Recently, I was given a valuable lesson about editing in my publishing class—I’m finishing my degree (B.A. English/Creative Writing and Publication) at the ripe young age of 47. The class is working in unison with the University Press to edit the manuscript of a book that will be published in the near future. The manuscript is a mess in terms of organization and “The Chicago Manual of Style,” but the overall themes and information in this non-fiction are actually very interesting and well written.
I watched as the class (most of whom are half my age) trashed this poor author and his work simply because of his horrid organization and style within the manuscript. Presenting a poorly organized manuscript to a potential agent or publishing house is a bad mistake, I will agree; however, a real editor (or assistant editor) that knows what the publishing house wants, or normally accepts, will look past some of these “global” issues, see potential value, and “dream the writer’s dream.”
My point in all of this is that as I read the manuscript—with an editor’s eyes—I realized the manuscript contained some interesting and worthy information and stories in spite of the poor organization and style. When I researched the author, Lyons Press previously published him, and the book had great reviews. While it’s typically true that a potential author has about one sentence to impress an agent or editor, it’s worth the time of an assistant editor to make sure there is not some hidden treasure in the pages of a poorly organized manuscript.
One final point, which is actually my main point, make sure if you hire a “freelance editor” that you know for sure they can read a manuscript (one that may be in a genre they have no interest in what-so-ever) with a non-biased set of eyes. Make sure they have credentials from other authors that say, “This editor helped improve my work.” An editor’s job is not just about knowing grammar, The Chicago Manual of Style, or spotting a sentence fragment—it’s also about putting yourself in the shoes of an author and helping them to realize their dream. Many “freelance” editors feel they are qualified to be an editor simply because they are good grammarians—not true! Putting red marks all over a manuscript can be taught to an intelligent monkey; however, recognizing talent, working through the reader’s review, editorial reports, copy-editing, and a final draft that is ready to publish takes an editor that can “dreaming the writer’s dream” with them.