Do Editors Tell You What You Want to Hear?

I was surprised by something a writer said about editors when he commented on someone’s blog recently. He felt hiring an editor was a waste of money because “they tell you what you want to hear”. Really? Where did he get that idea? The editors I know aren’t like that. I’m not.

In fact, I tell it like it is—in a nice way. Sometimes that means I have to break a writer’s heart and let her know her manuscript isn’t ready for editing. I hate doing it, and I try to be as encouraging as possible, but if the story isn’t at a certain level, and too much rewriting will be necessary, the writer probably hasn’t taken the time to learn the craft of writing. Agents, publishers, and readers have expectations on how a novel should be written. It’s not as “easy” as putting 80,000 words together and calling it good. There’s a difference between writing a novel and writing a publishable novel, and a lot of that has to do with the craft.

That’s what editors are for, right? To make your book better? True, but you have to come to the table with some knowledge of the craft or our suggestions may not make sense to you. When a client hands in her manuscript to me for substantive editing (aka developmental editing), I’ll mark the manuscript and flag issues, sometimes with explanations on why something isn’t working or how to correct the problem. However, I won’t go into long, detailed explanations. I expect the author to know, to a certain extent, what I’m talking about. For example, if there’s too much telling in a scene, and the writer needs to show us how the character feels, go deeper into his POV (point of view), I don’t expect the writer to tell me she doesn’t know what I mean by “show, don’t tell” or “deep POV”. Granted, there will be times when a writer knows most of the terms but not all. I’m fine with that. I’m not expecting perfection. I’ve also had clients who know the industry terms but don’t know how to fix them. That’s fine, too. My point is that the writer needs some kind of a base so we can have a discussion. I love to teach and try to help writers learn with my editorial suggestions, but that means I need to feel comfortable that they’re familiar with industry terms and common craft problems. In other words, if I can’t see past the craft issues and find the story, the manuscript isn’t ready for substantive/developmental editing.

Writers aren’t born with knowledge about the craft. This is something everyone has to learn, so don’t be discouraged if an editor tells you to take a few writing classes or read some “how-to-write” books. We’re only trying to help you grow as a writer. I offer a few online writing classes:, but Romance Writers of America and Savvy Authors have great classes, too.

However, the writer who commented on that blog probably wasn’t talking about editors who turn potential clients away. He said hiring an editor was a waste of money because “they tell you what you want to hear”. Not true. At least, not true in my case.

Once you’re my client, you’ll see I don’t sugarcoat my comments or tell you “what you want to hear”. I’ll point out the flaws in your manuscript so you can fix them. In fact, when you get your manuscript back from me, it might be rather colorful with pink comment bubbles, aqua highlighted passages, yellow highlighted repetitive words, and blue comments within the text. But, I don’t just point out the issues I find. I also let you know when you made me laugh or cry, and when the character got me so angry that I wanted to stomp into the book and smack him. That’s when you’ve really done your job. Why wouldn’t I tell you that?

UPDATE: My next substantive/developmental editing slots are January 26, 2015 and February 23, 2015. If you want more information on this service and my rates, check out my editorial website: Or contact me at: labelle@labelleseditorialservices dot com.

Lynnette Labelle

This entry was posted in Blog and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.