You sure do, as do best-selling authors, heads of state and your mom when she sends out her annual holiday email. “Everyone needs an editor” is such a truism that no one knows who said it first.
Perhaps you’ve heard a writer on some online forum or in your writer’s group say, “An author should tell his or her own story,” but that’s missing the point of what an editor does. Editors are like midwives: They don’t make the baby; they help deliver it.
If you’re in an early draft, an editor may work with you on structure: Is the protagonist’s need compelling? Does the pace lag? Does your character evolve emotionally?
By the time you’ve rewritten your novel three times, you’re so familiar with the material you can’t separate what’s on the page from what’s in your head. An editor can identify holes in your plot and extraneous backstory your reader doesn’t need.
Finally, an editor can turn your story from a raw gem into a gleaming jewel: eliminating filter words, finding passive sentences, striking out all semi-colons and pointing out those six paragraphs in a row that start with “I.”
A strong, critical eye is essential to a developing story. Whether your editor is a classmate in your graduate seminar, your journalist spouse, a hired professional or a neighbor who works for a publishing house and is happy to trade for babysitting, make no bones about it: Everyone needs an editor.
—Dionne McCulloch, U.S. managing editor, Cornerstones Literary Consultancy. Web: cornerstonesUS.com.