Has this happened to you? You’re reading a mass market paperback or a best seller on your e-reader, and you stumble over a typo. How did that experience make you feel? Me too. As a writer, you want to transport your readers to another world, not yank them from it feeling irritated that no one cared enough to make this right.
Caring about your readers may be the single best reason to use an editor, but there are others as well. Cold readers are crucial to honing your work, and an editor is the ultimate cold reader,who not only possesses a set of keen eyes but also LOVES to read, and has probably read a lot.
An editor sees what you don’t, the missing words, misspellings, and errors in punctuation and grammar. We all miss our own mistakes because our brains fill in the blanks. We see what we think we wrote, not what is actually on the page. At the most basic level, an editor is a proofreader, taking care of all the nuts and bolts and niceties. Editors make sure that a character named “Sue” on page 10 hasn't become “Sheryl” by page 96. They help writers avoid triteness traps, whether you open like Snoopy with “it was a dark and stormy night” or describe a character’s “constellation of freckles” on her cheeks.
More substantively, editors check for flow and organization. Does this story have an arc? Does this chapter belong here? What about this passage or this sentence? Does it make sense? Is anything missing? Editors also analyze your characters. Are they acting consistently or just following the demands of the plot? Do they grow or change in believable ways? Do they have unique ways of expressing themselves? Does this line of dialogue fit with this character?
And when problems are pointed out, an editor can help you fix them by making suggestions or brainstorming with you to find solutions.
Finally, an editor is your advocate. An editor invests in you and your writing and really wants your work to succeed. Beyond your family and close friends, an editor can be your number 1 fan.