An Argument Against Editors and Critique Groups

I’m about to anger a lot of writers and editors, so strap in and enjoy the rage tornado. Are you ready for a horrifying admission? Here goes … I publish novels without using editors or critique groups (dun dun duuuun). And, my novels are better without them (gasps, scoffs, and finger pointing). Yes, yes, I know. Please put down the torches and pitchforks and hear me out. I’m not a precious snowflake and I’m not adverse to criticism. I actually have reasons.

In the writing world, this is the equivalent of a mechanic saying that they refuse to use wrenches. It’s a jarring declaration, and before anyone gets their undies in a bunch, I have used editors and critique groups in the past. I’m not new to them, nor am I afraid of them. I actively seek harsh and honest feedback. The only problem was, I never got any. What I did get were tone-destroying edits and ego-stroking critiques. I went to meeting after meeting, hired editor after editor, and ended up with a pile of butchered reworks, none of which improved the manuscript.

I was forced to ask myself a thorny question. Why am I doing this? The answer was, of course, because I thought I had to. Talk to any author or read any article about pre-publishing and they will regurgitate the exact same unquestionable wisdom. Critique groups are invaluable. You MUST join one to improve your writing. Editors are worth their weight in gold. You MUST hire one before publishing.

To which I say … bullshit.

Now don’t get me wrong, there are countless editors and critique groups out there who truly help writers better their craft. I’m not hating on them, just questioning the conventional wisdom. And, full disclosure, I am unrepresented. I do not have access to the sweet pub-house editors, those angelic wordsmiths who can turn clunky manuscripts into polished gems. I’m a DIY author, which means I have to shell out my own hard-earned money for editing services. I’m also well aware that you get what you pay for. The only problem was, I paid a lot because I wanted it done right.

I went through four professional editors before I threw in the towel. The crux of the problem boiled down to simple bias. I gave the same chapters to each editor and their preferences were apparent to a fault. The manuscript in question was a final draft of Transienta YA sci-fi noir. What I got back was anything but. I could see, very plainly, that one editor liked fluffy YA, another liked hard sci-fi, and the other two liked mysteries and thrillers, none of which applied to my story. All four editors mangled the tone with their inherent biases.

I readily admit that I could simply be the victim of bad editors. But, all four were establish pros with good reviews and stellar reputations. Four strikes on a hefty investment is enough to sour anyone’s opinion. Thus, I decided to accept any lurking typos and grammatical quirks as a small price to pay for maintaining tone. I would get the manuscript in the best possible shape I could, then click that “Publish” button.

Hiring professional editors was a direct result of abiding worthless critiques. I kept hearing that critique groups were magical wonderlands of writing improvement, but I never saw any of that. The ones I attended were all circle jerks of egoism. I always came in as the humble first-timer, and always left shaking my head in bemusement. Nobody seemed interested in helping their fellow writers. All they wanted to do was showcase their own accolades. I’m all for some serious red inking, but not to the point where you argue penchants based on things that have absolutely no bearing on the story. No joke, I actually had someone critique my YA sci-fi by citing Shakespeare (facepalm). I was shocked by how useless the experiences turned out to be.

And so, I don’t use editors or critique groups anymore. I am fortunate in that I have a small group of bookworm pals who understand that I crave harsh feedback. They find the vast majority of typos and plot holes (and take hedonistic pleasure in pointing them out). That works for me and my readers seem to appreciate it. Maybe one day I will find a content editor that I click with (which may necessitate representation), but I’m not actively looking. In a pinch, I would consider hiring a copy editor for a methodical grammar sweep, but that’s as far as I am willing to go.

In closing, I will offer an olive branch. If you are reading this as a first-time author or someone who receives harsh but honest feedback, then I encourage you to stick with your editors or critique groups. Do not use this post as an excuse to jump ship. You’ll do yourself a grave disservice. I only speak from my own experience, which unveiled a simple truth: the conventional wisdom is not infallible. Use it, learn from it, just don’t get trapped inside it.