How a Professional Editor is Like a Silversmith

on 24 March 0 Comment

A few weeks ago, one of my clients who is a book author called me a silversmith. I didn’t realize how profound—and accurate—that analogy was until I did a little more research about what a silversmith does.

  • A silversmith holds the silver into the hottest part of the fire, where the flames heat up to 2000° F, watching it the entire time he holds it.
  • In the fire, the “dross” or the impure/excess parts of the metal are burned off.
  • A silversmith knows when to take the silver off the heat when a reflection is visible. If the silver isn’t watched, it can be damaged if it is heated too long.
  • This refining, hot process has to be repeated up to seven times before the silver is seen as precious and valuable.
  • Because all silver mixes with sulfur in the air, it tarnishes and has to be polished.

My client said that the editing process was painful at first. As someone who had done much writing in her career, she wasn’t prepared for the extensive red ink on the sample tracked changes chapter.

However, when she read the result of the finished product, she  was pleased.

She said, “It was more clear and beautiful than she ever expected. It accurately reflected the message in her heart, in her voice.”

She also said that she would not have gotten to that point by herself. Just like raw metal can’t hold itself over the fire, I believe we can’t produce the best results on our own—at least in a book-length piece.

In addition to an editor, I am a professional writer. I make about 50% of my income by writing articles, blogs, ads, social media posts, video scripts, etc. for companies. I have a Master’s of Science in Journalism and more than 20 years of professional writing experience. And, yes, even I need a professional editor for my writing work.

 I also can’t polish myself or see the hard-to-find spots—I don’t have eyes on the back of my head, I can’t see my work from an objective point of view outside of myself. I also know that my brain overlooks the imperfections and accepts myself for who I am. To do anything less would be self-deprecating.

But, to not entrust my work to the evaluation of another, who is qualified in refining and polishing will always keep my work in a potentially less valuable state than it was meant to be.

Why would I accept something decent when it has the potential to become a masterpiece? Is preserving my ego and my perspective so important? I figure, it is better to get “refined” prior to publication than after the fact…

I don’t currently have an editor for every blog post that I write—but I hope to someday. I will, however, have an editor for every book I publish. Why? Because a book in print can’t easily be changed, and it costs money to print.

In my view, books take experienced editors who sit there by the fire with another’s material, multiple times, knowing the delicate balance of burning off the dross and not compromising the voice of the author by taking away the material’s very essence.

Some editors may be the grammar Gestapo or the KGB of commas—but they may not pay attention to the voice of the piece. Sometimes, in correcting so much technically, the spirit and the beauty of the manuscript is lost. That’s the issue with Grammarly and other editing software. Using it is a great start for grammar and spelling mistakes, but it won’t prevent you from publishing unclear content.

So, if you are an author, let me ask you a couple of questions.

  1. Are you ready to let someone else put your manuscript through the fire of another lens to let it reflect greater beauty to those who live outside of your biased eyes? I ask because I’ve encountered many authors who think that they are ready for editing—until they try it. Be prepared to keep an open mind, and maybe even ask someone else to give you an honest opinion of which version is better after the sample edit.Good editors will not, however, take away the essence of your material—they will leave your voice in tact. If your manuscript is not strong enough to be put through for the refining fire, they will challenge you to bring more information or more emotion to strengthen it first.Sometimes, authors find that they really don’t want objective editing or refining, which is fine—it’s better to know that and be authentic.
  2. Who are you going to entrust your baby—your manuscript—too? Many people claim to be editors these days—actually anyone without journalistic training who can use software can claim to be an editor. But I am not sure they are effective at editing. Are they leaving in impurities so they don’t offend you, can turn the job faster, with the result of a less valuable piece? Can you still identify your voice?

My Silversmithing
I’m certainly not saying that I’m the only editor out there who has learned through the years to strike this balance of transforming content and keeping an author’s voice.

I’m also not saying there aren’t those out there who get the balance right on their first try; there are lucky ones. Nor am I saying that I always strike the balance perfectly.

I will say that I create partnerships with my authors and that I give them my all. Others have told me that my “craptastic” is most people’s fantastic, in terms of quality. I welcome that comment too. To be the best they can be, like silver, most books must go through the fire multiple times to get all of the impurities/unclear parts out of the primary material.

My job is to make the material shine as brightly as possible so that it appeals to as many people in the book’s intended audience as possible.

I believe, that when you are truly ready to launch your material to the world, you are ready to get the best molder available. So do your research. Ask your editor for references and referrals. Also, see if your personality and your values mesh.

The author and editor relationship becomes a trusted, collaborative partnership that enables both parties to grow—and together, they may just birth a masterpiece.

Are you interested in professional editing services for your book? Do you need a seasoned  professional writer for a project for your business? If so, I’d love to help. Contact me today.







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