Ignore the Editor Behind the Curtain

I hope everybody can place this movie paraphrase - "I am the great and powerful author (ignore the editor behind the curtain)." I bring it up because I keep getting friendly e-mails pointing our some or the other numerous typos in my blog. I think these correspondents are usually disappointed when I thank them for the input but never quite get around to making the corrections. I draw a very sharp distinction between producing a blog and a book, and I don't get excited about errors on my blog, except for broken links. The laptop I'm traveling with has a fun trick where it doesn't always register the letters I type, which adds to the general confusion. On book projects, I always employ an editor and several proofreaders, and they still don't come out perfect. I'm not some humbug whose books are actually written by the editor, but depending on the project, I can accept quite a bit of input and cut-and-pasting.

Editors are not always held in greatest esteem by self publishers, many of whom have been taken in by "New York Editor" advertisements in the back of some magazine and have spent several thousand dollars having a manuscript butchered without any particular rhyme or reason. My own inclination is to stay away from editors who have been trained in the big trade houses, because they have difficulty seeing the world through the eyes of a self publisher. Whether you're publishing your first book, or your fourth, you can afford to do things a little differently than the trades, who try to force everything into commercial straight jackets they are comfortable with. When I began self publishing the second time around and needed an editor, I wanted an english major from an exclusive women's school who actually reads books for pleasure in her spare time. As to affordability, I can only refer to the old engineering joke about students of different majors graduating from university:

The chemistry student goes out into the world and asks, "I wonder what it's made of?"
The engineering major leaves school and asks, "I wonder how it works?"
The business major completes his studies and asks, "I wonder how I can make money from it."
The english student enters the real world and asks, "Would you like fries with that?"

You'd think this would create a situation where fine editors would be available for minimum wage, but you'd have missed the part about the exclusive women's school. You can tell the difference between run-of-the-mill colleges and exclusive havens of learning by the presence of an equestrian program. Ignoring such issues as student loans and general life expenditures, the best editors for my money are always saddled with the expense of keeping one or more horses. If you think the vet charges a lot to work on your cat, think again, because they pretty much charge by the pound. So, reviewing my guidelines for hiring an editor:

1) English major
2) Good College
3) Horse
4) Reader
5) Available

That last one is an afterthought, but there are few things more frustrating in book production than having your schedule bog down thanks to outsourced help, like an editor, who can't get through the job in a reasonable amount of time. I had a book sit with a proofreader for a few weeks once with no progress made before taking it back, and I guess I learned my lesson because she never spoke to me again. When you hire any kind of freelance help, it's best to set a schedule up-front and hold them to it, because we all have different conceptions of "reasonable" when it comes to time. Note that the one thing I'm sure you don't need in an editor is publishing industry experience. As the publisher, you're the one who's supposed to know what you're doing, who the audience is, and how the book should be edited, and it's also your job to give the editor some basic guidelines unless she's telepathic. I always recommend that publishers working with a new editor, or any outsource labor for that fact, start the job in small phases so both parties don't end up getting an unexpected surprise at the end. And next time you read one of my books, ignore the editor behind the curtain, but know for certain that she's there, on horseback.

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