I will immediately explain the title because not all people who critique your work are bad and not all paid editors are bad. Some can help tremendously.
I’ve been writing for a long time. My first two books were TERRIBLE and thank God no one bought them. My third, my first NANOWRIMO book, was even worse.
After that though I started to write better as I learned from my mistakes. Often as new writers we copy styles from writers we want to emulate. That’s fine, so long as when you advance in your career you develop your own voice and style. We all have voices of writers who came before us peppering our prose.
I wrote a book in 2007 shortly after being mentored by and co-writing a book with a major author. On the heels of my excitement of learning so much so quickly I penned this other thriller. Knowing then that I wasn’t a perfect writer, because no one is and I still had much to learn, I paid someone to edit it for me.
Keep in mind, I was not looking for copy editing only. I think hiring a copy editor is a good idea especially if you are going to self publish. I sought out an experienced writer to help me with the book, make sure it was marketable, make sure it wasn’t all wrong and if it was, to help me. The man I hired had written lots of books in my genre and is a good and successful writer. I have no complaints. This is not always the case, so watch out for Editors who do not have a solid track record in writing or publishing.
BUT, now it’s 2016 and I never did sell that book to big publishers and so in 2013 I self published it after bad experiences with two small presses. I wanted it up on Amazon quickly so I rushed and used a cover I didn’t like; and because of other life and writing situations never spent any time marketing it. Recently I decided to go back and read and edit it again since I am going to get a better cover and also release it as the first in a series instead of a standalone.
My point? There were a lot of phrases in there that I know were not mine. They were fine but not my words. I paid for someone to basically fix my book so it’s on me. But there are occasional words or phrases I would not have used. As a newer writer back then I didn’t care, but now that I’ve grown, I want my book to be my book. I took out all the noticeable non-Tracy things. It was nothing major mind you but it wasn’t mine. I’m sure there were structural suggestions or plot points that were recommended. I’ll keep those as whatever they were blended with what I wanted anyway.
I heard an editor recently tell someone (who is a better writer than the editor) “I’ll edit your book for you and check every single line and fix it.” The thing is, I doubt he needs every line fixed because he’s a seasoned writer and had sold lots of stories among other things. My fear is that because this other person is a self-proclaimed “EDITOR” that this person’s words and style will take over the content of the author’s book, which may be fine as is, or maybe just needs a little tweaking.
There is an art to being a good editor (meaning one who critiques, not as a profession, though that rule applies here as well). It’s about taking someone’s work and guiding the author in the direction they need to go in without losing the author’s voice, or story. If the story is irredeemably bad, the editor should say so, not string them along for money or ego. If it’s already really good and just needs some typos fixed, or to tighten up continuity issues, say that. It seems to me that (some) people who critique feel the need to find something, to find a lot, wrong with the books they take on to prove their necessity and worth. And to make those stories copy their own style without meaning to.
When I’m editing stories for anthologies I don’t go line by line and “fix” until all the stories read as if I wrote them. I am very careful not to bury the author’s voice under my own. I may suggest things that would work better but I don’t insist and I don’t make the author feel lesser.
Style is something a writer grows into. It’s there when you begin writing, it’s part of who you are. But you learn to develop it over time, to refine it. A good editor or members of a critique group will help you to refine your style, to hold your hand and guide you on the path you started with helpful tips along the way.
New writers, do be wary of any editor or critique group who pressures you to change your work so much that you’ve lost the “you” in it. If you want to write, you will learn your way as we all did: by reading others’ works, by writing lots of crap and getting feedback. By graduating from form rejections to personalized ones. Until the one fine day, when you get your first acceptance and you are proud that you didn’t take shortcuts, that you learned by doing. That you sold your story.
Believe in yourself and believe in your voice, and through hard work the rest will come.
Tracy L Carbone is the author of five published novels, a sixth making rounds with agents, and three embarrassing unpublished ones hiding in a trunk. She has edited a Bram Stoker nominated anthology and is currently co-editing a new one. Dozens of her stories have appeared in anthologies and magazines in the U.S. and Canada and in her short story collection aptly named, The Collection. Her second collection will be released late 2016. Her screenplay Restitution was a finalist in the WeScreenplay Contest for 2015.