Mrs. Gentry, my high school English teacher, wore pleated denim skirts and black leather loafers that padded along with her about the classroom. She taught poetry to our 11th grade American Lit class as if it were truly a weighty matter. And even now I can hear the ringing of the gavel, a front-and-center witness to the Salem witch trials, as we listened to a dramatic audio of Arthur Miller's The Crucible.
I grieved with her when she missed more and more school days to care for her husband as he fought cancer. I didn't want to let her go when I moved across the hall to Mrs. Barnes' senior English Lit classroom. Before I graduated high school, Mrs. Gentry wrote my first-ever college recommendation letter, allowing me to see her glowing remarks before sealing the envelope that held my college applications, what felt like my future.
After my freshman year, I changed my major from psychology to English because I remembered how Mrs. Gentry encouraged my love of words and made a difference in who I was becoming.
She was a brilliant teacher, one of the finest I ever had.
But she would be a terrible editor.
I mean no offense to Mrs. Gentry and all beloved English teachers everywhere, but here's the thing:
High school English teachers are trained to educate their students in the study of literature and writing, namely the skills and know-how used for academic writing. This is the kind of writing students and professional scholars use in an academic setting—high school, college, and graduate school—or to seek publication in a scholarly journal.
I was an English teacher and taught academic writing for years. It is the foundation of all my early training and I credit it for a love of research and an ability to spot a faulty argument or a weak hook in a manuscript.
But when I set my sights on working in publishing, I knew my skill set was incomplete.
I needed to study the craft and the industry just like any other publishing professional or writer must do. I needed to understand what it takes to publish and write for the market and for a specific audience of readers who buy and enjoy books.
I needed to become a student once again. And so do you.
When you do your homework, you'll discover the important differences in academic writing and writing for the general market. You'll then realize that not just anyone with writing or teaching experience will do to edit your book.
If you have a fiction or non-fiction manuscript or book proposal ready for editing, resist the temptation to ask your beloved high school English teacher—or your high-school-English-teacher-neighbor, or that friend-of-a-friend-high-school-English-teacher—to be your editor.
Instead, continue to do your homework to find the right professional editor for you.
Here are a few ideas to get you started:
- Ask other writers and colleagues for referrals and recommendations.
- Scan the acknowledgements for editors' names in books similar to your own.
- Attend writers' conferences where you will have access to agents, editors, and writers who will be happy to give you recommendations.
- Check out the Editorial Freelancers Association (EFA).
Finding the right editor may take some time but is crucial to the success of your book. Your dreams of being published are worth it!