Writer's moments

Guest Today Is Editor/Writer Ally Peltier

I’m so happy to welcome editor, writer, and consultant Ally E. Peltier to the blog today. Ally  has worked with small and large book publishers, including Simon & Schuster, where she acquired and edited books. Ally loves using her insider knowledge of the publishing industry and more than a decade of writing experience to help others reach their publishing goals. She offers tips, advice, and news at www.allypeltier.com and provides editorial services through www.ambitiousenterprises.com. She’s also the co-sponsor of the Self-Publishing Success Intensive, a new event for indie authors coming in March 2012. Visit www.selfpublishingsuccessintensive.com for details. Take it away, Ally.

Why Fiction Writers Need Editors

You’ve slaved over your manuscript, and now it’s time to edit. You could do it yourself, but with rare exceptions, this would be a mistake. Here are four reasons why fiction writers need editors:

  • Your brain is working against you. It’s impossible for the brain to be 100% objective about its own creations. Have you ever thought you said something, only to have your listener tell you the words coming out of your mouth were different? Likewise, when we read, our brains often fool us by filling in missing words and processing misspellings or incorrect punctuation, reading what it knows should be on the page rather than what’s actually there.
  • You know too much. Technical errors aside, there are other aspects of your manuscript that may not be as obvious to readers as they are to you. As the author, you know what you meant and how you want readers to feel about it. Your perspective is more informed than your audience’s; that knowledge further hinders your objectivity.
  • Your friends and family are lying. Though you’ll get better results if you choose test or “beta” readers representing your target audience, it’s human nature to be kind when doing a favor for someone; readers (especially loved ones) may not be 100% honest or they may emphasize what they liked, downplaying or omitting what they didn’t. They may also not be capable of fully articulating weaknesses. An experienced editor will be much more analytical, identifying problems and offering suggestions on how to fix them.
  • Editing requires more than good grammar. Each kind of editing requires different, though sometimes overlapping, skill sets. Good grammar and a sharp eye for punctuation are strong advantages, but not equal to working with an editor, who should also aid with “big picture” issues. The reverse is likewise true. [Download my article explaining different types of editors for The Writer magazine here.

If you can’t hire someone, get at least one critical person not obligated to be nice to you to edit your book: no spouses, siblings, parents, or best friends. Fellow writers make excellent critiquers: one great partner can work, but I recommend critique groups because you get a wealth of feedback at once.

Of course, other writers will be harder on you than the average reader—but that’s the point! A reader may not be engaged by your characters or excited by the romantic tension, but won’t know why. They just won’t love the book. However, like a pro editor, a fellow writer will show you why something isn’t working, and will have suggestions on how to give your characters authenticity or how to better cultivate tension. And if you’re submitting, remember: industry gatekeepers are tougher than average readers, too.

It may take a while for a crit group to make its way through your manuscript, but if you have the time (and don’t have the money), this is an excellent alternative to hiring a professional. I encourage you to try a critique group even if you do intend to hire someone!

You want to give your book its best chance at success in a world where millions of new books are published each year, and millions more are rejected. A good editor, whether a pro or a skilled writing partner, can make all the difference.




  • robena grant

    This was a great. I agree with your comments.
    I do have a critique partner (used to be in a group a few years ago). We’re at about the same level with our writing and have similar goals and dreams. My partner is better at catching grammar goofs and I’m better at the big picture. She writes hot and I write warm, so I get to remember how to add zest. : 0
    We work well together. I also have a group of three avid readers (not writers) who are my beta readers. I know I need a professional edit. For the moment that is out of the question financially…but if I decide on the e-Pub route, definitely. You may be hearing from later this year.

  • CathyS

    Just to let you know, I clicked on clients and just saw corporate titles. I thought I might see some author names there. I didn’t go on to testimonials. Sorry!
    I did a quick run-through. Meant to see if your rates were there, but didn’t get that far.
    Thanks for clarifying things.

  • Ally E. Peltier

    Hey Cathy. Thanks so much for commenting! Your observations about the potential downsides of critique groups are right on. The time investment is substantial. Beyond that, just as with professional editors, you want to choose a critique group carefully. Not everyone is good at critiquing, but it’s up to the moderator or the whole group, if that’s your structure, to make sure everyone participates at the right level (for example, in my group you were never allowed to say you liked or didn’t like something without explaining why).

    For the reasons you note, some people prefer working with single-genre groups, but I wouldn’t discount the value of feedback from those who don’t read in your category: you’ll have to temper it with your own knowledge of genre tropes but your partners should still be able to comment on points of logic, how engaged they feel, the pace, etc. I was in a mixed genre group and I enjoyed the variety, but I also read widely. It’s a personal preference, I think, with advantages/disadvantages either way.

    As for your question about types of editing, what you’re describing is a developmental or substantive editor. There are indeed many types and if you read my article for The Writer magazine, which is linked to in the fourth bullet point, you’ll find definitions for the most common.

    And, by the way, I’m not sure which site you visited but you’ll see several fiction projects cited if you look through the testimonials page of http://www.ambitiousenterprises.com. I work regularly with novelists as well as nonfiction writers. Your comment got me reviewing everything there and I realize I need to update for some recent testimonials, so thanks! 🙂

  • CathyS

    I completely agree with the need for a highly qualified paid editor. I’ve gotten quite a bit of nonfiction published and have worked with many editors on that basis. A couple of times, I paid an editor to read an article before submitting it to the “real” editor.

    I am in two critique groups for fiction. They both have disadvantages, in that the people don’t write in my genre, which is mystery. They don’t know what is cliched in mystery writing. I do, but there are many pitfalls and sometimes only another mystery writer can help. Plus, I am investing quite a bit of time reading their chapters and their reading of my chapters is slow.

    With fiction, I think choosing the right editor is the most difficult part, let alone parting with all that money. Ally, I went to your Website and am impressed with your accomplishments. I didn’t see any fiction projects listed.

    Perhaps a definition of “editing” is in order. I’m speaking of someone who comments on everything from the strength of the plot to the depth of the characters. Maybe that’s a “book doctor?”