, not in a million years and periods of intense cold in the lower reaches of Hell, no-one would ever mistake one of my books for kids’ literature. The next book was Foreign Affairs, a collection of stories that are so naughty not even Parental Guidance would help.

So what to do about editing in 2011? I could hire an editor. Unfortunately, editors need to be paid up front, and they want a decent return for their work. Who wouldn’t? An established editor is not going to work on a 100,000 word novel for less than $1000. Fine if you are football player, disgraced politician (or his mistress) or similar leading literary figure. You have a guaranteed market and can afford the luxuries of life. If you are a small time author – like me - $1000 is a big dent in the budget. Much too big a risk.

The solution? My next release has been read by a panel of friends and acquaintances. They have done some copy-editing, but mostly they have opinions on the characters, plot, settings, language that are worth listening to. I set up a private page on my website so they can read each other’s comments.

It’s a fantastic idea, and it gets better. I recently invited comments from Cairns Tropical Writers on the start of my WIP. I want to get started on the right foot, and everyone is invited to help. If you have a moment, look at www.jacquelinegeorgewriter.com/cairns.html and join in the discussion. I will be very grateful, because you are The Reader and your opinion counts.

©Jacqueline George All rights reserved.

Jacqueline George lives in Cooktown, Far North Queensland. She enjoys the relaxed lifestyle there, and finds plenty of time write books, some of which are far too naughty for her own good.


  1. You are so right, Jacqueline, Readers do need to be considered and by offering them a chance to help edit your book is not only a fun thing to do, it is smart as well. Reader do pick up on anomalies

    It isn't easy being a writer, and even harder when you are dedicated to presenting the best possible reading experience to your readers. Some of us here met at the Internet Writer's Workshop many years ago. It's still running strong and is very big. http://www.internetwritingworkshop.org/
    You can be sure of at least 6 critiques overnight. It's free but you are committed to doing 2 crits a month. Which isn't much. The thing is, you feel obligued to return the favour to all of your critters who give so much of there time and their expert knowledge. I would not offer a book to a publisher without it going through the Novels-L section first.
    I've made life long friends there and truly value there input.
    There are many other invaluable critique groups too. Maybe someone else would like to add theirs.

  2. Hi Jacqueline,
    I agree with the need for an editor or a second, third, and fourth set of eyes.
    As for crit groups, I joined Writing.com and found a group of Fantasy and Sci fi/Fantasy writers dedicated to sharing their knowledge. I guess I cut my teeth there.
    So, crit groups are invaluable for a) offering an unbiased opinion b) showing us the errors of our ways and how to fix them and c) once we have polished and improved, giving support and encouragement to start our career.

    Great post... I know I love having an editor. I have selp published and know what a relief it is to have those added tips and comments.

  3. Sorry to anyone who clicked the link in the original post - it somehow refused to do the sensible thing. I have re-saved and you'll have to cut-and-paste, but the panel is there and your help will be welcome.