Content Editing Separates Good Indies from the Rest

A friend of mine has been reviewing books for years — he’s on Amazon’s honor roll of reviewers. He prefers cozy mysteries, and usually buys traditionally published books. After his last experience with an indie book, I can’t blame him.

Mark was excited about the topic of the book, but when he was telling me about it on Twitter, he said the execution was lacking. The book needed an editor. He gave it two stars, which is rare for him. Based on his review, it deserved it.

Anybody who’s heard me talk about writing knows I think a editor is key. Not just any editor, but a good one. I’m blessed to have Kyrie as an editor, but if you aren’t fortunate enough to have somebody who started editing your work 10 years ago and shares your brain, that’s no excuse. Ask around, find out who other people are using. (No, Kyrie’s not taking on other writers.) Look for somebody who is a better editor than you are a writer.

If we indies want to be taken seriously, we need to hold ourselves accountable for quality work, and that starts with a good developmental editor. Not just a copy editor, but  somebody that really looks at the content and can help you improve your story. Kyrie does that for me, along with several beta readers and my critique group. But Kyrie gets final say, generally. If I really disagree, we’ll hash it out. But usually those disagreements are about little things, such as a word choice. On the big pieces, she’s usually right about what’s working and what’s not.

About a dozen years ago, I had just been promoted to my first daily newspaper job when a police officer was killed on duty in one of the towns I covered. Breaking stories don’t get much more high-profile than that, and I was a rookie. Two other reporters helped with the reporting, but it fell to me to pull it together into the main story. I ended up driving the 30 minutes to the main office with the copy desk so I could be there for the editing. Copy desk chief sat me down as he started reading. Half an hour later, he had pulled apart the story, put the pieces back together and made it a million times better. And then he told me I’d done a good job.

I laughed, and said I’d believe that if I hadn’t just seen the major overhaul he’d done. That’s when he explained that he couldn’t have done that level of editing without all the information I’d put together already. It was one of my first experiences with the impact of a truly good editor on my work — and the story won first place in the New England Press Association awards that year. The lessons I learned about structure and storytelling from watching Gene slice and dice my story that night improved every story I wrote after that.

When I moved over to the editor’s side of the desk, I quickly learned that what Gene made look easy was anything but. The better the writer, the more skilled the editor has to be in order to help the writer reach a new level. But even the best writers in my newsroom get an editor for their work. (Believe me when I say the first time you edit your boss, or your boss’ boss, it’s a little nerve-wracking.) We know that that other set of eyes will make our work better.

There are indie writers out there who understand this. And there are those who don’t. The ones that don’t will have a hard time being taken seriously. As writers, we need to compel people to read our books through captivating storytelling. A good editor helps us do that. The best editors push us to write better than we thought possible, and then get out of our way while we do that. They tell us when a story or book isn’t ready for primetime, and if we’ve picked somebody we can trust, we listen. They take what we’ve gathered and help us pull it apart and put it back together to tell the best possible story we can.

The result is books like Robert Bidinotto’s Hunter, books that can compete with traditionally published books in every way. Those of us who embrace that approach are the ones who will make indie books something people can’t dismiss as inferior.

How did you find your editor?

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8 thoughts on “Content Editing Separates Good Indies from the Rest

  1. I’ve been so fortunate to work with many editors in my lifetime, the first being my assistant news director who’d leave red marks all over my scripts from the weekend 6 and 11 pm shows (at the television station where I anchored). I would dread (and eventually loved) those critiques and it made me a better writer!

    For books, I met my first real freelance editor online (I interviewed about 4-5 FL editors before choosing her) and I worked with her for almost two years to bring STAY TUNED to market. Along the way, I met the team from Novel Publicity, who also helped with Stay Tuned and really rock! They’ve critiqued my WIP and I will be revising my way through the manuscript this holiday season 🙂

    I can’t imagine writing WITHOUT a good editor!!

    • Newsroom editors ca be tough, but they can also really help us as writers. The comment from the A1 editor for my paper that night I was up there was she’d never seen anybody enjoy their time on Gene’s hot seat quite as much. Being able to take that criticism and learn from it makes a huge difference.

      Any tips for people to tell when an editor is right for them? I’m fortunate that Kyrie started out editing my Trixie Belden fanfiction almost 12 years ago — we clicked, and she’s kept editing. But I can’t imagine trying to find a Kyrie starting from scratch.

  2. I found my editor through another editor. Her schedule was full but after seeing my first chapter she knew just the person for me and checked back to make sure I was comfortable with them. After a few sample track changes and questions the new editor and I found a good synergy wave and a payment schedule I could still have grocery money left for (lol)

    Now if I could find that elusive beta reader and critique partner my dream team will be complete.

    Mary w/a Cora Blu

    • Mary, glad to hear you were able to find somebody — and so nice of the editor to be able to refer you to the right person for you. How have you gone about looking for betas and critique partners? Have you checked with your local writers group(s)? (If there are any?) I found a critique group through mine, and it’s been a huge help. The other place I’ve found betas is writers I’ve met online, mostly on Twitter. If you have some writers you talk to often who write similar types of books, you might see if somebody’s willing to do a manuscript swap.

  3. I found my editor through NCIS fandom. A couple of years ago, I was talking with a friend, someone I greatly respected as a writer. I learned she was a pro writer, picked up her work and asked her if she wanted to try beta reading. She’s a great big picture person, which is what I need. I have a good copy editor who looks over everything as well. Anyway, she isn’t shy about saying what will or won’t work in characterization, pacing, flow, anything. And she makes my work better. In the traditionally published realm, my editor doesn’t really get my humor, but she, too, has made my work much stronger.

    • I found Kyrie through Trixie Belden, or rather we found each other because she was still writing then, but yes, same general situation. Kyrie and I actually tag-team the copy-editing duties. We’re both pretty anal about that anyway, and copy-editing is part of my day job, so after her final editing pass, I’ll print it out and edit it from the end backwards (seriously, you catch more stuff that way). And you’ve heard me rave about her work enough to know that she rocks at pushing me to make my work better than I think it can be.

    • Thanks for stopping by, Joanne. Any tips for writers who are looking for an editor, either things to look for or red flags to avoid? It’s such a tough thing, finding a good editor, one that’s right for you and for your book.

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