When it comes to publishing, especially for authors who self-publish, it’s important to hire the right people for the right tasks. Sure, you can do it all yourself, but is that really smart?

I have likened publishing to construction. A general contractor hires subcontractors in various specialties to do expertly what he cannot. These specialties include disparate skills in plaster, masonry, wiring, plumbing, tile, security, computer networks, etc. Just like the general contractor, the author cannot expect to be an expert at all the specialties that go into producing a top quality book: editing, proofreading, book design, cover design, marketing. OK, that last isn’t really a part of book production, but it is critical to book sales.

For those authors who need some extra help, it pays to know the right kind of people to hire someone prepared to do the work as expected. It’s not always a good match.

Case in point, a writer in a Facebook writing group hired a developmental editor to teach her how to master “show, don’t tell.” This person provided the editor with pages of her manuscript which was only in the second draft stage. The editor provided a developmental edit and returned some unkind comments, but did not provide the requested instruction.

I commented that it was possible the editor may have misunderstood the parameters of the gig. (We never got the editor’s side of the story.) I also stated that editors generally don’t teach. And the conversation blew up. Someone defending the original poster (OP) immediately argued that editors do teach and are, because people learn from them, teachers. I disagreed. The commentator stated that I obviously did not understand what she meant. I did; I simply disagreed with her definition of the word “teach.”

The commentator stated that her definition formed the socially accepted meaning of the word “teach” and that I had extremely narrow and literal interpretations terminology. I used the Merriam-Webster definition (Merriam-Webster is the CMOS’ acknowledged and preferred reference for definitions) and reiterated that editors generally don’t teach as in they generally don’t hire themselves out to provide instruction. The commentator told me I was stupid and deliberately confusing the issue.

I disagree with that. But then, I would. Of course. As for my narrow and literal interpretation of words, that’s an occupational hazard. As a writer and an editor, I need to know the precise and correct meaning(s) of the words used to ensure they are used in the proper manner or, if not, then their meaning is understood. I did not succeed in the run of that exchange.

I agreed with the commentator on a couple of points and attempted to respond to her comments in a rational and dispassionate manner. The OP hopped into the conversation and stated she’d never hire me as an editor because I don’t teach, but I’d probably be good as a proofreader which she doesn’t need because she’s already really good at grammar.  (I think I dodged a potential bullet there.) Then she noted that I apparently believe that no editor teaches.

No, that was not what I stated. She missed the operative word: generally. I even highlighted that word as key. I also explained that I welcome questions from my clients if they don’t understand the edits made to their documents. I don’t consider that teaching; I consider that explanation. The author chooses whether to agree with the explanation and/or accept the edit. The author chooses whether to learn. However, my objective is not to instruct, but to foment understanding. I’m an editor, not an instructor. I don’t have that kind of patience.

Once again, there appears to be an issue of reading for comprehenion. So, I’ll try to make this clear:

  1. Editors generally don’t provide instruction. (Generally is the operative word in that statement; it does not mean always.) Teaching is not an editor’s job. They are not hired to teach writers how to write; they are hired to improve the quality of already written content.
  2. Every manuscript requires editing and proofreading. I don’t care who you are, how well you write, or how rigorously you self-edit. The author is too close to the story to see its flaws. An editor provides that objective pair of eyes to catch and help fix those flaws. A proofreader catches and corrects those small errors missed in the editing process.

I’m not going to argue as to who was right or wrong. I will admit to having once again unwisely embroiled myself into a lose-lose exchange with someone who doesn’t care to learn when I actually am engaged in instruction. Perhaps, I, too, need to read for comprehension.


Rose Cushing, the host of Speaking of Writing, interviewed Karen Smith (aka Holly Bargo). Follow the hyperlink to Rose’s PODCAST.