Surgeons get stitched up by other surgeons, Pilates instructors get private lessons from other Pilates instructors, therapists seek therapy, hairstylists get their ‘doos done by other stylists, so I shouldn’t be blown away when editors hire editors. Right? So why does searching for an editor—when I am an editor—feel so wrong? I’ve grappled with this for a while, so let’s jump to the other side of the fence for a moment.
A couple days ago, I started working with a new client. Earlier in her career, she was an editor at a Fortune 500 company. And she needs an editor? When I was done being intimidated and wondering what in the world I could offer her, I got excited to read her work. What does the writing of a Fortune 500 editor look like? Well, it looks like writing that needs an editor.
Time to circle back to the original question. Isn’t there anyone who doesn’t go to someone else for something that they also do for others? Bakers, maybe. Do they purchase bread from other bakers? Maybe not.
Baking for yourself may or may not have commonalities with editing your own work. Books on self-editing are not light reading. No, it’s complicated. We have to be taught how to see our writing as if it weren’t our own. Chapters and chapters of text describe how to distance yourself from your words in order to fine-tune your work.
Sol Stein, in his book Stein on Writing, offers a lengthy triage that a writer may undertake in order to self-edit a manuscript—and it does not involve reading and revising from the first page to the last, rather quite the opposite—but he still ends the entire book with a chapter dedicated to where to get outside help for your book. In that final chapter, Stein tells how publishers have realized that offering editors to their authors is no longer cost-effective and how many publishers have stopped hiring their own editors. About this evolution, he has this to say, “The change occasioned the development of a new profession, book doctors, mainly individuals who are experienced editors or writers or both who evaluate and work on manuscripts, helping authors bring them up to speed. That help does not come cheap, but the hourly rates are a lot lower than, say, (what) lawyers charge.” This means that a lot of us writers have the opportunity and the need to hire our own editors.
It feels odd to search the phrase “editor near me” if you are already an editor or a life-time writer. In fact, it feels insulting. But sometimes we only have one chance to make an impression on an agent, publisher, or audience. It’s critical to present them with our best, most professional material. And often, that is not the material we edited ourselves. We are blind to many of our own mistakes in writing because when we read our words, our brain fills in what we thought we said instead of seeing what is actually on the page.
Let’s go back to the bakery.
So yeah, maybe bakers do sample the goods of other bakers. I mean, after a while, they must get tired of their own best recipes, right? Like us writers and editors, bakers probably realize most recipes can be made differently, can be updated, or can be easier to digest. Bakers probably never feel like they’ve baked themselves into a corner, which happens to a lot of writers, but yeah, I bet they do get curious or want to better their goods by seeing what others are baking and how others are perfecting time-tested recipes. They probably tailor their products to feedback they get from folks who are eating their baked goods, as well. So perhaps bakers do go to other bakers in order to improve their own products.
On the other end, we have proctologists. They certainly have to go to other proctologists for check-ups, right? They cannot see things the same way an outsider looking in would be able to see things, can they? Of course not. So maybe writers and editors are more like proctologists in that regard then. We need the outside eye looking into our work to make it as good as it possibly can be.
So, writers, editors, bear down (forgive me.) Let’s hire professional editors to help us get our writing ready for publication. No one is judging us for doing so; in fact, they may be judging us for not doing so.