The Difference Between a Professional Writer and an Amateur

Cover quilt for The Road Unsalted by Nancy Graham, all rights reserved

Cover quilt for The Road Unsalted by Nancy Graham, all rights reserved


On Wednesday, I finished making all of the corrections my editor recommended for The Road Unsalted. Then I added in the last bits of the book—dedication, acknowledgements, about the author, and an excerpt from the second book in my Carding series, Thieves of Fire.

Since The Road Unsalted is the first in this series of books, I am determined that it represent my best professional effort because I want to wow my readers. You only get one chance with readers, one chance to impress them, one chance to make them keep on reading, one chance to entertain, enlighten, make them laugh.

And most important of all, one chance to make them feel so good about reading your book, they’ll recommend it to others.

I’ve helped any number of writers publish their work over the years, folks with lots of experience in being published, academics who are used to writing in a certain style, and new authors. By far, the most problematic area is editing, especially with new authors.

In fact, everyone I know in publishing has problems with new writers and editing.

We’ve all heard the same protests:

1. “The editor changed the way I write.”
2. “I don’t need to be edited because I am so careful.”
3. “This doesn’t sound like me.”
4. “I’m not going to submit my work to an editor.”

This terrain can be so difficult to negotiate, I know of several freelance editors who now refuse to work with first-time authors. I’ve heard editors in traditional publishing houses say, “The problem with publishing is authors.”

When I teach classes in publishing and get asked about editing, I am quite frank with my opinion. After 27 years as a freelance writer, publisher, book designer, and editor, I have come regard editing as the dividing line between professional writers and amateur wannabes.

If you are unwilling or unable to submit your work to an editor because they may find something “wrong” with it, how do you think your readers will react when they find typos or plodding sentences or boring paragraphs or inconsistencies in the plot? Do you think they will rush out to tell all their friends that they’ve “got to read this book?”

Would you?

My next non-fiction book is a handbook for independent publishers, and I’m on the chapter about editing so this subject is on my mind. Let’s devote the next week to thinking about the relationship between writers and editors.

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