Why God Made Editors

I’m not writing this to kiss up to my editor. Really. I’m writing it in response to that “wall-banger” book (which shall remain nameless) that I abandoned last night.

You know what a wall-banger is. It’s that book in which you invest some time reading. You try to plow your way through it and maybe even read it all if you’re one of those people who feels compelled to finish every book you pick up. But at some point in that process, the lack of writing craft or the poorly structured plot or weak characterization or crappy ending gets to be too much and you fling that book against the wall in disgust.

Of course, since the book in question was on my Kindle, I didn’t literally fling it against the wall. Those suckers are pretty sturdy, but I’d hate to see my Kindle meet its end due to my fit of pique.

And I should mention that there are readers out there who considered at least one of my books a wall-banger (they didn’t like how one of my characters met his end). So I’m not guiltless in enraging readers.

But the thing is, the wall-banger I gave up on last night was actually a pretty good book. That is, it had some great world-building, a fascinating premise and interesting characters.  About the first third of the book kept me riveted.

But then a peculiar literary affectation started jumping out at me more and more. The author seemed to be enchanted with gerunds in lieu of verbs. Many, many sentences started with a gerund, and never got around to becoming a complete sentence by use of a verb. Going on and on. Running one sentence after another in this way. Driving the reader a little bit crazy. Creating an irritating narrative.

You get the picture. If the author had used this literary device only occasionally, interspersing it with sentences with nice, active verbs as he did in the first third or so, he wouldn’t have gotten on my last nerve. As it was, I started editing his prose in my mind as I read. I’m pretty quick with mental editing, having written a fair number of books, but it does get tedious. It didn’t help that about the time this gerunding was going into hyperdrive, the plot slowed to a crawl.

And now back to why God made editors. I took a peek at who published the book after I’d abandoned it. Best I can tell, it was self-published. This is not a commentary on self-publishing, because I do see that as a perfectly respectable way to get your book into the hands of a reader.

But I firmly believe that without an independent professional editor laying eyes on that manuscript, it’s going to have problems. This book’s author might have had writer friends give him feedback (I’m guessing yes, because much of what I read was quite well-written). But I’m guessing a professional, working editor never worked on the book.

If she had (and I say she because all but two of my editors have been women), she would have noticed the author’s overuse of gerunds. She would have suggested he be more sparing in his use of that method of laying out the narrative. She would have cut back on those long, overwritten paragraphs that caused my eyes to glaze over, would have showed him ways he could cut to the chase and allow the gem that lay beneath his verbosity to come to the fore and sparkle.

The book seems to be doing quite well on Amazon, if its ranking is anything to go on. So maybe I’m just full of it in my opinion that an editor can make a difference. Maybe the quality of your prose doesn’t matter as long as you sell books. But I doubt I’ll ever pick up another book by this author. And I doubt I’d recommend it to anyone.

About karensandler

Lover of chocolate. A couple felines short of full-fledged Cat Lady. Author of the YA Tankborn Trilogy (TANKBORN, AWAKENING, and REBELLION), from Tu Books. Founding team member of We Need Diverse Books. Opinions expressed here are my own.
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5 Responses to Why God Made Editors

  1. I’ve seen this so many times, a great story taken down by lack of great editing. My editor, Barbara Ittner, is absolutely amazing. She makes my books so much better by questioning me on anything that doesn’t work. I have learned so much from her, not by her telling me something, but because she tells me where I have a problem I need to solve.

  2. karensandler says:

    Editors do indeed save our literary butts.

  3. I’d like to know who your editor is. I’ve been doing a series of posts on editing, encouraging writers to work up to a professional editor even if they can’t afford one now. I will need a good editor when I’m finished rewriting in first person (as a result of beta reader’s pointing out serious problems) and my critique group has give my rewrite a once over.

  4. And why did I stick in that apostrophe in a word that isn’t possessive? I always manage to prove my point that I need an editor.

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