Thursday, January 5, 2017

Editor vs. Writer: What is the difference?

The professional editor conundrum. I discovered that many people mistake “editing” vs. “rewriting”. Perfect example is a lovely client who wanted me to “edit” his travel book. He mentioned that the previous editors had not done the book justice. When I reviewed his material, I realized “editing” wouldn’t fix the problem, but rather rewriting was in order. I explained to him that the reason he loved my work vs. the other editors’ work was because I wasn’t editing I was rewriting.

Why did I need to rewrite him? He’s not a native English speaker. Since English was not his first language, he used many words and phrases either awkwardly or just wrongly. When you hire an editor, it’s his/her job to make grammar corrections, tighten sentences, and make overall content comments or rearrange organization. Editors are not writers. So, if you want your document to perhaps flow better or present a professional approach to its content, do not hire an editor. You need a writer to fix the writing. Two equally different jobs.

In fact, I know some editors who don’t consider themselves gifted writers but rather excellent grammarians. They know the rules and style. They may or may not be creative and talented writers. Grammar, punctuation and style are more like math. 1 + 1 always equals 2. Also, true is that nouns + verbs + subject matter = writing. I’m being a little tongue and cheek in what I’m saying, but the real message is that grammar isn’t as subjective as you might believe. Rules are rules. Math is math. Grammar has rules and those rules apply in their own perfect state.

Rewriting is writing based on someone’s thoughts and research. You don’t necessarily use their word or phrase choices. You rewrite the sentences and make the flow of the work read smoothly. This client loved my writing NOT my editing. I was completely revising the entire sentence and smoothing it out. I wasn’t using his words anymore, but rather his concepts to convey new words.

Editing doesn’t take as long as rewriting. So the value of the service is different. If you’re paying for an editor but you’re really getting a writer, it doesn’t cost the same price. Rewriting takes twice as long and requires completely different talents. Any truly honest editor who receives a document that is poorly written will waste the person’s time by trying to edit what really needs a rewrite. The client won’t be happy. He/she will be like my client and mistakenly believe the editor failed at his/her job. So, the best approach in this situation is to be honest:

“Your document won’t do what you want it to do with an editor’s touch. You really need it rewritten.”

As an editor if you want to make a client happy, sharing this information will be far better than trying to truly do an “edit”. At that point, you can adjust your price and do revisions NOT edits or just refer your client to an actual writer.

Michelle Gamble, CEO of 3L Publishing, provides editorial and writing services to both B2B and B2C organizations as well as fiction and nonfiction book coaching. She can be reached at

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