A Good Editor is Priceless

As a new novelist, I should leave provocative statements about the art of writing to the experts. But I’m not made that way, so here goes. I reckon the editing is even more important than the writing.

What makes the quality of editing so crucial is that the writer has so many issues to grapple with. Here are just a few. What is the central conflict and is it convincingly resolved? Do the sub-plots work well with the main plot? Do the scenes follow logically and propel the action forward? How much variety is there in the pacing? Is the writing spare or verbose? Is the dialogue natural? Are the characters multi-dimensional or flat? Do they tell or show what they think? Are their backstories and “wants” clearly brought out?

With so many key questions to resolve, the editing process can benefit hugely from an external input. When I wrote the first draft of what is now The Girl with the Haunting Smile, it was a very different animal. The writing was too exuberant and one-paced and lacked focus.  Happily, I had the good sense to harness the talents of Gillian Stern, a superb London-based editor who works for Bloomsbury and other publishing houses. Gillian reined me in, weeded out my self-indulgences, made me re-assess the shape of my novel and taught me to focus firmly on fundamental issues like those above.

This, in my eyes, is what makes good editing so special. I’m surprised when I see folk tweet on #amediting or other threads that they’ve cracked it after an edit of a few hours. The only editing you can do in that time is to shave words or sentences and make the writing tighter. You can’t alter the structure of your novel or its pace. You can’t make your scenes flow more naturally. You can’t fill out your characters.

To me, the pruning and polishing is the easiest part of editing. It is far harder to stand back, take a dispassionate look at your beloved baby and spot any flaws in structure, pace and story or character development. That’s why skilled editors like Gillian are so priceless and so hard to find.


About Richard Louden

Maybe it was because languages were my thing but I loved writing at school and I've loved it ever since. Obviously, I hope others will enjoy reading what I write but, now that I am turning my hand to novels, what matters most to me is to write what, as a reader, I would like to read. As a journalist with UK papers, I've written widely on education, business, sport and law. In the creative writing field, I've written the scripts of two TV dramas (BBC and ITV), contributed sketches to TV and radio comedy shows and had short stories published in national anthologies. That doesn’t make me a novelist but I hope it gives me a push in the right direction.

Posted on August 2, 2012, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 11 Comments.

  1. I absolutely agree. Since I changed viewpoint structure after outside editing advice I have so far spent months on my book. And each read through it becomes clearer. I used cornerstones but I think a Bloomsbury editor would possibly have been even better.

  2. I am totally with you on all the above. Have just hired the magic dust in the form of Gillian Stern! Meet with her next week in fact….and the work will begin all over again. Hope to read your book soon.

  3. Richard, I couldn’t agree with you more. I had the incredible good fortune to get my first work picked up by Greyhart Press, and I was even luckier to have a young lady by the name of Terry Jackman assigned my book. I read a post by an author not too long ago that said after his book had been edited, it was barely recognizable from the original. I can now see why. Everything you mentioned are areas in which Terry is helping me improve. Waaay too many for one set of eyes, or for a rookie like me, even recognize. One of my author friends (who is indie) told me her editing was going to consist of a bunch of friends who are experienced reviewers. I have yet to read her book, but when I do, I’ll be interested to see what the results are.
    Enjoyed your post..say hello to your newest follower…:)

    • Hi Thomas Many thanks for your post and congrats on your excellent website. I’m pleased to hear of your arrangement with Greyhart Press and wish you joy in your relationship with them. As you say. your friend’s idea of getting editing help from several reviewers is an interesting one. The only problem that may arise is if these reviewers disagree on what needs to be edited and in what manner!

      • I know…too many chiefs, hmm?
        Thanks very much for the compliments.I was lucky to be taken on by Greyhart. They’re a cut above, at least from what I’ve read on what publishers offer. I’m excited (and terrified) to see how the book does. I take it you’re an indie?

      • Yes, I am. My novel is ready but I’m building up my presence on Twitter and Goodreads before taking the plunge. A couple of months, maybe.

      • Good for you! I almost went that way, and would have, if Greyhart turned me down. I think it’s good, either way. There are a lot of good reviewers on GR, and folks who will interview, as well. I’ve made quite a few friends there, and a couple other sites. Let me know if you need anything. Not trying to sound all worldly…just offering…

      • That’s very kind, Thomas. I’ll see how it goes.

      • De nada…stay in touch…

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