Monday, February 1, 2016

Why You Shouldn't Have Your English Teacher Edit Your Book

by Alycia W. Morales

You've finally written THE END on your manuscript, and you've been over it three times yourself, correcting and moving around and making it your best project ever. Now it's time to get another set of eyes on it before you send it off to the publisher. Or CreateSpace. Or any other publishing platform.

You think about your close circle of cheerleaders, and you wonder if someone you know may be able to help you. And, typically, the first person to pop into an author's head is their high school English teacher. (Or English/Language Arts - ELA - if you're a bit younger.)

I wish there were a very large STOP sign I could throw up in front of you. Don't get me wrong, I love my high school English teachers. College ones too. English is still my favorite subject with all its reading and writing and thinking. And Mrs. Atkin and Mr. Burns and Mr. Palen were wonderful encouragers as I wrote poems and papers and decided I wanted to be a writer when I grew up. I still admire them today. (Along with Mr. C, my middle school math teacher.)

But English teachers don't know everything about writing and selling a book. Here are a few things I've noticed along the way that stand out:

1. Their MLA style guides don't translate to book editing. MLA style guides are for writing research papers. The Chicago Manual of Style is for writing books. Just like you wouldn't use the Associated Press Style Guide (used for newspaper writing) to edit your manuscript, you wouldn't use the MLA either.

2. They most likely don't know such details as how conversational-style writing is necessary in non-fiction books. A reader isn't going to pick up a non-fiction book that's written text-book style, as though the author were standing in the front of a classroom teaching them. Nor are they going to want a book that reads like the author is the end-all expert on a subject and points fingers at the reader. What a reader would love is a book that reads as though you, the author, are sitting across the table from them having a cup of coffee and talking like you're their best friend in the world. Like they have time for you. Conversational-style writing.

Nobody likes having a finger pointed at them.
3. Which leads me to the point that most English teachers may not pick up on your overuse of "you." If you're writing non-fiction, you need to include yourself in the audience. Avoid the use of "you" as much as possible and write with the perspective of "me," "I," "we," and "us." Include yourself in the group so that it doesn't come across as you pointing fingers.

4. If you're writing fiction, your editor needs to understand story-world development, that characters should talk like normal people do (not like a grammar book), and they need to understand the entire craft of writing fiction. Not every English teacher knows this.

Granted, some English teachers are professional editors. I know a few. But these teachers are also immersed in writing their own books. They've studied the craft of writing a book. They've gone to conferences and networked with other writers, learning the lingo of this book world we love to live in. And they've taken the time to practice writing books. These are the English teachers you want to hire or convince to edit your books.

If you want to involve your high school English teacher in your book project, thank them in your acknowledgments or invite them to be a member of your launch team, where they can cheer-lead you some more by leaving reviews and encouraging others to purchase your book.

Author's Addition:
After having a close friend of mine who is an editor/author/High School English Teacher combined review my post, he made some great additional points I'd love to share with you.

1. One thing I (Alycia) may not have conveyed is that I would encourage you not to hire an English teacher as your editor OVER hiring a professional editor who is working in the publishing industry. It's okay to allow your English-teaching colleagues to review your manuscript, because it's always a great idea to have more than one set of eyes looking at it. However, after they've provided input, hire a professional editor to do the actual edit.

2.  Most teachers (my mom was a teacher - this friend is a teacher, so I can say this at an expert level) are already overworked and most likely tired. They teach, they plan, they grade, they attend workshops to learn new teaching methods or updates, and so much parents and children don't see once the school day is over. So they may not have the time to put into your manuscript edits that a professional editor would. Sure, they may offer to look at it as a favor, but they are more likely to browse over it rather than pay attention to the minute details, as their main focus is on their students and everything the education system throws at them these days.

Before you have your English teacher edit your book, please read this: {Click to Tweet}

Why You Shouldn't Have Your English Teacher Edit Your Book via @AlyciaMorales {Click to Tweet}


  1. Amen and amen! I had a teacher tell me that I couldn't start a sentence with the word, "but"...even in dialogue! Arrrggghhhh!

  2. Thank you! I recently forwarded one of those "writing tip" meems and was called out by a friend who is an editor.
    The meem was written and applied to academic grammar- not manuscript grammar.
    BTW, what does MLS stand for? (My textbook days were a very long time ago).