Read Everything, Think Critically, Accept Only What Feels Right

Hi Folks,

Many of you know I put a lot of stock in Dean Wesley Smith’s advice, but sometimes he tosses a blanket over a topic and beats it to death with assumptions and generalizations.

When he’s talking about things he knows about, his advice can be golden. I’ve learned a great deal from him.

However, he has his prejudices like anyone else. I suspect he was burned once by a bad freelance editor (or book doctor) who didn’t know what he was doing. This is precisely why, when I was editing (yes, freelance copyediting), I offered writers a free sample edit. That was a complete edit of up to a few pages. In that way, my ability sold itself.

Anyway, as what I suspect is the result of a bad personal experience, DWS seemingly endlessly tries and convicts “book doctors” and “freelance editors.” Among the charges he levels without any possible way of actually knowing about all book doctors or all freelance editors, he says

  • they have never written a novel (I have written over twenty and I have gone back to editing for others as well)
  • they have no experience at all in commercial fiction writing (see above)
  • they know only what English teachers taught them (no, some of them have a feel for the language)
  • they have no idea what will make a novel sell (some do, and a good one has a very good idea what will keep a novel from selling, and he or she will steer you around that)

Now it’s worthwhile to note that Dean himself says after he’s written a novel, he sends it to a first reader (his wife, Kris Rusch) and then sends it off to a copyeditor.

However, in his rant against “freelance editors” he doesn’t mention that he uses a copyeditor. That’s a little misleading to say the least.

Perhaps his copyeditor is licensed, but I’d bet not. Would he have hired this person in the first place if the copyeditor had said he or she was a “freelance editor” instead of a “copyeditor”? I’m just sayin’, to many people in the business, the terms are interchangeable.

As a disclaimer, let me say that there are many so-called freelance editors (and proofreaders and copyeditors and book doctors) out there who don’t have a sense of the language. There are many who mean well, but don’t know what they’re doing. And yes, there are some who are strictly scam artists and mean only to separate you from your hard-earned money.

There are also many out there who are very good at what they do and they can help you improve your work. I am one of them.

So do a little research. At a minimum, request a free sample edit. If your would-be copyeditor won’t let you see up front what he or she can do for you, don’t hire that editor. Move on to the next one.

I take exception to Dean’s post not only because I am a very good freelance copyeditor who always gives more than I am paid for. I take exception because he’s a trusted, respected source of information and he’s steering all writers away from what some of them might actually need. And he’s doing so based solely on generalizations, innuendo, and half-truths (i.e., all freelance editors are bad, but he sends his own work to a copyeditor).

As a related aside, DWS also has said many times, “real” editors (by this he means “not freelance”) work for publishers in New York. Period. All other editors are charlatans who are only out to scam you out of your money. All of them.

I guess the twenty-something “editors” working in New York for the Big Five are licensed. But I’m not gonna ask him.

Okay, so the point here is the title of this topic, and it kind’a piggybacks on the Learning post I wrote here a long while ago ( If you’re a writer, it’s important that you keep learning. In that regard, I recommend that you

  • Do a little research to discover your would-be advisor’s level of experience (I never accept advice on a particular topic from anyone who has less experience with that topic than I do)
  • Even after you’ve decided to trust the source to provide good advice, Think Critically about what you’re being told
  • Discard ANY advice from ANYONE that’s based on broad generalizations and assumptions. All of it. Period.
  • Discard any advice that doesn’t “feel right” to you or work for you

I do recommend DWS as an excellent source of information regarding production as a writer, getting depth in your writing, etc.

However, I’ve noticed over the past several years, he DOES base some information on assumptions and generalizations. He slips them in every now and then. Fortunately, they’re pretty blatant so they aren’t difficult to identify and steer around.

I’m just sayin’, forewarned is forearmed.

Happy writing.


6 thoughts on “Read Everything, Think Critically, Accept Only What Feels Right”

  1. I suspect he’s lumping developmental editors into “freelance editor.” When I was looking for a copy editor, I actually had a hard time finding one. Everyone defaults to developmental editing. I would ask for recommendations for copy editors and get developmental editors who did no copy editing and writers lecturing me on “not doing the best for my story.” Not only that, many of the developmental editors I saw appeared to be beginning writers trying to make money by doing paid critiques.

    I even went to a con panel on editing and ended with a stern lecture from the panelists on “You must have developmental editing.” And I know a writer who was shocked that I only got copy editing. He met a developmental editor at Superstars, hired him, and was stunned when the editor suggested the kinds of changes that would have ruined the story. Beginning writers recommend developmental editing to their peers, and developmental editors recommend editing to all writers. Few question if it’s the right thing.

  2. DWS is a great fountain of information. Like all information, one must learn to parse bias. Deanna been around the block and knows what he’s talking about, mostly.

    As you said, he has been burned more than once by an editor. He’s also been burned by agents, publishers, and the industry as a whole. He has a tendency to lump it all into on big basket of eff this.

    That said, someday I hope to be able to afford the services of an editor. Until I can, it’s write, edit myself, and publish…and, of ciurse, learn along the way what works, and what doesn’t .

    Thank you for what you do here!

    • Thanks, JR, for the comment. And Dean would be among the first to tell you the same thing: take what works for you and leave the rest.

      I also recommend (as does Dean) finding a good unpaid first reader, preferably someone who loves your work. Getting to read it early would be the “payment.” Have that person point out any typos, wrong word usages, inconsistencies (brown jacket going into the bank, blue jacket coming out) and anything that pulls, pushes or throws him or her out of the story. Then fix what the FR finds that you agree with, publish and move on.

  3. Ahh yes, Right on. Generalizing probably from a personal experience of some sort which means emotional reasoning, not critical thinking. All do it, but some more than others, and it hurts many. Maybe it was being a Marine that kept on a less biased path than most.

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