Trust Me, You Need a Good Editor

I just finished reading a self-published book on a topic I’m passionate about, by an author whose blog I occasionally read. As I’ve mentioned before, I regularly read indie-pubbed books, and the fact that I work in traditional publishing doesn’t mean I’m biased against them.

It does, however, mean I’m aware of the ways a book could have been better, had the author availed themselves of the best assistance available, whether in design, writing, editing, cover, or even title.

I was excited to read this book—a memoir—and it started out promising. But it quickly devolved into a self-focused, rambling hodgepodge of preaching interspersed with bragging. I did finish the book (luckily it was rather short) but I ended up with strongly negative feelings toward the author. Since this was a memoir, I doubt that’s what the author was going for.

I think the author got some friends to edit the book, maybe even somebody with writing experience. But it’s clear he never consulted a professional book editor, especially not one with expertise in memoir. This is a genre that is notoriously difficult to pull off. The author needed a strong memoir editor, but since he didn’t have one, I can’t recommend the book to anyone.

So, how could an editor have improved the book? Here are my thoughts:

A good editor would have coached the author to find his main theme, and to focus tightly on it, cutting out rabbit trails and eliminating entertaining stories that didn’t fit in this book. The editor could have helped decide which stories should stay and which should go (often difficult for a memoirist, because they’re so close to the material).

An editor would have conveyed that teaching and preaching don’t belong in a memoir. Save that for another book — a how-to or self-help. The memoir is your story and your reflections on your story, but should avoid the self-help vibe.

An editor would have eliminated bragging, and suggested ways to convey moments of success or triumph without sounding arrogant.

An editor would have brought out the importance of a humble tone, of admitting the journey isn’t over and you’re still learning, a sort of “fellow pilgrim” approach. When your story is nothing but triumph and “look what a great thing I did,” real people don’t tend to relate to your message.

An editor would have challenged the author to truly let the reader in. Authenticity and vulnerability are hallmarks of powerful memoirs, and this one has neither. I had the feeling of skimming over the surface, never quite being allowed in.

An editor would have ensured readers didn’t feel like complete losers if they don’t currently share the author’s lifestyle.

An editor would have protected the author’s reputation.  The author conveyed a message he may not have intended by including certain observations and behaviors unrelated to the theme of the book, but which made him seem like a womanizer and a bit of a sexist. A savvy editor would have gently inquired if this was really what the author wanted readers to take away.

* * *

With regard to editors, it boils down to the importance of objective, qualified feedback. Businesses spent over $1oo billion on leadership development last year. Why? Because it’s really hard to see yourself clearly and commit to change, and companies want their leaders to learn and grow and be the best they can be. This requires coaching and objective feedback. Authors are no different. A good editor has the courage to give you the feedback your buddies won’t. It’s their job. And they make your writing better as a result.

Have you ever had the experience of working with an editor who improved your work and helped you say exactly what you wanted to say?


Image copyright: lamaip / 123RF Stock Photo


Rachelle Gardner

Literary agent at Gardner Literary. Coffee & wine enthusiast (not at the same time) and dark chocolate connoisseur. I've worked in publishing since 1995 and I love talking about books!


  1. […] Jennifer Xue shows how an editing app can increase writing productivity, Rachelle Gardner explains why you need a good editor, and Denise Loock has 10 things you never say to an […]

  2. Sophia Benjamin on July 18, 2018 at 6:10 AM

    Thank you for this post Rachelle. So informative . I enjoyed reading it. Look forward to more.

  3. Pat Iacuzzi on July 16, 2018 at 6:39 PM

    I would never present a story for publishing without the ultimate polish of a professional editor. Since I’m fairly new at the writing game, I would want to put my best foot forward and have the best opportunity to get my story out there. It’s part of my Christian belief to offer my best to God, and to readers. Thank you, Rachelle, for your professional judgement and giving us this valuable information.

  4. Emily Conrad on July 16, 2018 at 1:48 PM

    This is a great point, and it applies to those of us pursuing traditional publishing, too. I’ve found hiring a freelance editor can help my work stand out when I make submissions. I have great critique partners, and I’ve gained good feedback from contest judges, but hiring a pro helped take my work to that next level the last time I hired one. I’m in a time of transition with my writing right now, and I plan to work with an editor again. Quality feedback is invaluable!

  5. T. Powell Coltrin on July 16, 2018 at 6:26 AM

    I (highly) believe in editors. The two I’ve used helped my writing . The first had been editing for years and went into more depth, thus giving me more help and pain. Ha ha. No pain, no gain I guess. I also learned from her suggestions. And let’s not talk about my overuse of commas because…

    I’m a comma queen and this not a compliment.


  6. Melissa Cronin on May 19, 2015 at 11:07 PM

    I’ve written a memoir and have made revisions based on feedback from a beta reader and an editor, who has written a novel but not a memoir. After making the revisions, I queried eight agents and got rejected. My instinct told me to hire an editor who has experience with memoirs, so that’s what I did. I am now working on revisions based on her thorough feedback – I feel good about her suggestions. However, while at a conference, an editor cautioned me against revising the MS because the eight agents I sent my queries to was not an adequate sample size to support the need to revise it. So I am planning to speak with a third editor she connected me with to hear what he has to say.

    Is it common to go through multiple editors? How do you know when you have the perfect editor?

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  8. Ward Cushman on March 24, 2015 at 12:40 PM

    I know this is an old post, but I just saw it. This is a very clear, practical post. Thanks, I benefited from it.

  9. P.R.A.Y. on March 23, 2015 at 10:06 PM

    Thank you so much for this article. The first draft of my book is nearly finished. A successful writer friend of mine suggested I may not need an editor, but your article offers points I had not considered editing-wise. These were already concerns of mine writing the book, and I am too close to the story, as you mention, to know how it reads to others. Gratitude for your suggestions.

  10. Wayne Tolbert on September 4, 2014 at 12:30 PM

    I just ordered “Your Novel Proposal: From Creation
    to Contract” by Blythe Camenson and Marshall J. Cook and I’m all set to learn the fine points of writing a book proposal. I look forward to learning so much from this blog so thanks to each of you and thanks to you Rachelle for providing this place for those of us who love to write.

  11. Jake Parent on September 4, 2014 at 12:28 PM

    That book sounds brutal.

    A little humility goes a long way.

  12. Writer-Shelly Goodman-Wright on September 2, 2014 at 12:09 PM

    My first novel, I felt like the editor clearly saw where my road blocks were. She would ask me questions on different sections and it was like she knew the right question to spur more depth into the story. I found it interesting that those particular sections were sections I had struggled with initially.
    How did she know?
    When I signed my second book, with same publisher, I asked for her. Not knowing the company made changes on the way they process, I did not get that same type of editing. I wouldn’t even get a name. Everything would go through a Project Manager.
    That’s not my desire to publisher ‘whatever’. I want to grow, learn, and have that relationship with an editor who believes in my work. Who can ‘rip it apart’ and help me become that stronger writer. A person who wants me to shine and will stand along side of me.
    What you’re saying here is so true. Whether you self-publish, go with hybrid publishers, or even traditional, having that professional editor is a must. Friends can only go so far.

  13. dutch665 on September 1, 2014 at 8:28 PM

    I truly value the editor. It seems as if there are less and less of any, let alone any good ones out there today. They have been cut from payrolls and the freelancers out there are very hard to weed through and truly know if they are any good without handing out a sum of money. As a struggling writer I don’t have that to throw around. I have been burned a few times now by editors I got through reputable sources. Everyone needs money and they tell you they can edit your work and have experience. Make sure you pick someone in your field whether it be fiction or non-fiction. Make sure they know your genre and it isn’t just a broad understanding, but they specifically know and edited steam punk SciFi for adolescents, for example. I had a tabletop city magazine editor try and tell me they could edit a SciFi novel. Be careful and choose well. If you are lucky enough to have a Literary Agent already, get them to recommend someone. Editing is so valuable.

  14. Valerie Brooks on September 1, 2014 at 5:44 PM

    Thanks for being a spokesperson for professional editors everywhere. What you said is so important for authors to know.

  15. […] Check out the article: Trust Me, You Need A Good Editor […]

  16. Telling Stories (An Update*) on May 8, 2014 at 6:24 PM

    […] Read the whole article here. MacGregor says memoir is difficult to write, which is upheld in this story from agent Rachelle […]

  17. lindalouise on March 28, 2014 at 4:03 PM

    My book is in the hands of a wonderful editor right now. This is my first book, and I am so thankful for her knowledge and expertise.
    I have a little question please. I am new to Pinterest and set up a board for writing. Is it alright to pin this article? I’m not sure what the etiquette on Pinterest is and don’t want to do anything I shouldn’t.

    • Kilburn Hall on September 1, 2014 at 6:00 PM

      You can always pin anything you like. Think of Pinterest as that scrapbook you once had except now those you choose can share it with you.

  18. Editors Are Important | kelly sumner on February 27, 2014 at 8:58 PM

    […] I just finished reading a self-published book on a topic I’m passionate about, by an author whose blog I occasionally read. As I’ve mentioned before, I regularly read self-pubbed books, and the fact that I work in traditional publishing doesn’t mean I’m biased against them.   It does, however, mean I’m aware of the ways a book could have been better, had the author availed themselves of the best assistance available, whether in design, writing, editing, cover, or even title. Click here to learn more. […]

  19. […] … From Seth’s Blog: Copyediting, line editing and the other kind From Rachelle Gardner: Trust Me, You Need a Good Editor From Beyond Paper Editing: Editor’s Tip: Cleaning Up Your Manuscript Can Save You Money by […]

  20. […] a living as an editor I’m a little biased on this issue…so I was very excited to see this post from literary agent Rachelle Gardner. It’s great to be able to “write for […]

  21. Not yet Spring Links | Becky Black on January 31, 2014 at 10:07 PM

    […] Trust Me, You Need a Good Editor Rachelle Gardener on what a good editor will do for a good writer. […]

  22. Sterling Editing » Written on the internet on January 31, 2014 at 1:37 AM

    […] Agent Rachelle Gardner makes the case for why you need a good editor. […]

  23. Monday Must-Reads [1/27/14] on January 29, 2014 at 5:30 PM

    […] Trust Me, You Need a Good Editor – Rachelle Gardner […]

  24. Andy Traub on January 27, 2014 at 7:41 PM

    Despite kicking butt last year self-publishing this is one of the reasons I’m still considering working with a traditional publisher. It excites me to have a team working on this aspect of my writing. Great post Rachelle.

  25. William Hammett on January 26, 2014 at 8:42 AM

    Excellent post. As a ghostwriter, people come to me all the time for developmental editing or coaching. When I tell them what is wrong with their execution, style, theme, or organization, they suddenly grow defensive and tell me the way things MUST be. I have to laugh. Why do these people contact me in the first place? They tell me in their queries that they can’t write–and then suddenly they know how. People need to move past their egos before they can accept editing. My mainstream published clients simply let me do my thing.

  26. Sam Collett on January 25, 2014 at 12:46 AM

    Thanks for sharing.

    I am an author and it’s really interesting to get a view from the other side of the fence.

    I have been fortunate that my first book (due out March) required minimal editing – and that was due to my obsession with exclamation marks and using “which”.

    I am now awaiting the copy-editor’s response to my second book…with your words in my ears I will now be ready for whatever feedback comes my way 🙂

  27. Christopher Long on January 24, 2014 at 5:57 PM

    Sound advice, Rachelle. My work only has benefited from bringing in as many qualified advisors as possible. Heck, it’s even biblical (see Proverbs). Thanks for another insightful post.

  28. Kerith Stull on January 24, 2014 at 8:57 AM

    My self-published memoir about our experiences with our 18yo disabled daughter will be released in a matter of weeks. Finding a good editor is definitely a must and worth every penny. Advanced readers (prior to professional editing) from a broad spectrum of backgrounds was also invaluable.

    • April Zahn on May 29, 2014 at 8:34 AM

      I too wrote a memoir, but am wondering where do I find an editor? Does anyone have a suggestion?

      • Kerith Stull on September 10, 2014 at 3:14 PM

        Sorry. Just saw your reply. I used Jera Publishing in the Atlanta area, but they will help anyone. I was VERY pleased with their work. You can look them up at

  29. Sally Hanan on January 23, 2014 at 10:58 AM

    I’ve edited a number of books, but I won’t do developmental editing because I don’t have that talent. All I know, when I read a poorly written book, is that it’s bad, and I’m absolutely not going to touch it until it’s been worked on by someone who can make it shine. My problem with this, though, is that I don’t have a list of developmental editors I can recommend, and I can’t just send an MS back to the author without giving help and hope.

    How does one go about finding one who has a proven track record? Because for me, just having a writer say his/her editing has made his/her book stellar is not good enough for me.

    • Victoria Mixon on January 5, 2015 at 9:59 PM

      I do developmental editing as well as copy & line editing, and I now have another trained developmental editor working under me. I’m afraid I don’t have a list of other editors, but I do have a post on how to do your due diligence when searching for one: Be smart. Be aware. Be thorough. The right editor for your book is out there.

  30. jerrywaxler on January 23, 2014 at 6:25 AM

    Hi Rachelle,

    This is a clear and important post. Thank you! I wanted to add a couple of thoughts that may be embedded in the 87 (so far) comments, but if they are, I didn’t see them.

    Like you and probably everyone else on the thread, I agree that a great editor is a fabulous addition to any good writing. However there are a couple of important steps that an aspiring memoir writer must take before getting to that point.

    The vast majority of aspiring memoir writers love to write but a much smaller number have experience writing creative nonfiction. That means to write the memoir, they (we) not only have to record the events of our lives. We must learn to organize those events into a compelling story. I am not sure that’s the job of an editor. For me, it has been a long journey, learning story-telling principles, learning how to adapt them from their usual home in fiction classes and apply them to memoir writing, and then writing, revising, etc.

    I have hired four or five editors, at significant accumulated expense,
    only to find out that they are teaching me lessons about creative
    nonfiction. Basically the editing project turned into a teaching project
    that sent me back for yet another revision.

    Another tool that I think all aspiring writers in any genre ought to be aware of is the critique group. By getting feedback from fellow writers, we can learn to hear our words the way they will “sound” to readers.

    In summary, gather anecdotes, learn the craft, get early feedback, keep writing, keep revising, invest in an editor, learn and revise some more. The length and success of the journey is influenced by the background you start with and the tenacity and willingness to learn along the way.

    Best wishes,
    Author of Memoir Revolution

  31. Gary Neal Hansen on January 22, 2014 at 8:04 PM

    I’m convinced! Thanks Rachelle. And thanks for your list of freelance editors on this site.

    I was blessed to have excellent input from my editor Cindy Bunch at IVP on my first book. Most memorably she had me turn one chapter completely around so my illustration became the structure and my original structure became the illustration. Result: vast improvement on too many fronts to name.

    I’ve seen freelancers advertise various levels or types of edits for varying prices. I’d love to hear your breakdown of what to ask for — I’ll check your archives in case you’ve posted on that.

  32. Lara Dunning on January 22, 2014 at 6:11 PM

    I’ve read some self-published books and run into quite a few that didn’t appear to have been edited by someone other than the author. You’ve got a great outline of why someone needs to have an editor and the things they look for. Theme, narrative arc, making yourself likable and on some level universal or relatable to your readers are so important. We stare at the words on the page so long we forget what isn’t there. Another set of eyes can open up so much more about your writing and what you are really trying to say. Thanks for this post!

    • Christopher Long on January 24, 2014 at 6:09 PM

      “We stare at the words on the page so long we forget what isn’t there.” — well put, Lara!

  33. Julie on January 22, 2014 at 4:38 PM

    I review self-pubbed and indie books for a publishing magazine, so I see a LOT of exactly the problems you’re talking about. A few of the bad books I’ve read are unsalvageable, but most of them have the potential to be quite good if the author had consulted with an editor, or perhaps a workshop group–someone to provide feedback who isn’t a friend or relative.

  34. Kim Dalferes on January 22, 2014 at 7:17 AM

    Absolutely agree with all the highlights – a friend, even a friend who was an English major at an ivy league, might be able to copy edit, but they can rarely deliver the tough edit news. This doesn’t mean an editor should be mean or cruel – good editors are focused and convey to the author ways to improve their manuscript.

    My question: what’s the best way to find a good editor? Many new authors have a tough time finding someone they can trust AND who will steer them in the right direction.

  35. DoveMourning on January 22, 2014 at 5:16 AM

    Best advice about memoirs I’ve seen. Please look for my query soon about the Wander Women project. Thank you! Meg Wilson.

  36. Simone on January 21, 2014 at 11:18 PM

    this is a wonderful article. thank you for sharing your honesty in a such gentle way. i agree, an editor is essential to the writing process. i’ve also found that being an open and willing writer is just as essential. a while back i worked on a memoir that only got worse with feedback (it really is the most difficult writing category, next to molecular biology). i wasn’t *willing* to hear what people were telling me. finally, i ended up putting it down when my writing coach gave me some very honest (and expensive) feedback. it was a painful lesson, but one i’ll never forget. stay open minded and kill your darlings.

  37. Pen Ink on January 21, 2014 at 7:34 PM

    Yes!!! My editor, Cheryl Yeko at Soul Mate Publishing made my book infinitely better. I wouldn’t dream of working without a critique group and I wouldn’t dream of working without an editor. Time and Forever comes out Jan 29th as an ebook. Susan at Pen and Ink

  38. Lauren Carter on January 21, 2014 at 4:36 PM

    Excellent comments! I am judging a writing contest right now and there
    were two self-published books. I didn’t make it past a hundred pages in
    either of them. As a (traditionally) published novelist myself, I could
    also see the ways the books clearly failed and how they might have
    succeeded, given more time and editorial input. It is so unfortunate
    that some people so long to see their name in print that they don’t care
    enough about the thing that they’re making.

  39. Deborah on January 21, 2014 at 12:27 PM

    Thank you for this! I’m a professional writer, but I’ve also worked as an editor for ten years. I can attest I love my editors — they’re critical to a successful piece. And I’m happy to say my writers love me — I protect and enhance their personal voice so that their message gets across better. I tell everyone who writes — you need a good editor — everyone does.

    So its great to hear you confirm that!

    btw: Writing and editing are completely different types of work, and I believe you need to have been a skilled writer for a while before you can become a skilled editor (not all my editor colleagues agree). I’ve found the work even feels different. Writing feels like an accumulation within you that gets laser beam focused and then released. Inside to outside, and completely analog. Editing feels digital, from the outside in, like slicing, dicing, and carefully splicing, with some useful comments here and there. One feels liberating, one feels constraining. I used to joke that when I became a mom, I became an editor — schedules, rules, reminders, process, clarity, confirmation. Now that the kids are almost grown, I’m free again to research, immerse myself, wander, wonder, and create.

  40. Donna Rice on January 21, 2014 at 11:34 AM

    I finished my first novel last fall and had Natalie Hanemann, formerly an editor for Thomas Nelson Publishers, do an edit of the full manuscript. It was an excellent experience! She gave me a professional editorial letter, we spoke on the phone about the manuscript, her suggestions, and how to make improvements. After receiving her suggestions, I rewrote the first fifty pages and had her do a second edit. Now, I’m going through the rest of the novel to incorporate other changes and improvements.

    Natalie’s feedback throughout this process has been a great tutorial on how to take my writing to the next level. I asked for an edit just like she would give if publishing the book for Thomas Nelson so the input was thorough and required me to do some rewriting. However, the end result is that I have learned a great deal in a short time.

    To others who want to improve their craftsmanship and are willing to receive professional advice, I strongly advise going through an edit like this. You will invest some money to do it, but you will be investing in your skills and taking a great leap forward in your ability to produce publishable material.

    Amen to your advice, Rachelle!

  41. Denise Hisey on January 21, 2014 at 9:31 AM

    This was really helpful to read your tips and perspective. I didn’t realize there are editors specific to the memoir genre. I’m a long ways from that step, but now I know.
    A blogging friend of mine has published several books, and I just finished reading one recently. It was not self-pubbed and I was shocked at the number of blatant errors ie: steel instead of steal, breath instead of breathe, etc. How is this possible with a traditional publishing company to allow a book into print like this?
    It definitely bumped up my resolve to edit, edit, edit and then have others edit too.

  42. […] Trust Me, You Need an Editor, Gardner puts together a thoroughgoing explication of how things can go wrong without professional […]

  43. Joseph Snoe on January 20, 2014 at 5:40 PM

    You wrote an important article and the comments are fantastic. I agree with those who say or hint you must write a follow-up piece on how to evaluate editors to get a good one.

  44. Don Wagnon on January 20, 2014 at 5:38 PM

    I am a new subscriber to your blog. I appreciate your site and all the valuable information. I, like many of your followers, am writing a memoir. I think my question after reading your article is: Do those who have chosen to publish their work through a traditional publishing house still need to find an editor and have their book edited by a professional before they begin sending queries to a literary agent for representation of their book?

    • Joseph Snoe on January 21, 2014 at 8:06 AM

      Great question

  45. Sharon on January 20, 2014 at 4:02 PM

    I have been working on my first book. I started using my daughter and my best friend as editors. Then I decided to pay a free lance editor on Elance and she was a bit better. Then when I chose a self publishing company (Mill City Press) I decided to choose the most expensive package they offered for editing. I can’t believe the difference in what this editor is doing to help me self-publish my first book. At first I didn’t want to spend the money for fear I will never get it back in book sales….but I do feel I am getting what I paid for. My book is getting better all the time and she is giving me advice and corrections that none of the others saw or knew to comment on. Even if only my children and family buy my book I believe that it has been worth doing right and paying a editor has made all the difference.

  46. Bruce Blizard on January 20, 2014 at 3:10 PM

    I spent 14 years as a newspaper reporters and editor and 23 years as an English teacher. Still, when I finished my first novel, I remembered what I had preached to my writing students: Always have some else read your work before you submit it (whether for a grade or for publication, the principle is the same). I found a freelance editor in New York who worked with me for almost three months. She insisted on a change in the plot that helped to narrow the book’s focus. She had me re-write long sections of the book to bring the characters into better focus. I consider myself an adequate editor, but I would never consider publishing anything without professional help.

  47. Kathleen Freeman on January 20, 2014 at 3:01 PM

    Agreed! I want people to use the gifts God gave them to the best of their abilities, and I feel the same about story. If it falls down in character, plot, or any other way, it fills me with coulda-been-so-gooditis.Thank you for this and for being specific. These are hang-on the wall points. Here is a question for you: There are okay editors, good editors, and great editors. How can a writer tell the difference?

  48. magicalmysticalmimi on January 20, 2014 at 2:55 PM

    I just found your blog today and have subscribed. 🙂 I also watched your video and I feel like I just exploded. I don’t have blood flowing through my veins I have words and stories that turn into books and then into movies. My whole life.. And until I heard your words – at 50 yrs. old – I had no idea what that meant. Wow. Now all I can say is.. “Coming soon to a book store near you.” Thank you Rachelle.

  49. R.T. Edwins on January 20, 2014 at 2:43 PM

    I too have experienced the painful reality of a poorly edited book. I actually blogged about it. I started reading one book, made it about 30 pages before I could no longer handle the overabundance of passive voice and incessant explanation of every detail (it was self-published). I immediately switched to another novel in the same genre (also self-published) and the world of difference the editing made was astounding. I went from a story about a person struggling through impossible weather conditions only to find an old and rare magical artifact (interesting), to a noble-born girl having her hair brushed by one of her house staff (kind of boring) and the sad thing was, the second scenario was about 1000 times more interesting and engaging, exclusively because of the editing.

    you can read more details at:

  50. […] “Trust Me, You Need a Good Editor” — How an editor could have improved a book – a case study from agent via Rachelle Gardner. […]

  51. Mark Kennard on January 20, 2014 at 1:27 PM

    You can avoid pitfalls by doing a bit of homework before writing. I suggest 20 Master Plots and how to Build Them by Tobias, and Writing the Blockbuster Novel by Zuckerman. Rachelle, if you like to read e-books, why not read mine: Under the Hidden Sun. I like reading your posts, and don’t necessarily need an agent. I love to write.

    • Rachelle Gardner on January 20, 2014 at 1:44 PM

      Love for writing is the best (only?) reason to do it! Good for you.

  52. Darlene Elizabeth Williams on January 20, 2014 at 12:48 PM

    Sharing this article, Rachelle! I am both an author and editor, so I have two viewpoints. I love editing, but I know my book will edited by someone other than myself for many of the reasons you cite.

  53. Brittany R on January 20, 2014 at 12:21 PM

    I think these are great recs! When we (as writers and people) get wrapped up in what we’re doing, it’s easy to forget that the reader isn’t in our mind. He or she doesn’t necessarily understand every joke, every aside, etc. I’m sure some of my “humor” on my blog comes off incredibly odd to other people.

  54. Leanne Fournier on January 20, 2014 at 10:53 AM

    I have recently worked with a local editor here who has helped me avoid virtually all of the pitfalls you outline in this article. She’s also pushing me to face myself in the mirror regarding my writing, constantly asking why did you say that or tell this? When I don’t have a good enough answer we sometimes agree that piece has to go. At other times, rather than just hitting ‘delete’ she makes the investigate my motives enough to more fully understand the value of the material — and to keep it while making it better. She’s forcing me to look at every word I write in a whole new, sometimes painful way and I am incredibly grateful.

    • Rachelle Gardner on January 20, 2014 at 1:07 PM

      Sounds like you’re working with a wonderful editor, Leanne. That’s terrific! They’re not always easy to find.

  55. Carol J. Garvin on January 20, 2014 at 10:40 AM

    I’m always surprised to hear writers say they don’t need to pay a professional to edit their work because its been scoured for errors by (a.) a friend or family member who is an English major or (b.) members of a critique group. They seem to think editing means proofreading, which is an important part of the process but isn’t a substitute for the huge difference an editor can make.

    • Rachelle Gardner on January 20, 2014 at 1:08 PM

      Yes, Carol, that was a large part of my point. You notice in my post, I said nothing about grammar or punctuation or typos. We all need an editor to help us with the big stuff… clarity of ideas and readability and flow and all that stuff.

  56. Ron Estrada on January 20, 2014 at 10:12 AM

    I had a similar problem with a work of fiction I really wanted to like. It was an end-times novel (no, I’m not over those yet) and the premise was great. The opening chapters were also well done. But then it rambled. The hero merely had to save his friends before the rapture, but there were no personal stakes. He was about to be raptured. He’s outta here no matter what. As I read it, I thought of plenty of ways to bring the story into focus. But he’d already launched it to the world and there’s not much you can do after the fact. One or two experienced editors and a good crit partner could have saved it.

    • Rachelle Gardner on January 20, 2014 at 1:09 PM

      And isn’t that frustrating, Ron? When you know it could have been a really great book with the right editorial touch? Glad I’m not the only one who’s had that experience.

  57. Lisa Hess on January 20, 2014 at 10:09 AM

    My first novel releases next week. I pride myself on utilizing good spelling, grammar and word choice. While my reputation on the first two remain relatively unsullied, there were many instances where my editor uncovered repeated words (and in some cases, repeatedly repeated words) and many occurrences of the dreaded -ly adverb…which I believed I’d excised.

    But that was just the beginning. Fixing small things led to fixing big things, and before I knew it, the writing was better, leaner and clearer. Despite the fact that I’d revised the book (more than once), an objective, professional eye caught things I’d missed. The fact that my editor was respectful of my feelings and attachment to the story allowed me to be vulnerable and make improvements that resulted in a better manuscript. I couldn’t have done it without her.

    • Joseph Snoe on January 20, 2014 at 11:02 AM

      Yay. Congratulations. I’m excited for you (Actually I’m excited: I like good news).
      Did you use the editor before or after you had a publisher?

      • Lisa Hess on January 23, 2014 at 9:11 PM

        Thank you! The editor was affiliated with the publisher. In addition to my own revisions, the book went through my critique group, though, before I ever submitted it anywhere. Thanks for asking 🙂

  58. Rachel Franklin on January 20, 2014 at 10:01 AM

    These are excellent points I know I’ll be able to refer to many times over as a good reminder. Being relatively new to the world of blogging, free eBooks, and becoming serious about the writing craft, I know there’s always constant opportunity to learn, and your article runs in this vein. New subscriber here officially saying thank you for your input and experience, Rachelle.

    • Rachelle Gardner on January 20, 2014 at 1:13 PM

      Thanks for joining our little community here, Rachel! I usually blog Mon-Weds-Fri. Hope to hear from you again!

  59. Mona MacDonald on January 20, 2014 at 9:58 AM

    I have just finished my first draft of my book. I treasure the blogs and emails about self-publishing. All my friends and family told me to self-pubish. Thanks to the feedback from the professionals, I know this is not the route to take. There is a critique group that I am joining. I do not know these people. They are all published authors. I feel terrified of opening my first draft for critique by strangers who don’t love me and I am sure will not coddle me in my insecurities. But I realize it is a must if I am to gain any confidence in my writing. I do not want to be a mediocre writer, I want to make to make a difference in my reader’s world and in mine. Thank you all the bloggers and Rachelle Gardener for all that you contribute and share.

    • Lisa Hess on January 20, 2014 at 10:10 AM

      Joining a critique group is the best thing I ever did for my writing, and over the years, these folks have become friends as well. Good luck, Mona — I hope you have the same experience.

    • Bruce Blizard on January 20, 2014 at 3:11 PM

      You have little to fear from published authors. I think you’ll find they are eager for you to succeed and willing to help.

    • Kilburn Hall on September 1, 2014 at 5:58 PM

      Mona: AVOID the self help mags, articles- if these people could write they would. Avoid critigue groups like the plague and just find a good editor. Editors are professionals. They know what will sell and what is shit. Let a professional editor guide you not a bunch of aspiring losers who do not understand the craft. And buy yourself a copy “IMMEDIATELY” of Stephen Kings book,ON WRITING. Good luck.

  60. Heather Day Gilbert on January 20, 2014 at 9:56 AM

    Hm. I think it depends on where the author is in their writing career/experience. I’ve read some poorly edited traditionally published books, and some stellar indie books. I think you can get a pretty good feel for the caliber of writing/edits in those first sample chapters. I proceed with caution before plunking down $$ for any book, trad. pubbed OR indie. But I will say I’ve found indie authors who are putting out polished, professional products, and I believe you’ll be finding more and more of these authors as more authors self-pub (in particular, authors who go hybrid). The proof is in the pudding, but just as with anything, you can’t lump all authors into one group. Yes, edits of some kind are necessary, for trad. OR indie authors. The question is how extensive and what kind. That’s something the astute author can recognize for him/herself. But the key is to ALWAYS be willing to put your work out there, pre-publication. That way you get that crucial feedback this author you read obviously lacked.

    • Rachelle Gardner on January 20, 2014 at 1:19 PM

      Yes, Heather, I agree. The book I just read happened to be self-pubbed. But my point is that all books, regardless of the route to publication, need editors if they are to truly be their best. We all need objective feedback! I WISH I could get an editor on every single blog post I publish to the web — I’d sure seem a lot smarter!

  61. Carolynrhiggins on January 20, 2014 at 9:55 AM

    Thank you so much for this article! I have been struggling with my own memoir and I get stuck in my head about all of the points you brought up. I am aware my writing contains some of the flaws you mentioned. It’s good to know that a GOOD editor can help me with those things and not just correct spelling and grammar. Time for me to find a new editor! Thanks so much!

    • Rachelle Gardner on January 20, 2014 at 1:20 PM

      And Carolyn, just being aware of issues like this can help you self-edit more effectively. 🙂

      • Carolynrhiggins on January 21, 2014 at 10:42 AM

        Thank you Rachelle! 🙂

      • Mart Ramirez on January 27, 2014 at 10:25 AM

        Hi Rachelle, I can’t seem to find the comment I left. Do you happen to know a freelance editor who specializes in memoirs? Thank you again for such an awesome post! Very helpful!

  62. Jo on January 20, 2014 at 9:48 AM

    Would you address the issue of people ‘patting themselves on the back’ in social media? I was taught that one did not brag on themselves but that does not seem to be the norm these days. Since you mentioned bragging in this article I thought it an appropriate observation.

    • Rachelle Gardner on January 20, 2014 at 1:23 PM

      Jo, I don’t think I’m up to the task of making a general comment on bragging in social media. Many have tackled it before me. I will say, however, that I think social media changes the rules. It puts us in a position we have never faced before… having something to say to large numbers of people that might be remotely interesting as well as authentic. When choosing between being a “downer” on social media or saying something positive about a success or triumph, I can see why most people choose the latter. We say we want “authenticity,” but then when someone authentically posts about what a terrible time they’re having, they get labeled a whiner. With social media, we really can’t win.

    • Carolynrhiggins on January 21, 2014 at 10:47 AM

      As a marketer, I encourage my clients to post about their successes and accomplishments – it’s marketing. However, it does need to be done correctly and with the right frequency. If someone is constantly posting about about their achievements in a boastful, self congratulatory way, they will lose the interest of the followers. Like everything, there needs to be balance – and there needs to be audience buy-in. If you haven’t build relationships with your audience (and that’s done through authentic engagement and interest), then no one wants to hear it – it will come of as shameless self-back-patting. I don’t view sharing my success as bragging. I view it as sharing my stories with my audience. I do,however also share my failures, my struggles, challenges, and I even poke a little fun at myself. This has helped me build online relationships and a following. I hope that answers your question.

  63. Jeffe Kennedy on January 20, 2014 at 9:10 AM

    When people ask for my opinion on traditional vs. indie publishing, this is what it always comes down to for me. Working with a publishing team, particularly a great editor, is key for me. It’s also a professional experience unlike any other – working with someone else who really digs into my story and is as invested as I am in making it the best it can possibly be.

  64. Ann Averill on January 20, 2014 at 8:54 AM

    I just self-published a novel based on a true story. I had no editor, but I have a high caliber writing group that holds no punches. I was told often that a chapter didn’t fit in this book. When more than one member brought up the same issue, I knew they were right and rewrote and rewrote. They taught me craft and gave me confidence. It takes confidence to pay an editor. It says, this book is worth it. This book will be published. I’ve learned the value of a trusted editor through my critique group. If I’m ever traditionally published, I will savor the editorial experience.

    • Rachelle Gardner on January 20, 2014 at 1:26 PM

      Sounds like your group functions terrifically for you! It’s great you’ve found some partners that help you grow. That’s what we all need.

      And you’re right – it takes confidence to pay an editor. Good editors are worth what they cost, but for a self-pub author, that editor fee might never be recouped through book sales.

  65. Jennifer Hallmark on January 20, 2014 at 8:40 AM

    Yes! Editors are wonderful people!

  66. Lee Cart on January 20, 2014 at 8:26 AM

    Great topic, Rachelle! I am a book reviewer, freelance editor and also work for an editing company, so I see the gamut of writing, from first-time authors who want to self-publish and/or have self-published to published authors who need a polish. Editing is crucial, regardless of which publishing route an author chooses–traditional, small press, via an agent, or self-publishing. That second set of eyes sees things an author misses, no matter how many times a manuscript has been perused. Speaking for myself, yes, comments can be hard to swallow, but authors need to realize that I have his/her best interests at heart–my comments are meant to help the author make the book the best it can possibly be. Unfortunately, the main problem I see with self-published books is that the author is in such a hurry to publish, he/she doesn’t take the time to double-check simple things like typos or study formatting guidelines for novels (Chicago Manual of Style) or even understand basic concepts like point of view or how dialogue is written. Those mistakes will be pointed out by a good editor, along with the dropped threads, the bragging, etc. An editor is a necessary part of the whole process of turning a concept into a book worth reading.

    • Rachelle Gardner on January 20, 2014 at 1:30 PM

      Thanks for your perspective, Lee. We need people like you!

  67. Lori Schafer on January 20, 2014 at 8:08 AM

    My experiences working with editors have been overwhelmingly positive – once you get past the annoying part where they’re tearing your work apart. As often as I’ve disliked their suggestions, or thought their proposed changes messed with my vision of my work, I’ve always ended up with a better product because of them. It’s true; I just don’t think you can get an outsider’s perspective on your own work, no matter how objective you try to be.

  68. Bart Cleveland on January 20, 2014 at 8:06 AM

    I used an editor for two rounds while working on my novel. At first, I resisted some of the suggestions she offered. Something that helped me view her suggestion objectively was that I had asked a friend (also, a novelist) to read my work. He offered many of the same suggestions that the editor did. Getting the same advice from more than one source meant I had to let go emotionally and make the work right. I made the changes. It transformed the work into something resembling professional.

    • Rachelle Gardner on January 20, 2014 at 1:31 PM

      I think a lot of people share your experience — it’s hard to take when one person says it, but when two people say the same thing, it’s easier to put down your defenses and pay attention. That’s how we all get better… and no one ever said it was easy, right?

  69. Cherry Odelberg on January 20, 2014 at 8:01 AM

    Wow! This is quite possibly the most informative and influential post I have read from you, Rachelle (and that is saying something). Clear. And the arrows hit home instantly.

    • Rachelle Gardner on January 20, 2014 at 1:31 PM

      Thanks, Cherry! Glad you got something out of it.

  70. C D Trost on January 20, 2014 at 7:55 AM

    I don’t know about your world, but in my world money doesn’t flow so freely. I’ve yet to meet an editor who doesn’t want his/her bag of shekels up front and in full. And of course paying upfront to produce an artful read would be fine except: writers are always waiting to be paid. Hence, self-publishing is growing because of or in spite of these cost factors. It’s a two-edged sword for the writer.

    • Rachelle Gardner on January 20, 2014 at 1:32 PM

      You’re right, paying for an editor is a huge deterrent. While good editors earn every bit of their wage, they can be costly, and self-pub authors might not be able to recoup that cost with their sales.

  71. dabneyland on January 20, 2014 at 7:49 AM

    Yes. Painful in every since of the word, when my editor and agent agreed that some content needed reworking, I fought their decisions. Honestly, my emotional attachment to the experience held me back from seeing their wisdom.

    The book has been out for seven months now. Interestingly, each time I reread certain sections, relief fills my mind that my more embarrassing moments were cut or played with just enough to keep the reader turning pages.


    These types of career-saving edits are a must.

    Plus, variations of the cut content make for interesting blog posts later down the line. 😉 There’s always a way to slip it in.


    • Rachelle Gardner on January 20, 2014 at 1:34 PM

      Yes, Dabney, you’re a great case study! Your book was wonderful in its raw, unedited form… but I think the edited version tells the story you truly wanted to tell. 🙂

  72. Veronica on January 20, 2014 at 7:42 AM

    I didn’t finish your post because I’m offended at the “availed themselves” comment in the second paragraph. If no one wants you and you don’t have the money they have, how does one “avail themselves”? If no agent returns your e-mail, ah-hem, then what should you do? Continue to try to force yourself upon someone? No. No one has time for that. Getting it done and out is better, at least you’re making some amount of money.

  73. Anne Borrowdale on January 20, 2014 at 7:36 AM

    I agree with everyone. Spending money on a good editor for my first self-published novel was the best money I ever spent. Other people who read my m/s could tell me some parts didn’t work, but my editor could also tell me why, and offer concrete suggestions which really worked. It was like having a creative writing course all to myself & gave me skills to apply to my subsequent novels. (Sorry, she’s retired now)

    For my last/fifth novel, I used (and paid) my adult daughter. Normally I’d agree that friends and family aren’t good advisers, but a) she has those professional skills b) she has no problem being honest & critical (!)and c) her suggestions immediately transformed the novel and made it so much better.

    • Rachelle Gardner on January 20, 2014 at 1:36 PM

      Anne, this is an extremely important observation, “Other people who read my m/s could tell me some parts didn’t work, but my editor could also tell me why.” Exactly! That’s what you’re paying an editor for.

  74. Andrew Budek-Schmeisser on January 20, 2014 at 7:30 AM

    Stephen Ambrose’s last book, “The Wild Blue”, suffered badly from poor editing.

    Aside from technical details gotten wrong, it simply lacked the snap and verve of his earlier work.

    With history – or memoir – I would say that it’s really vital to have a good editor who is also something of an expert in the events of the time. A tall order, but better than a sad end to a fine career.

  75. R B Harkess on January 20, 2014 at 7:19 AM

    I just had a positive editing experience and I cannot agree more. Friends, writing colleagues and members of my writing circle all said the same thing was wrong with the the novel, but not in a way that helped me straighten it out. In desperation, I paid for the services of a recommended editor (Aaron Sikes) who did me a structural edit that instantly highlighted the mechanics of the problem and allowed me to not only fix it, but hopefully not make the same mistake again.
    All my editorial experiences have been positive so far.

    • Rachelle Gardner on January 20, 2014 at 1:38 PM

      RB, I appreciate you pointing out the distinction (similar to Anne, above) that readers can tell you when something’s wrong, but a good editor can actually define it and help you fix it. So important! Glad you’ve had good experiences.

  76. isokari francis ololo on January 20, 2014 at 7:14 AM

    Honestly, working with editors improved my work a lot. I learnt so much and will gladly deploy the knowledge to my future works. In this respect, there is a Daniella with Createspace I lost contact with. She gives service-plus editing. I will never fail to enlist professional editors for my works, however meticulous I think I am .

  77. Verla Powers on January 20, 2014 at 7:05 AM

    Great advice! I have stopped reading in the middle of many self-published eBooks. However, other self-published books I purchased were well-written and enjoyable. I suspect the difference is because the latter were subjected to rigorous editing.

  78. Marilyn Hudson Tucker on January 20, 2014 at 7:02 AM

    The title of my memoir, which I hope to have out in 2014, is “If I Survived Thirty Years of Teaching, So Can You.” I really appreciate the post today. I will go back and scour my manuscript.

  79. Missy Buchanan on January 20, 2014 at 6:54 AM

    I look at editors as my best friends. Period.

  80. John Stipa on January 20, 2014 at 6:46 AM

    I don’t do memoirs, but the advice is universal. The one time I hired an editor (Kristen King) resulted in the BEST experience I’ve ever had as an author. I agree with all your points Rachelle, but Editors cost money and most self-pubbers can’t afford them. Best I can do is share with my writers group or friends.

    • Rachelle Gardner on January 20, 2014 at 1:39 PM

      I hear you, John. Editors are expensive. It’s hard to find a good solution.

  81. Neil Ansell on January 20, 2014 at 6:43 AM

    I am the author of two memoirs, and would say that the most important thing to remember is it should not be about me, me, me, but rather about the world outside of yourself, as seen through your eyes. My great first editor helped me cut the length of my debut by about 10% to make it leaner and meaner. For the second I was told that it barely needed editing at all, as I had pared it down to the essentials myself.

    • Neil Ansell on January 20, 2014 at 6:47 AM

      I should perhaps add that I am traditionally published, so had the benefit of very experienced editors – if you are hiring one yourself then do your research, as there are a lot of people out there claiming to be editors who can barely do a copy-edit, let alone a proper structural edit.

      • mellormagic67 on January 20, 2014 at 7:05 AM

        And therein lies the rub..which editor? If I do the research, I am going by their professed expertise and this all takes forever! How does one create a proving ground by which to assess who are the truly good editors? (and yes, I’ve gone to book stores, found books like mine and then queried authors to find out who they used (I never heard back from them)..So, in frustration, I can understand why a self-pubber is doing self-editing, but I also agree: It’s a dangerous business…Rachell, you have mentioned all the pitfalls I have faced in my current work–a memoir–and I’m guilty of most of the sins you mention. I’d pay but finding a good editor is the problem. Question is: How???

        • Rachelle Gardner on January 20, 2014 at 1:41 PM

          It is difficult, and I don’t have a great solution. However, if you can identify issues in your memoir through my post, and by reading books on how to write memoir, I’ll bet you could self-edit pretty effectively. You just have to take the time to study the genre in-depth, and go back to your manuscript with a more objective eye.

          • mellormagic67 on January 20, 2014 at 1:58 PM

            Thx for the vote of confidence, Rachelle…I am taking the time right now, in forced hibernation mode, attending to that very thing. I do appreciate…

  82. Glen on January 20, 2014 at 6:29 AM

    This is a perfectly timed post, Rachelle. I’ve been telling all my writing friends they need an editor. I understand there’s a cost issue, but it’s worth it to avoid a bad reputation as a writer.

  83. Bonnie Jean on January 20, 2014 at 6:23 AM

    This was right on time for me. My manuscript (memoir) goes to NY Book Editors at the end of the month for a professional critique. It’s an investment but well worth it. Thanks so much for this post.

    • Rachelle Gardner on January 20, 2014 at 1:42 PM

      It may be painful, as well as an investment, Bonnie Jean. But still, well worth it!

  84. SharonALavy on January 20, 2014 at 6:20 AM

    I have hired many editors. Finding the right one who “gets” your voice and lets you know if you have said what you thought you said is important. Finding one at the right price who is not too busy … Ah there is the rub. Because I think I need more than one, not the same one going over the manuscript for different issues, I am always on the lookout for an additional freelance editor.

    • Rachelle Gardner on January 20, 2014 at 1:42 PM

      Very true, Sharon.

  85. Rudy U Martinka on January 20, 2014 at 6:14 AM

    Wish I could meet a good editor that would agree to share my novel profits before I self published instead of quoting me thousands of dollars. Any recommendations?

    • Rachelle Gardner on January 20, 2014 at 1:43 PM

      Sadly, no recommendations in that area.

  86. Amber Skyze on January 20, 2014 at 4:08 AM

    I haven’t written a memoir, though it’s on my bucket list. I’ve survived things others would only think unbelievable.
    But I can say the editors I have worked with in my writing career have only assisted in making my stories stronger. I’ve enjoyed every single one of them and very thankful for each.
    I couldn’t dream of self-pubbing a book without the help of a talented editor.

  87. Ernie Zelinski on January 20, 2014 at 3:52 AM

    I know nothing about memoirs.

    But I have had experience working with several editors at Ten Speed Press, now owned by Random House. As a whole editors can be very useful. They can provide insights that authors don’t have.

    Nonetheless, editors don’t necessarily know more than the author. Sometimes they know less. There are times when a writer has to challenge editors and tell them to go take a hike. This is what I had to do on two occasions. One editor had her own agenda with my book “The Joy of Thinking Big” by wanting more quotations by women and not so many by men. I told her that there was absolutely no way I was going to do that. I also told her that if she persisted, I was going to phone Phil Wood, the owner of Ten Spree Press, and tell him that I was prepared to give the advance back to him, and pursue the book on my own. The editor backed off (because she knew Phil Wood would agree with me) and I got to place all the quotations by men in my book that I wanted.

    “The best effect of any book,” stated Thomas Carlyle, “is that it excites the reader to self-activity.” This is the type of book every writer should strive for, while using an editor to support him or her to achieve this goal.

    Ernie J. Zelinski
    The Prosperity Guy
    “Helping Adventurous Souls Live Prosperous and Free”
    Author of the Bestseller “How to Retire Happy, Wild, and Free”
    (Over 200,000 copies sold and published in 9 languages)
    and the International Bestseller “The Joy of Not Working”
    (Over 250,000 copies sold and published in 17 languages)

  88. Claude Nougat on January 20, 2014 at 1:48 AM

    Interesting post, Rachelle, as always. I couldn’t agree with you more, self-pubbed authors are in dire need of editors. Indeed, all writers need editors – just look at Scott Fitzgerald, I once saw a reproduction of a page from a manuscript edited by his trusted editor and I couldn’t believe the amount that was changed!

    This said, I think that self-pubbed writers are facing a particularly arduous challenge that trad-pubbed authors do not have to face. Your big publishing house comes with in-house editors whose career depends on satisfying not the writer but the publisher. Therefore, the ms will be edited as well as possible in view of selling and if it turns out that it is poorly edited, the publisher will be quickly made aware of the problem and fire his editor!

    But for a self-pubbed author the situation is totally different. I’ve seen it happen again and again. You hire an editor who does the job and you have no idea how well the job is actually done until you actually publish your book and start getting feedback. This happened to me too, not just to many of my self-pubbed friends…You pay someone, that someone may even have a good reputation, but you cannot control the quality of the editing done (no suprised there, that’s precisely why you needed an editor in the first place, right?)

    Why does this happen? I’m not sure but I suspect that a free-lance editor is under pressure to earn money and needs to have a lot of jobs in order to make it by the end of the month. That means going through the editing as fast as possible – at the expense of quality of course.

    So how do you find a good, reliable free-lance editor? By word of mouth of course, and by crossing your fingers that you are going to land on a winner!

    • Anne on January 20, 2014 at 10:48 AM

      Wow! Rachelle, I always learn so much from reading your posts – but this one tops them all. I am currently working on my first draft of a memoir and I see I have a lot to learn.