The New York Times Best Seller List began on October 12, 1931.
As writers, we dream of hitting the best seller list. Don’t we wish we could do it easily, miraculously with our very first draft?
Writing demands much of us and often, so do our dreams. We dream of the easy way: first draft = last draft.
I’d venture to guess, however, that every single book that’s ever been on the New York Times Best Seller List required multiple drafts, though I don’t know this for a fact.
Yet what happens when we read our own words over and over? We become blurry-eyed to the flaws.
Enter the Editor.
I picture my fifth grade teacher Mrs. Valentine who created a sea of red—certainly not little red hearts as her name implied— with her correcting pen on my papers. Does that bring to mind a teacher in your writing history?
I recall the precision of Mrs. Edwards, my fifth-period high school English teacher. Her friendly demeanor collided with her exacting demands. How’d I miss that needed comma? Why didn’t the argument in my head translate to a succinct offering on paper? When did I move from first person to third person without blinking an eye? How could verbs move from present to past and back to present within one sentence?
Editors intimidate, don’t they? Yet their intentions aim for the good of the book and its author.
Editors bring polish to the rough, giving us eyes to see what we’ve glossed over in our familiarity with the words we write.
Books go through multiple drafts and those drafts need a multitude of editors. Developmental editors read with the big-picture of the whole book in mind. Structure. Organization. Line editors look at the level of paragraph and sentences. Clarity. Redundancies. Grammar. Spelling. Copy editors improve readability at the sentence level. Grammar. Punctuation. Consistency. Proofreaders polish the layout before publication. (And yes, it’s true. Many of these overlap. And it’s also true that folks have many different definitions about what type of an editor does what to the manuscript.)
I’m a writer. I’m an author. I’m a writing coach. I’m a book coach. And, yes, I’m an editor. And I do all sorts of editing for those in the writing world.
Being an editor is an honor. I get to see raw words people are willing to vulnerably share as they progress through various stages of draft upon draft upon draft.
I love the puzzle of figuring out what a writer has in mind in the draft in front of me. Some weeks I’m working with a whole book draft; other weeks I’m working with the messy first chapter of an idea trying to find its way to becoming a book. I’m listening for consistency of voice. I’m reading for connectivity of ideas. I love encouraging writers.
Whether fiction or nonfiction, editors bring your words to a new level of artistry.
Editors invest in your manuscript because they love words. And they believe your words have the potential to become more than they are in rough form.
I can’t guarantee that working with an editor will get your manuscript on the New York Times Best Seller List.
I can tell you that an editor’s perspective is worth considering, even if you don’t adhere to anything they suggest.
Wouldn’t it be fascinating to hear the perspective of all the editors over the last ninety-one years of all those books on the New York Times Best Seller List?
Dream big. And friends, be brave. Hire an editor.
Featured images are courtesy of Kelly Sikkema and Hannah Grace on Unsplash.