4 Big Reasons to be Grateful for Independent Editors

You’re living and writing right now, today, in the midst of huge change in the publishing industry. It’s so huge that by the time you’re ten years older you’ll have navigated the tectonic shift from Pangea to a modern continent.

One of the major developments of that change is the rise of the profession of the Independent Editor (IE). I don’t mean proofreaders. Anyone can proofread, and even the finest IE ever in history will miss the random typo. And I don’t mean copy editors. Anyone can look up proper grammar and punctuation online in about two minutes.

I mean professional editors who can first guide you in developing your story for the most powerful storytelling possible and then line-edit your language into truly memorable literature.

Yes. You have some really good reasons to be intensely grateful for the rise of the IE.

  1. An excellent IE is heck of good for you—for both your self-esteem and your writing skills.

  2. Possibly the biggest benefit you get from hiring a really talented and experienced IE is your self-confidence. Do you have the chops to become a professional in this industry? Or are you, as Erica Jong once characterized herself, “a scared little housewife scribbling in her spare time”?

    Like Jong, you might very well be both. But you will never know until someone who does know shows you exactly what your strengths are, what you’re instinctively doing right, how what you bring to the craft is what the craft needs. Someone who treats you like the professional you hope to become.

    Once you’ve heard about all that, believe me, it is a whole different world in which to learn the skills you have yet to develop. And they’re going to be a lot. No one ever learns it all. But a mentor who can tailor your lessons specifically to your own particular strengths and weaknesses, to your own particular manuscripts, is the fastest, most reliable, and overall cheapest way to learn. Truly—what you don’t get from attending workshop after workshop after workshop you do get from hiring a single excellent IE.

    And those lessons you learn are for life.

  3. An excellent IE is heck of heck of good for your manuscript.

  4. Of course, the biggest benefit is improvement in your manuscript. Even if you never write another novel after this one, a great IE can edit the very best of your vision into the very best of your words.

    Do you know everything you need to in order to make this manuscript the best it can possibly be? You know. . .maybe you do. Of course, if you’re unpublished it’s not all that likely—still, anything’s possible. Lots of debut novels have been the single great work their authors had in them.

    But it doesn’t matter, because even if you have it all down in spades—the extraordinary vision, the native and developed talent, the practical knowledge of structure, the eagle eye for telling details, the delicate ear for fabulous dialog, the profound, paradoxical understanding of human nature that underlies all classic stories—it is still a fact of the craft that you can’t completely line edit yourself into the very best possible professional voice. Traces of amateurishness always, somehow, manage to slip through.

    I know—I hate that it happens to my writing, too.

  5. An excellent IE is the missing link between you and the industry you’re trying to break into.

  6. Once upon, there were writers and there were publishers. But it got too hectic—too many writers, too few publishers. So we invented agents, and the agents served as the conduit between writers and the publishing industry.

    And that system has served us well for many, many years.

    But now the publishing industry has first gradually consolidated into a handful of giants and then abruptly lost its financial footing in the economic catastrophe of the past few years. And, at the same time, the emergence of the blogosphere has created a tide of aspiring writers like nothing ever seen before. Now that “hectic” part of the pre-agent days looks like a peaceful, lonely little walk in the park.

    So, once again, we have invented a layer of guidance to serve as the conduit between writers and the publishing industry. And this time the system is even better: not only do we have a new professional group in the chain, but their sole purpose is molding aspiring writers into professional writers.

    Not just connecting you. But teaching you the lessons you need in order to get properly connected so you’ll be a professional (rather than a lucky amateur) once you do.

  7. You’re the first generation of writers to get the IE as a full-blown easily-available service industry.

  8. We sure didn’t have this kind of help when I was cutting my teeth on writing (back in the reign of Elizabeth I), and sadly enough my decades of time-to-publication is living proof. Your ability to get an excellent IE for your work is a gift you probably can’t fully appreciate unless you’ve been out here slogging through the wilderness alone for all these decades.

    But you guys are in the right place at the right time. That’s serendipity. Give yourself a pat on the head! This new magic wand is being created just for you.

The Art & Craft of Fiction: A Practitioner’s Manual
by Victoria Mixon

11 thoughts on “4 Big Reasons to be Grateful for Independent Editors

  1. e.lee says:

    thank you so much for writing a post from the editor’s POV.

  2. Victoria says:

    You’re very welcome! Most of this is actually from the POV of the writer inside the editor. I love being edited, too.

  3. Excellent reasons, Victoria. I didn’t know we were called IEs!

    As you say, publishers used to do this, then agents used to, but now none of them have time to give this type of in-depth analysis. Also, manuscripts generally have to be near-perfect in order to be in with a chance of representation or publication – diamonds in the rough don’t cut it any more.

    But a really good IE will teach you so much from just one manuscript. Writers really improve after a carefully tailored report.

  4. Victoria says:

    Yeah, Roz, I got that term from Lisa Rector. I was kind of leaning toward the word “freelance,” but Lisa gets out of the house and hangs around with other editors more than I do.

    There is also a difference between a single report (I do that with the Abbreviated Developmental Edit) and an on-going Developmental Edit. Most of my clients sign on with me for the long haul. It’s luxurious. You oughta do that!

    And you’re totally right about the diamonds in the rough. It’s sad. Imagine what literature we wouldn’t have today if diamonds of the past had been turned away because they were still rough. I read somewhere just yesterday that Robert Giroux handed Jack Kerouac off to Sterling Lord because he couldn’t do anything with Kerouac’s second draft of On the Road.

  5. Jason Black says:


    Thanks so much for speaking up for our little niche industry! I couldn’t have said it better myself. Although, I suppose, I would have edited the phrase “a heck of good” to “a heck of a lot of good,” in as much as I’ve never encounted “heck” used in this collective-noun sense before. Is this a regionalism, perhaps? What part of the country do you hail from?

    Once an editor, always an editor, I suppose. 🙂

  6. Victoria says:

    Heck of good? Yeah, we use that here in Okie-ville. I’m originally from Bakersfield, although I’ve lived on the California coast for decades and before that in Western Washington. When anyone but an editor says it it’s “heck a good.”

    Besides, you know typos slip past everyone, even the best of us. Back when I was a typesetter, my mother taught me to hunt for typos by reading backward.

    I don’t do that no more.

  7. Hilary says:

    Hey, I like “heck of good.” Why employ a mouthful of extra prepositions if you don’t need them? Was it clear? Yes. Was it effective? Yes. So?

    I thought it was just a polite version of “hella good,” which is what the kids say. Victoria is nothin if not hip. Hollaback!

  8. Steph says:

    Oh I’m so thrilled you’ve written this post. I am one of these IEs you speak of and I sometimes battle with, ‘IE? If you were any good you’d work at Penguin!’. That’s so offensive and soooooooo untrue (PhD in critical theory, thank you very much!). A few months ago I worked with a writer who came to one of my workshops. She intended to start submitting her novel to agents three months later but changed her mind when I sent her the line-by-line edit and the structural suggestions. She is now aiming for Sept 2011 submission. Quite frankly I think that people like us are VERY helpful and damn good value too. No other editor (surely NO editor at Penguin!) would do this job for any unrepresented writer.

  9. Victoria says:

    Yeah, Hilary, I use all the old idiomatic lingo I can. Aside from Eudora Welty recommending writers to use idiom rather than dialect, the truth is the homogenization of our language through TV means common, colorful terms my grandparents used all the time no longer make sense in ordinary conversation. I’m constantly finding myself using terms that make me do a double-take and think, ‘What exactly is that supposed to mean?’

    We never used to have to ask.

  10. Victoria says:

    Oh, you’re welcome, Steph. It’s absolutely true that IEs these days are picking up where publishers’ editors are leaving off. When Millicent Dillon told me about working with Billy Abrahams (THE William Abrahams!), she described how conscientious he was about polishing every single sentence.

    Publishers don’t do that work anymore.

    But, fortunately for writers, we do!

  11. Shane Arthur says:

    I do IE and proofing work (non-fiction mostly). Did a proof a few months back on a non-fiction book. It was all set for print, but the author wanted one more proof from an outside source. I found 44 errors. How can this be? For the last 10 years, I’ve read books with my highlighter next to me. Few books have less than 10, and I’m not even going to mention flabby writing instances. Excuse the French, but it pisses me off to no end. As you said in another post, I guess this is the McDonalds era of fast food and fast proofing.

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