Will My Editor Think My Book is Boring? – Editors’ Insights


Handing your writing over to trusted long-time writing critique partners or loving friends and family may be one thing, but giving it to an editorial professional is a whole different kettle of fish! They will provide much more objective and straight-to-the-point feedback. And that… is scary! Especially if it is your first time having your work edited. The very thought of having someone scrutinise your story in detail may leave you teetering on the edge of sanity. It may even hold you back from taking that leap in the first place. It may make you ask a question that you dread the answer to: what if my editor says my book is bad, or boring?

In fact, this is a very common fear among aspiring writers, as proven by my recent research! Yes, I’ve donned my deerstalker hat and dark overcoat and carried out an investigation so thorough Sherlock himself would be proud. (OK, I really sat at home in a comfy Oodie, not daring myself to face the bitter winter weather of late. But it’s the work that counts!)

I’d asked of writers their biggest worries when handing their work to an editor and, as per the subject of this post, you’ve probably guessed the most common response: I’m terrified of them coming back to me and saying my work is bad or boring. So, rather than letting me ramble on, how about I let some amazing colleagues of mine share their wise words to, hopefully, put you at ease. I’m thrilled to have such knowledgeable wordy wizards (sorry, Yasmin, had to steal that one!) contribute to my first guest post. Don’t say I don’t treat you, dear readers.

Debbie Emmitt, mystery author, editor, and proofreader, says...

As a writer myself, I completely understand authors’ fears that an editor will judge their writing or tell them their work isn’t good. Writing a book takes vast amounts of time, effort and emotional energy, and it’s scary to hand it to a professional editor, especially if it’s your first time.

When I first engage with a potential client, I always stress that I will use tracked changes, so they can see exactly what I am changing. I also let them know I have written a book, so they know I have “skin in the game”! I tell them the editing stage is a collaboration, and I’m here to help them polish their manuscript, not judge it. As I work through their manuscript, I add plenty of comments where it may not seem obvious why I made certain changes. This adds a personal touch and makes it less like I’m marking their work (because I’m not!). I try to be sensitive in my comments, using words like “consider”, e.g., “Consider changing this to xxx so that the reader can engage better with the character.”

When I return the edited manuscript, I stress that the suggested changes are just that: suggestions. The author remains the owner of their work and they’re in control of what they accept and reject. It’s worth the extra time and effort it takes to allay authors’ fears about the editing process when I receive reviews like this: “Debbie made this ordeal easy for me, especially since it was my first book. She respectfully corrected without being condescending, which made it easier for me to work with her. Letting someone read and edit one’s book can put authors in a place of vulnerability. The entire experience was well worth it because of her professionalism. I can’t recommend her highly enough.”

Yasmin Yarwood, proofreader and proof-editor, says...

I worked with a chap who told me he didn’t think anyone would ever want to read his books. The author was 75 years old at the time and wrote two books back to back, based on his life stories. He has severe dyslexia, which wasn’t recognised until much later in life. His story was brilliant. Absolutely brilliant. Grammatically, it needed a lot of work. It had the elements he was hoping for: comedy, interest, disbelief. It boosted his confidence knowing just one person thought his story was good enough to publish, with the help of an editor. Try not to worry about being judged. Keep your target reader in mind and how you want them to feel while reading your book and what you want them to take away from it. Don’t forget that not everyone will enjoy your story. And that’s OK because you’re not writing for everyone!

Kendra Olson, developmental editor and proofreader, says...

An author I worked with on a developmental edit expressed concern that her writing might not be any good. I told her that I tend to view writing as being more or less skilful; in other words, writing is a muscle that can be strengthened. We talked about the author-editor relationship, which I believe plays an important role in this. Not only do editors help writers become better at their craft, but the relationship is a collaborative one. To demonstrate this, I explained my editing process to her, making sure she understood that while I’d make suggestions for how she could strengthen her writing, it would be up to her to decide whether or not to make the changes.

To any authors out there who are worried about how an editor will perceive of your work, I’d advise you to have a chat with them about your concerns. Ask them about their process and how they view the relationship between an editor and an author. This will help you to make an informed decision about which editor is the best fit for your work and your personality.

Andrew Hodges, book coach and editor, says...

This sounds familiar! When I sent my non-fiction book manuscript off to a publisher (before I became a book editor), my two burning questions for the copyeditor were ‘What’s the deal with “that” and “which”?’ and ‘What did you think of my book?’

Editors can easily lose touch with the feelings authors have when they send a manuscript off for editing. I know I don’t have the same level of emotional investment as authors in each title I work on, unless I’ve coached and developmentally edited the book every step of the way!

If a fiction author asks me whether I think their book is interesting or boring, I usually say what I think works and what doesn’t rather than judge the text as a whole. Likes and dislikes are incredibly subjective. Books that don’t seem great from a developmental editing perspective can sell like hotcakes – especially if they strike a chord or if the author has a big audience already. For non-fiction, a book editor often isn’t qualified to judge the content.

And that’s why, when I published my first book, my copyeditor wrote a long reply explaining ‘that’ and ‘which’ to me but didn’t tell me what they thought of the book. Sure, this made me squirm for a day, but it was a good professional call to make.

Claire Cronshaw, proofreader and copyeditor, says...

When authors are worried an editor will find their work bad, my message is: don’t stress. We are not here to judge. In England, when 15/16-year-olds do their English exam and are asked to write a story, a whopping 40% of their mark for that story comes from accuracy. That’s spelling, punctuation, grammar, and sentence structures.

Accuracy is an important skill that ideally you want to learn in school. But if it’s not your forte, a low mark up against this success criteria can sow the seeds for young writers to assume they are bad or untalented.

But accuracy is different to creativity.

Ideas and accuracy are a long way from one another. I’m an editor because I have the skills in accuracy, and I’m a dab hand at using syntax for maximum impact. Plus, I’ve studied and taught literature, so I know how and why stylistic features work. But I’m not the ideas person. That’s you.

Your ideas mark would no doubt be higher than mine in an exam.

I know what I’m good at, and that’s elevating someone else’s prose. I’ve dabbled with creative writing. I’ve done bits and bobs. But I’m no world builder. I’ve never yet managed to meld a character and a premise and let it play out over the ~200 pages of a novel. So if it’s this idea of accuracy that’s scaring you, don’t worry about it. Getting the accuracy right so the story can be enjoyed is where editors and proofreaders can help you.

Making sure your readers are fully immersed; making sure neither accuracy nor style issues jolt them out of the world you’ve spent so long creating – that’s where we come in.

We have seen it all. Homophone errors. Comma splices left, right, and centre. Some off-mark apostrophes. It happens. It doesn’t mean you’re a bad writer. So bring your work to me without fear of embarrassment. I’m not judging you. I might laugh with you at those unintentionally funny typos, never at you. An editor is not an examiner. An editor is not your teacher. Don’t let school day hang-ups get in the way of your success.

I absolutely love all these responses and they share one thing in common (a belief I absolutely share): editorial professionals are on YOUR side. We aren’t sitting at the other end of the screen waving our metaphorical red pens around eager to spot mistakes. We don’t judge your work. Well, we do make judgement calls on how to improve the text, ensuring the content aligns with your intentions and deepens the reader’s experience. But we don’t judge in the ‘oh god, what am I reading’ kind of way which prompted this post. Editors and proofreaders are well aware of not only how difficult and painstaking it is to write a book but also to endure the post-writing/drafting process. It’s hard! So, if you’re a writer and you’re hesitant about what the editor/proofreader will think, just remember: we love stories just as much as you do (otherwise we wouldn’t be in this line of work!) and want to see you succeed and bring more books into the world. We’re people-pleasers, mostly, and intend to not only improve your book, but also increase your confidence in your writing.

Now, as this post wouldn’t be possible without the time and effort my colleagues have put in for me, I concede that I’m about to steal a quote for the second time to conclude this post. Credit goes to Sharon Gray for this wonderful quote she shared: a good copyedit will set an author’s story alight, not put a match to their manuscript.

Find out more about the editors and their services below.

Debbie: debbie-emmitt

Yasmin: Meticulous Proofreading

Kendra: Kendra Olson Editing Services

Andrew: The Narrative Craft

Claire: Cherry Edits

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Jodi Unsinger
7 months ago

Hi, Matthew!

This is a great post! I enjoyed hearing from you and other editors about your non-judgmental philosophies.

I think another concern writers have is that editors will take away their voice. What do you think? When you spoke to your writers, were they also concerned about cost?

Thank you so much—I hope you have a great day!

Warmest Regards,

Jodi Unsinger
Pixels & Pencils Proofreading

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