Why Your English Degree Might Not Make You an Editor
Guest post by TC Slonaker
I am a writer.
Even with my first novel in publication, and a second on its way, I have trouble bringing myself to actually use that title. When I am reading the likes of C.S. Lewis and Harper Lee, I hardly feel worthy to share the same occupation. But I didn’t always boast this humility.
Here’s my background. In school, I was caught in the beginning of that “Let’s boost every kids’ self-esteem” movement. I won awards for my poetry and even found myself holding a pen set designated for Writer of Year, both in 8th and 12 grades. Obviously, I must have known what I was doing. I mean, hey, I placed out of having to take any composition classes in college. Even they thought I knew it all, right?
Once I had written my first novel, I began to send it to publishers and agents in hopes of finding someone to take on my project. I expected some rejections, having heard the stories of all the greats. No one is accepted on their first query. After 19 rejections, I thought perhaps all the appropriate niches for this book were full. If I wanted to see this work in print, I might have to do it myself.
When I made the decision to self-publish, I knew my work needed to be looked over. You know. For the little things I may have missed like missing commas or forgotten capitals. Because nothing is more frustrating than reading a book and finding a typo, right?
After all, how bad could it be? Remember all those writing awards I had won? In high school? Of course, high school is not my recent past. That means it had been 20 years since I was a student of English. But the language hadn’t changed any, so I was sure I was fine.
I had even been a teacher of English – as high as 6th grade, mind you. And all that stuff was still pretty familiar. I have to correct my own kids’ work regularly too. Many people even hate me for constantly reminding them of which “your” is needed.
So I formed a group of my friends to be “betas” and tasked them with finding my little typos. They hadn’t gone very far when, I am convinced, God sat upon His throne, shaking His head, saying, “Oh no. She’s really going to do it. She is going to try to represent me with a book that looks like that.”
Harsh, you say? I wish I could show you the compilation of edits made to the very first chapter of my “masterpiece.” The work I had pored over. And over. And over again. I’m telling you, I read that book so much, I was even getting sick of it myself.
I wasn’t going to catch my mistakes, because I didn’t know what I was doing wrong.
So, God set the wheels in motion, stopping me from my adventure into self-publication and finding a publisher willing to work with me. Since I had been nervous diving into publishing my book with no knowledge of the publishing world whatsoever, I jumped at the chance to have a professional do it for me.
After all the contract signing, copyrighting, and other business about which I was clueless, was finished, I leaped into the next phase of editing.
O. M. Gosh. I felt like a first grader, who just learned to read, being taught (patiently) all the rules of composition that I either never knew or was choosing to ignore for the sake of voice. (I learned later that voice didn’t have to break rules and look ugly. There were better ways to achieve it.)
My editor taught me what felt like years’ worth of proper grammar, syntax, style, and story-telling. I wish I could list it all! Actually, I have been compiling a list of my biggest mistakes. I use it as a check-off list as I proofread my other novels. It is an on-going list, because sadly, I know there is plenty more to learn.
The result was a book that I was not embarrassed to sell. I probably wouldn’t have been embarrassed to sell it before the editing, but I should have been!
Okay, fellow writers, what are you taking away from this? I’m not putting you down if you have selected the self-publishing route, especially if that was the way you wanted to go in the first place. However, if you are only self-publishing because your work has been rejected numerous times by traditional publishers and agents, I would suggest looking into finding a professional editor. A publisher might be too busy to tell you that his pet peeve is when someone starts a sentence off with the word, “But,” but an editor will fix it so you can experience a valued look from the publisher.
I haven’t made it as an author, if “making it” counts as selling more than 13 books. So, my opinion might not matter all that much. But as a reader, I will tell you that I do not want to waste my time on a book that is not well-written. Please give it your best.
Tracy enjoys her life as a wife and mother of three in just outside Reading, PA. She still has a soft spot for kids and an eagerness to use her degrees in Elementary Education by using them as Director of Christian Education at her non-denominational Christian church. She has also learned to love running, and has not given up her childhood fondness of sports (playing softball and watching football). She gives thanks to the Lord for all His good gifts. Visit her website, follow her on Twitter and Facebook, and connect with her on Goodreads. You can find her book for purchase on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or the Martin Sisters Publishing website.