Editing Anxieties: What if my editor is also an author?
You finally found the perfect editor for your book! But then you see that they also have a writing career. And in the same genre as you, too. Is this going to be a problem?
It’s normal to be nervous about getting your book edited, and a lot of writers feel extra nervous when they find out their potential editor is also an author. This usually boils down to two main concerns: Can the editor focus on my book while they’re in the middle of writing one themself? Or, will the editor force their writing style onto my book?
(Some authors are also worried about plagiarism in this scenario, but I’ve already covered that in another Editing Anxieties post, so feel free to take a look at that, too!)
The truth is, a shared love of books and a passion for good writing means that a lot of editors are also writers, and even published authors. (Though, of course, not all!) So before you put “is also an author” on your red flag list, let me try to ease your concerns a little bit.
But first, a reality check:
An editor’s skill does not relate at all to their writing experience or ability.
This is a common misconception: that being an excellent writer means one can be an excellent editor, too. Or the opposite: that being a sub-par writer means that one is also a sub-par editor. Neither of these are true. Writing and editing are most definitely intertwined, but they are also two separate skills and use two separate brain processes. More on this below.
With that out of the way, let’s get into it!
Will my editor be able to focus fully on my book?
If your editor’s good at their job, then yes. Why?
Since writing and editing are two separate processes, it’s easier to compartmentalize them.
When an author is writing, they’re in creation mode. They are pulling things from thin air, synthesizing past experiences, weaving in bits and pieces of other stories they’ve absorbed, and mixing them all together on a blank page in order to bring something new into the world.
When an editor is editing, they’re in analyzing mode. They’re constantly asking themselves “Is this correct?” and “Could this be improved?” They’re researching sticky grammar questions, checking the dictionary, brushing up on story craft, and evaluating, evaluating, evaluating. While there might be a little creation involved, like giving the author an example word or sentence here or there, the bulk of the editing process is totally analytical, working with what’s already there rather than making something new.
I’m sure you’ve experienced this while revising your own stories, right? It’s why so many people have two totally different attitudes towards the process: they love the writing (creation) part and hate revising (analysis), or they hate the initial writing and love revising. Even if you’re someone who likes both about equally, you can probably admit that they feel different, right?
Because the two are so different, it’s really easy to separate them from each other mentally. Or, to put it another way, it’s hard to do both at once. That means while your editor is editing, they’re most likely not getting distracted by their own story because they’re in a totally different mental mode.
Speaking from personal experience, I’ve never come up with any ideas for my personal writing projects while editing because I’m too focused on the work. I might occasionally think of something during my breaks, but I jot that down in a notebook and continue with my editing until it’s quitting time for the day.
People juggle multiple jobs all the time.
If your editor also did book cover design or moonlighted as a barkeeper, you probably wouldn’t be worried about their ability to focus on your book, right? It’s become quite common for people to have multiple professions at once, either to meet their financial goals or to have more flexibility in their personal lives. This is especially true for freelancers, who often go through a feast-and-famine cycle in the first few years of starting their businesses.
Yes, studies have shown that multitasking reduces your work efficiency and actually makes you perform worse at all the tasks you’re doing at once. But this is only when you’re doing all the things at the same time or rapidly switching between them. So as long as your editor isn’t mixing drinks and chatting with customers while they’re in the middle of editing for you, then there won’t be a problem. The same goes for writing—if your editor is writing outside their work hours, then there won’t be any impact on the quality of edit you get.
If you’re still worried, ask more questions. What does your editor’s daily schedule look like? Do they have separate times blocked out for editing and for personal writing projects, or is everything sort of mixed in a loosey-goosey?
Will my editor force their writing style onto my book?
If they’re a pro, then they won’t. But I’m also not going to lie and say this never happens.
Unfortunately, some inexperienced or unprofessional editors do this.
These kinds of editors think that their way is the best or only way to write, and they are not afraid to change your book drastically in order to conform it to their ideal. They let their personal preferences guide their editing decisions rather than what serves the story and its audience best.
You can tell an editor is like this pretty easily:
When you ask why they changed something, they’ll give explanations like “I just like it better this way” or “This is how I write my books.”
They often overstep the bounds of the editing task. For example, they might remove all the curse words or change the spelling of your characters’ names without telling you why.
Yes, I’ve heard of people doing both of these things! These suggestions might be reasonable with some explanation (e.g. “I’ve removed the curse words from your manuscript because you told me you are targeting 8–10-year-olds, and parents are not likely to buy books with lots of curse words in them for kids in that age range.”) But they are unreasonable when performed unilaterally with no explanation whatsoever, or especially just because that’s the way the editor likes to write.
This is not what an editor is meant to do.
Truly pro editors leave their personal writing style off their editing desk.
An editor is meant to discover and enhance your style while also helping you avoid pitfalls that make books unappealing or incomprehensible to your target readers. They let the book’s genre and intended audience guide their changes. They’re able to explain their edits with sound reasoning, and above all, they have some flexibility.
Now, that’s not to say that editors don’t have personal preferences at all when editing. An editor may stand strong on an edit they truly believe in, but they are also almost certain to give sound, thought-out reasons when you ask about it. They’ll give a more thorough explanation, get the opinions of colleagues, and even possibly send articles to illustrate their reasoning more clearly. This is no willy-nilly “I just don’t like that” edit, but rather one with lots of thought behind it. Big difference.
No truly pro editor is going to make changes to your book just because that’s how they would write it. (I’m not out there deleting the word yummy from every book just because the sound of it makes my skin crawl on par with moist for most people. I see it in a manuscript, shiver a little, and move on with my work.)
So how can I make sure my editor will do a good job regardless of whether they’re an author?
Get a sample edit, and ask questions!
This is the key to making sure any editor is a good fit. Ask the editor for a sample, and when they send it back, ask them why they made the changes they made. If they can give good explanations that make sense to you, then you’ll feel much better proceeding.
Check for editing experience and/or training.
Take a look around the editor’s website to see if they have extensive experience editing or training in editing. Remember, good writing skills don’t necessarily mean good editing skills, so the number of books your editor has written or sold should not be a factor in your decision.
And if you’re still worried…
…pick somebody who at least writes in a different genre or for a different age group. That in itself will eliminate worries about forcing personal style, especially.
Bonus: 3 reasons why an editor who is also an author can be a good choice.
They may have a bit more empathy for the emotional aspects of writing a book. They know what it feels like to put so much work into a manuscript over months or years.
If they’ve been edited themselves, whether traditionally or independently, then they know what it feels like to be in your shoes, and thus might be a bit gentler in their comments.
If they’re self-published, they may have more knowledge and connections that can help you beyond just the editing stage of putting a book into the world by yourself.
These three benefits aren’t guaranteed, of course, but they are possible, especially if you pick a skilled editor in the first place!
So there you have it. I hope this post has eased your worries a bit about editors who also write. As for me? I write, too, but it’s a hobby for now. I would love to publish someday, but it’s not my top priority at the moment. (And when I’m working on my own writing projects, you can bet it’s not during editing hours! 😉 )
Need editing? Have any anxieties about the editor/author relationship? Send an email to email@example.com!