Monday, February 20, 2012

We need editors because…They ask the right questions

Reason #3 in the continuing series: Why the World Still Needs Editors

Ask the average person what an editor does and they’ll say something like this: “That’s who fixes mistakes and the misspelled words and puts all the commas and periods in the right places.”

They’re right, on a certain level. They’ve just described copyediting, proofreading, and fact-checking—all of which I’ve touched on in earlier posts. But truly great editors do much more: they ask the right questions.

If you’ve ever submitted a manuscript and gotten back (with the rejection) a personal letter with suggestions, you may have seen this kind of editing. Or if you’ve been lucky enough to sell the manuscript you’ve sweated over for years, you may then have gotten a four-page email packed to bursting with this kind of editing.

Call it developmental editing or substantive editing, but it boils down to knowing what questions to ask and how to phrase them. Wendy Loggia, at Delacorte Press, is especially talented at phrasing such questions. Here are just a few excerpts from the letter she sent to me after she acquired my middle grade historical novel Chig and the Second Spread:

The passage of time…sometimes it flies….I’m wondering—can you work on creating a more consistent passage of time?

Can Ed [Chig’s nemesis] become a more fully developed character instead of a stock bully?

Is there an escape from the dreary life of the Depression? Does Chig's family listen to the radio?

Is there a way to make the climax more of a climax?

Don’t these questions make you want to start typing away at a new, improved story? That’s just one more reason why the world still needs editors.


  1. Good examples, Gwenyth. It's hard to explain how a good editor works - sometimes it's a matter of asking just the right questions to help you make your story better.

  2. Wendy is indeed a talented editor. She seems to zero right in on problems with a question that makes you think. I love editors!