by Beth Bruno, Ed.M., M.A., freelance book editor
When I first began writing, I wrote for my eyes only in a journal. As relatively random thoughts deepened, some of them began to take shape into personal essays and opinion pieces that I thought other people might be interested in reading. But I was shy about showing my work to anyone because I doubted its quality, originality, importance and appeal. But I still wanted someone to read it.
My daughter is an excellent writer, so I decided to show it to her. If she didn’t like it I could always put too much salt on her dinner! When I asked her to read it, I asked for substantive feedback – for more than comments such as: I like it or it’s interesting. Her insights over the coming days led to many in-depth conversations about a variety of subjects I’d chosen to write about and, subsequently, to rewriting several pieces that improved them significantly.
I had survived my first encounter with an editor.
I moved on to the next excellent writer in the family: my husband. I knew he would zero in on grammar and structure, as well as the clarity and logic of my message. Wanting to maintain a certain quality of lightness and humor in each piece, I was a little worried about him squelching that. He didn’t. His comments were helpful as well.
I had survived editor number two.
As my writing and confidence grew, I decided to submit several pieces to the op-ed editor of our local newspaper and offer them as the basis for a weekly column on topics of general interest to the reading public. I suggested a title for the column: Stand Up and Be Counted.
To my utter astonishment, the newspaper editor liked the idea and hired me a week later! It was an opportunity that would eventually change my career.
Since those tentative beginnings, I learned to seek out feedback from readers, other writers, friends, and colleagues, plus I attended several conferences and workshops to improve my craft. I had a lot to learn. Over the years I wrote feature articles for newspapers, magazines, websites, online magazines, and blogs, culminating in writing my first book.
Before considering publication of a book, I knew I needed professional editing services. I wanted my book about parenting and child development to entertain, offer perspective, educate parents and discuss topics of relevance to parents as they grow up with their kids, often learning as much from them as they teach them themselves.
It was money well spent. Each of the two editors I hired contributed in decidedly different ways to the final product. They provided: objective and constructive criticism; suggestions for expansion of ideas that were either vague or unclear; arguments both for and against opinions I expressed; corrections of grammar, spelling, punctuation and syntax; structural ideas related to the sequence of the chapters; and many suggestions about ways to animate, enrich and enliven the content. It was truly a dynamic and exhilarating experience.
A word of caution: You can hire an editor too soon. I suggest getting feedback first from people who will respond with specific thoughts about your work, whether it’s fiction or nonfiction. It’s likely that you will know when you’re ready to pay someone to help you polish your work and prepare it for publication. Ask other writers for recommendations and when you approach an editor, ask him or her to complete a sample edit of a few pages so you can see what kind of feedback he or she provides. If it isn’t helpful, try someone else. Some editors prepare samples at no charge; others charge by the hour or the page or per word. Take your time and choose an editor with whom you feel comfortable, someone who will help you enhance and improve your writing while preserving your voice and not imposing their own.
An experienced, talented editor can help you improve your work dramatically.