The Importance of a Good Editor

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It is my ambition to say in ten sentences what others say in a whole book.

~ Friedrich Nietzsche

I don’t have an MFA in writing or anything, but I thought I had a pretty good handle on the English language until I took these New York Times quizzes linked below. Some entries were easy, but others still had me scratching my head after seeing the answers.

Go ahead. Try it:

Damn. Editing is not for the faint of heart. A couple of months ago I submitted a manuscript to a small press and was horrified when they rejected it and singled out a particularly embarrassing mistake. In my defense, it was one of those words that slips right through the grammar checking cracks. For future reference, I’ll remember that “guerrilla warfare” calls to mind Che Guevara while “gorilla warfare” calls to mind The Planet of the Apes.

Hiring an editor isn’t cheap, but it’s worth it. I got involved in pyramid schemes and sold my body down by the docks to raise a nickel at a time so I could hire William Boggess with New York Book Editors. Bastard made me rewrite a third of the book. That’s like twenty-two thousand words! Man, that hurt. But I’m so glad he gave it to me straight! That rewrite saved the book.

For all further edits, I totally exploited my friendship with Mark Dostert, himself an author, editor, and creative writing teacher. His input was invaluable, always pointing out ways to sharpen the language, make it more vivid. By the way, go buy his book, Up in Here: Jailing Kids on Chicago’s Other Side, if you haven’t already.

After the “gorilla” debacle, I hired another pro, Chelsey Emmelhainz, who provided tremendous encouragement and helped whip my query and synopsis into shape for further submissions. I guess she did something right because I’ve already had a full manuscript request a mere two days after submitting the new and improved query. She’s badass, there’s just no other way to describe her!

All this to say, editors are worth their weight in red ink. Authors have tunnel vision. They just do. Editors are like the light on the front of the locomotive at the other end of the tunnel, hurtling toward you like a… well… like a freight train… and if you don’t get out of the way, SSSSQUIIIIISHHHHH….

I have absolutely no idea where I was going with that.

Hooray for editors!


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