Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Editors are like Plumbers

Recently, I was part of an online discussion group focused on editing. Particularly, several new writers were asking about the importance and cost of hiring a professional editor for their work. A few were wondering where to find an editor and the moderator threw a monkey wrench into their thinking when she informed them there are different kinds of editors.

Not all editors do the same job. And just because someone “edits” it may not mean he attends to spelling, grammar, and format. Then again, maybe that’s all he looks at and your story is falling apart.

I tried to think of a metaphor to share with the group. I tried to find a solid illustration that would convince them they need to use editors at different stages of their work for different purposes.

I couldn’t think of anything. Then I went camping.

Stay with me here. I hope this strengthens your writing as well as your respect for editors.

Last year, my husband and I bought a truck camper. Having camped all over the United States with our daughters in a five-person tent, the truck camper seemed a bit luxurious. At first. It was small and cramped, but served us well for the summer season of camping.

Moreover, we got a taste for what a camper had to offer. A real bed we didn’t have to blow up first. A refrigerator and stove. Air conditioning and a toilet. Heaven on earth. Okay, maybe I exaggerate a bit. But it was nice for the two of us. It was tough when we took our grandchildren along, though. They really didn’t have room to stretch out on the table-made-into-a bed.

So this year we traded our little slide in camper for a fifth wheel camper. If you don’t know anything about campers, trust me that this sweet 35’ house on wheels is beautiful. We could live in it. Maybe.

It has a bedroom. It has a bathroom—with a door! It has a kitchen with a microwave. It has a living room with an entertainment center. Compared to the truck camper, it feels like Buckingham Palace.

We bought it used. The dealership where we made the purchase gave it a detailed cleaning. They assured us they were checking all systems. They assigned one person to take care of the outside and another to check the inside.

As consumers, we did a walk-thru inspection. It looked great. We noticed a few minor problems. We made a list. The dealership fixed them. They were small sorts of things like a missing latch on a cabinet door or the window shade didn’t pull down correctly. Minor, really. The dealer fixed them all and declared the unit ready for pick-up. Yay!
We hitched the camper to our truck bed and headed to Mammoth Cave, Kentucky to spend a few days with our family. When we arrived, we began setting up camp. I was outside when Tom attached the hose and turned on the water.

“Do you hear water running inside?” he asked. He went in the camper with me on his heels. I looked to the kitchen sink and under it. No water. He headed up the steps to the bathroom. Water was gushing like a geyser from the toilet area. It began traveling down the steps and seeped out from under the bathroom wall into the entry.

Tom flew out of the camper and turned off the water. We sopped up the mess with every towel we had on hand. Closer inspection revealed a major part was missing from the toilet so that water wasn’t going into the toilet at all, just into our bathroom. And hall. And steps. And entry. And down the heating vent.

We called our dealer. We took a picture and sent it to the head of the maintenance department.  We then let go of our frustrations and camped.

This was, by the way, a major accomplishment. You see, I’m a glass half-full kind of girl married to a glass half-empty kind of man. Together, we’re a good team. He keeps me grounded and I keep him hopeful.

So what does this have to do with editors? Several people interacted with the camper to make sure it was ready.

The “copy editor” wasn’t concerned with the content or making sure all the systems worked together. He made sure we had new tires and everything on the outside –the presentation of the unit—worked. As consumers and the ones most interested in the camper, we only looked at the surface elements.

Unfortunately, the “developmental editor” –the one who needed to make sure the whole thing worked together didn’t quite do his job.

As writers, when we revise, we may take out pieces –some of them critical to the story. A good developmental editor will catch that. She’ll say, “Hey, I see you have someone named George in this scene. Who is he?” Then you’ll groan and say, “Oops, I cut him out three chapters ago. I guess I forgot to put him back in before I wrote this scene.”

And a really good editor will say, “Hey, if this is going to work, shouldn’t there be a hose connecting the water to this toilet?”  Well…you get my drift.

And allow me this one pun: Good editors are like good plumbers. They keep everything flowing nicely. The dealership, by the way, took care of everything. We’re packed and ready to go camping again.

ANNOUCEMENT: Tune in to Christian Devotions Speak Up Radio at 6:30, Tuesday, July 29. Host Scott McCausey will be interviewing yours truly live. Here is the link- Prayers welcomed!

P.S. Need an editor who has it ALL? Check out A Little Red, Inc. 


  1. What a great example! I enjoyed your post and plan to check out A Little Red, Inc. Thank you Rebecca.

    1. Glad you found it helpful, Pam. A Little Red, wonderful. Two sisters who are both excellent writers and editors. They are very good at coaching you as well. I worked with Bethany for Breathing on Her Own.

  2. I was part of that conversation. It definitely helped the person (and others) realize editing isn't an umbrella for all fixes. As someone who has owned a fifth wheel and now a full blown park model, I can sympathize with the water and the toilet issue, among a few others, too! Great analogy.

    1. Thanks, Shelly! And I think many new authors don't see the value in investing in editorial services…I mean, their mothers and friends read it and thought it was great, right?

  3. What a great post! This is definitely something that new writers need to learn about and take into consideration before publishing. (It's also a good reminder for us writers who have published before!)

  4. Thank you, Crystal. I know I need constant reminders that everything I write isn't golden. Even when I reread an edited piece, I read things that aren't there because I know what I intended to say!

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