As speculative fiction writers, you’ve probably seen your fair share of ghosts, cryptids, and alien invasions. So this Women in Horror Month, I thought I’d write about something else that can strike fear into the hearts of even the most experienced author: the red pen of a professional editor.
But here are six reasons why swallowing that fear and working with a professional could be one of the best things you do for your book.
1. The editor is on your side
There’s a stereotype of editors as ruthless, cold-hearted monsters who will mutilate the manuscript you’ve lovingly labored over for years. But is that accurate?
Well, no. Of course not. In fact, it couldn’t be further from the truth.
In my experience, editors are invariably an understanding, encouraging bunch. We’re not there to judge you, or tell you that everything you’ve written is wrong. We appreciate that every author and every book is different, and we want the same thing you do: for your book to be the best possible version of itself.
Our aim is to make your book shine, to ensure that readers take away from it what you want them to take away, and that unintentional problems or mistakes don’t lead to negative reviews that could have been avoided.
It’s always your book. And it’s always entirely up to you to decide whether you want to take the advice an editor gives you or not.
2. Experience in your genre
A professional editor will likely have read hundreds of books in your genre, especially if it’s one of their specializations. That means they’re going to have a good sense of what separates the good from the bad, what readers enjoy and expect, and what’s popular now—as well as what readers are tired of seeing. They’ll probably have read the books that inspired you to write your own.
Not only that, but they’ll also have useful input on more technical issues (like formatting, capitalization, and hyphenation) that come up often in your genre too. Should you capitalize “elf” or “dwarf” in your fantasy novel? How should you format the strange voices that whisper in your protagonist’s ears? Are there any hyphens in “part animal, part human”?
The feedback you get on your book will have all of that experience built-in. In self-publishing, where you’re otherwise on your own, that can be invaluable.
3. An objective viewpoint
It’s easy to become so close to your own story that it’s difficult to see it from the outside, as a reader will, with no knowledge of your underlying intentions.
Similarly, it may be difficult for a friend or family member to give you truly objective feedback—they often “know what you mean” even if a reader wouldn’t. And a family member might not want to discourage you with negative feedback, even if it’s needed to address a straightforward problem.
A professional editor has no such hang-ups. They will have the same initial experience of your book as a reader, and—even better—they can work with you to shape that experience before it reaches your intended audience!
4. Specific and reasoned feedback
While a friend or family member might give you feedback like “I didn’t find it scary”, a professional editor can tell you why. And they can make suggestions to help address the problem.
If, for example, the action in the story moves so quickly that there’s no space for a build-up of tension (“I didn’t find it scary”), they might suggest having your character take things at a slower pace, experiencing a few odd things that make them question what’s happening to them before they’re actually attacked by your paranormal antagonist.
This kind of feedback not only addresses a specific issue in your current manuscript, but is also easy to apply more widely to your other writing.
5. Training and qualifications
While editing—just like writing—can be subjective, there are some situations where there is a right or wrong answer, such as setting out dialogue correctly on the page or misusing a word. You can have confidence that a qualified professional will get it right.
A friend doing you a favor is also less likely to notice issues that a professional has been trained to look out for, e.g., your headers including a misspelling of a chapter name, or inconsistent indentation.
They may sound like minor points, but they’re all things that contribute to a reader’s overall impression of your book.
6. A professional relationship
Last—but certainly not least—working with a professional means that you have the benefit of being able to vet them before you decide whether to work with them.
You’ll be able to look into their qualifications and membership of professional organizations, and seek out testimonials from other clients. Some editors may even offer a free sample edit so you can see how they would approach a short section of your own work.
Importantly, you’ll also have the reassurance of a contract or editorial agreement, which means you’ll know exactly what to expect from them, how much it will cost, and when it will be completed.
Like other aspects of self-publishing, finding an editor you trust might take some time and some research. It will also cost more than running your book through some software and asking for feedback from friends and family. But if you’re able to work with a professional, the investment in your book and your future writing will be worth it.
I hope after reading this article that fear, at least, won’t be the thing holding you back.
About the Author
Kate Nascimento is an editor and proofreader who specializes in horror, fantasy, and dystopian fiction. You can find her website at kneditorial.com and follow her on Twitter @kateegner. When she’s not editing, you’ll find her reading, writing, watching something new on Netflix, playing on her PS5 (Skyrim, again?!), or scheming on behalf of her D&D characters.