There’s a manner of debate on whether editors are ‘necessary’ to the writing and publishing process. It’s an interesting debate that centers on the new model in which we find ourselves; traditional publishing has included the editor figure for most of recorded history, but this cost was covered by the publisher. Now that the indie model exists and the author foots the bill, the question is again raised by a new generation of businessmen. Thus, the question is one that deserves a bit of critical consideration.
There are, as you know, two major types of editing under which a multitude of methods cluster. The first is proofreading and line editing. This deals with the little stuff – paragraph structure, sentence flow, spelling, grammar, and so on. It’s largely concerned with things that are absolute. The grammar is either correct or incorrect, a typo either exists or does not exist. This not the entirety of it, but it’s the bulk. Developmental editors deal with the larger book. Character development, plot arc, pacing, narrative voice, themes and motifs, and so on fall into this purview, whereas grammatical fixes do not. This puts the two in very different ballparks, and the question of necessity must be separated.
Everyone needs a proofreader before they publish. That’s a psychological fact – you cannot, absolutely cannot proofread your own work due to predictive blindness. Your mind fills in what’s supposed to be there, and you literally fail to see the mistake. This is an issue even for a proofreader doing more than a couple passes, which is why, money be no object, multiple proofreaders are ideal for absolute perfection.
The fixing of grammar, spelling, and typographical errors is necessarily the work of a professional.
That being said, there’s something most in this line of work won’t tell you. Here it goes:
Many do not need, cannot use, and ought not hire a developmental editor. There is an entire subset of the writing population for whom developmental editing is, at best, useless; at worst, it may even be counterproductive. The difference between those who do benefit and those who do not is at first simple and in detail complex.
The first sort of writer, when it comes to developmental editing, is one for whom a developmental editor is very important. This type of writer writes for the reader. They are trying to create a story which is extrinsically valuable, which draws its worth from its ability to affect the reader. That is not to say it doesn’t matter what the author thinks, because that will always be crucial to any author at both a creative level and an emotional one. It is merely to say that what they do, they do for the story itself.
Therefore, they need a professional outsider who is far enough away from the work to give an objective, unbiased opinion with benefit of knowledge and experience. A developmental editor, in this case, serves as a reader surrogate, giving the author a concept of the way in which an outsider will experience their book, and just as importantly a variety of ways from which to choose to solve any issue, while still allowing the author room to disagree and to leave things the way they are should that author love them too much to change them or simply feel that they serve the reader better as they stand.
It is not, and should not be thought of as, a negative reflection on the author – the vast majority of writing falls into this category, and it is the category which most readily serves the reading public.
The other author, far less common but no less important to the literary community, is closer to the classicist, the one who writes not to be read but rather to express. This author needs no outside opinion, and should not solicit one. An intellectual projection may be served by discourse; its ideas may be honed by discussion. Certainly Plato’s work would be worse for lack of it, and indeed this emphasis on conversation and debate serves as the foundation of philosophical work in both the Greek and Judaic traditions.
However, the writing of it is another thing entirely.
An editor is not, inherently, an intellectual equal or a philosophical peer. They may well be one, and their input on the philosophy might, thus, be valuable, but this is not inherently true. The interaction with one who has a genius in that way can be a way to learn and to teach, to refine ideas which can be put on paper, but to pay someone to serve that role is very different from paying them to work on a novel which embodies that idea.
That is to say, if one were to pay someone of the right mind to discuss ideas, one would have a university. Or rather, one would have what a university was meant to have been before human nature arrived. That would be completely valid at every level. However, when a story is written to illustrate that idea, developmental editing on that story can serve only to dilute the message – a developmental editor is there to work on the story itself, not the ideas behind it, and what makes a story ‘better’ may well obscure the meaning behind it.
Developmental editors work on stories that are written for the people; they should not work on those which are written for the mind of the author. When you hire us, think carefully on what it is that you want out of your book and what it is an editor can offer you.
Moreover, be very, very wary of an editor who does not ask you what your book is supposed to do, say, and be before they begin.