Ruminating On: Editors

Adriana Noir wrote a blog a while back that dealt with this topic and I suggest you read her piece HERE for her personal experience on dealing with the editorial process.

With that being said, I’m going to go over the dos and don’ts of working with an editor. I’ve had my first taste of a bad editor (this person has no connection with Red Adept Publishing) and feel I’ve finally formed an unbiased, dual-sided opinion to share with everyone.

Now, before I go into my diatribe, you should know that I do not have my blog posts professionally edited. I don’t do this because I’m not trying to sell them. The readers that buy my stories and books are entitled to the best work I can possibly provide because they’re paying me. It’s a matter of good customer service. For my blog, I do a cursory line edit for typos and glaring mistakes, but for the most part, my posts read as if I’m talking directly to you. We’re having a conversation, and as long as I get my point across, we’re all good. That being said, every writer needs an editor. Everyone single one of you. Selling unedited material is akin to walking outside without checking yourself in a mirror. If you don’t care what you look like to the rest of the world, more power to you, but I’m always afraid I’m going out with my zipper down, selling franks.

The difference between good and bad editors can be summed up in one sentence, and that sentence is this: Bad editors rewrite your work for you, while good editors make you do all the work. It really is that simple. A good editor knows the value of voice and will not disrupt the style of an author because they think they can say it better. I’ve been working with my editor long enough that she can mimic my voice, but she still gives me the option of rewording her additions. But, more often than not, she makes me rewrite the poor verbiage myself. If ever you find an entire sentence deleted in your work, or a new one added in, take a step back and question it. Why is it there? Does it sound like your narrator? Does it sound like you? No matter the answer you arrive at, look for some kind of explanation in the editor’s comments. You should find something like, “Feel free to reword,” or, “Something like this.” A bad editor will rewrite, take away, or add text without explanation. That action pisses me off to no end. I write in a certain tone no matter what I’m working on. I use metaphors and similes to describe things. That’s just what I do. Dear Bad Editor, you don’t see things like I do, so stop trying.

To me, dialogue is sacred. Only the author knows how their characters sound in their heads. I do not mind punctuation or clarification added to my dialogue, but when I see vernacular changed and phonetic speech corrected I get a bit irate. You cannot tell me that nobody talks like that because my character just did and usually I get my speech patterns from people-watching. Now, if my character is breaking type, speaking clearly all of a sudden when all the rest of his dialogue sounded like he talks with a mouthful of marbles, fine. I get that. Let’s work together to fix said foible. But if you’re changing my dialogue because you think my character should sound different, because you hear them differently, I’m going to tell you where you can shove your edits.

Content editing is a personal favorite of mine. As an author, I only see what the story tells me. I’m blind to what could have happened because, in my head, that’s how it happened. I love being shown other possible scenarios.  Remember this little piece of advice because it’s true: It takes a village to write a good book. My stories tell themselves, but sometimes, they need massaging. A good editor will find plot holes and give you suggestions on how to fix them. With Hope for the Wicked, my editor gave me a road map—a specific GPS location of the problem—along with point by point directions on how to solve the issues that arose. In the past, I have been given editorial advice that amounts to this: “Go down to the tree and turn.” My responses were, “What frakkin’ tree?” along with, “And which way do I turn?” I don’t need you to fix the problem, but I do expect you to highlight the specifics so I can do my job and rewrite accordingly.

Last, but certainly not least, I want to go over a list of thoughts you are going to have but should keep to yourself. You’re either going to offend your editor, or you’re going to come off sounding like a douchenozzle. For clarification, Douchebags simply hang around. Douchenozzles insert themselves directly into a situation and disrupt the natural order of things. Now, on with the list.

#1. Never say this to an editor: “My readers will get it.” Okay, douchenozzle, what do you think your editor is? I promise you that they are most definitely “a reader”. How do you think they edited your piece; by osmosis? Get over yourself. If they have expressed concerns about the plot, flow, or necessity of something, someone else will too. You might (strong might there) get away with not changing the issue, but do you really want to take that chance? I know I don’t. So I listen.

#2. Refrain from this statement: “But (insert famous author who has sold more books than Jesus) does it all the time. Why can’t I do it?” Really? You’re going to put yourself up there with those guys? First off, you’re not said famous author, so stop trying to do what they do. Second, that person has been around and could probably publish a recipe book on how to simmer shit into a tasty stew and people would still buy it. If you’re an author just starting out, you have no right, nor do you have the audience, to critique an editor on what some big-named hot shot has gotten away with. Swallow your uninformed comments and do a little research. If your editor says you have a grammar issue, Google it, or buy the Chicago Manual of Style. If you can find proof that you should be able to do it, show your editor. If not, shut up and fix it.

#3. Never expect perfection. You are not perfect, so why the hell would you assume your editor is? Mistakes happen during the editing process. Needless words are left in, or needful ones are deleted. Whole sentences can turn into gibberish. Periods get left on the wayside and poor little commas explode, never to be seen again. This. Shit. Happens. Deal with it accordingly, but do not give up on your editor when you find mistakes. Hell, you’re lucky they turned your pile of nonsense into a lesser form of literary diarrhea in the first place. I have been through as many as seven edits and eight proofreads before I received something I was proud to put my name on. Nobody, and I mean nobody, gets everything right on the first pass. This writing gig is a matter of trial and error. You’re going to screw up, your editor is, too, so live and learn. Errors because of line edits are more common than sunsets and bowel movements. This is why we need those wonderful souls known as proofreaders.

#4. Ask questions, but don’t be a tool about it. Editors are people, too. You don’t piss off an editor for the same reason you don’t cuss out the waiting staff at restaurants before you get your food. They’re handling things important to you, and don’t think they won’t spit in your meal. Professional attitudes are best. You want to build a relationship with your editor. The more they like you, the more they will want to make you look good. Just because you’re paying them doesn’t give you the right to look down on them. In the end, they could make your whiny-ass famous.

Well, I’m out of here, folks. I know this blog post was longer than normal, but maybe you learned something. If you have any questions, I live in the comment section below. Have yourself a wonderful day and stop being such a doucenozzle. Instead, try to be a back massager. Everyone loves “back massagers”.

E.

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37 thoughts on “Ruminating On: Editors

  1. Well said, E. As someone who only recently learned the difference between a beta reader, an editor and a proof-reader, I appreciate your words of wisdom on this :))

    1. For more clarification on Jo-Anne’s comment, a beta reader is used to provide feedback on content. An editor should focus on plot holes, spelling, grammar, punctuation, flow, voice and style. Proofreaders are there to spot left over mistakes. Big differences, folks.

      Thanks for stopping by and mentioning that, Jo-Anne. Every writer should know the differences between those jobs.

      E.

      1. I’m glad you found it helpful, Laura. Far too often writers settle for proofreading thinking that they’re receiving an actual edit. All three things go together. Beta readers can be used before or after editing and proofing, and sometimes, as with me, both before and after, but editing should always come before proofing. Moreover, I suggest every writer get more than one proof.

        Thanks for stopping by!

        E.

    1. Thanks, T.L. I appreciate that. I do so love to rock! I’ve been wanting to do this post for a while, but never had a bad experience with an editor. Now that I know the difference, I thought I would share.

      Stop by anytime. You’re always welcome here.

      E.

  2. I aspire to peddle shit stew to the masses one day. 😉
    In all seriousness though, this was an awesome post. As usual, you hit the nail on the head. I don’t think a lot of people realize the difference between these three extremely valuable readers every writer needs.
    A great editor can be a writer’s best asset. Who doesn’t want an extra ace in their pocket? I love how you give a gentle reminder that even they can make mistakes. We all do–and some suggestions need to be weighed objectively and taken with a grain of salt. (Or a good shot of tequila!)
    Way to inform and educate, E. And as always, you do it with that special brand of entertainment and flair only you can give.

    1. “Gotta make ’em laugh if you’re gonna make ’em pay,” my Grandmother used to tell me.

      Thanks for stopping by, Adri, and for sharing this EVERYWHERE!

      E.

    1. As long as you and your editor treat each other with mutual respect, everyone wins. That is, if you find a good editor. I’m happy I could lend you my lantern, KD.

      E.

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  4. I’m afraid I have to disagree with #2. Yes, I *will* compare myself to all those really famous people who did amazing things and got away with it, because I don’t see any reason not to reach that far. And I won’t feel shame or be embarassed for doing so.

    It’s perfectly reasonable to point out when an attempt at doing something a famous author did fails. But to suggest that an unknown author is somehow unworthy of attempting the same thing simply because he or she isn’t famous yet is sort of ridiculous.

    1. Head hopping and tense issues are prevalent in many well known authors’ works. Stephen King and Robert R. McCammon, and many more, get away this because they do it well. But, to simply right off an editor’s comments because you feel you should be able to do what the bog dog’s are doing, is pompous. You can try these things and succeed, yes, but if your editor thinks it’s jarring and not done well, other readers might, also.

      I understand and respect your right to disagree, but ignoring changes that lend clarity to your work is far more ridiculous.

      E.

      1. But it’s not necessarily ignoring. If a writer is saying “hey, this guy does it, why can’t I?” then they could be asking “what did this guy do that made it work that I didn’t do? And that’s a perfectly valid question to ask. And it’s a question that deserves an answer other than “You’re not Stephen King, STFU.”

      2. Wouldn’t you want to skip the comparison altogether and simply ask why you cannot? The whole point of #2 is stating that you are not that author. My experience has been that comparisons aggravate editors to no end. Stop trying to be someone else and be yourself. Simple as that.

      3. I guess I need to be more specific here.

        I was in a “show vs. tell” argument a while back with some other people — a mix of writers and editors. One of the things I said was that telling can be a very effective tool when writing comedy, and used as an example The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Because some of the funniest passages in THHGTTG come from footnotes and passages from the Guide, and those are all “telling,” not “showing,” right down the line.

        The most common response to this example was “well, you’re not Douglas Adams.” Which is obvious, but meaningless. Douglas Adams’ work has shown that a Supposed Rule That Must Never Be Broken is actually not a universal rule, and that telling can have a specific tactical advantage in certain situations.

        And how is that not a valid question to ask when talking to an editor? Just because an author is famous, it doesn’t follow that the author got away with something based on fame. The author may very well getting away with something because the way a scene was written made it possible for the device to work, and it’s JUST AS POSSIBLE that you can do it to, if you make changes in your scene. And there’s no reason you shouldn’t. Any writing tool is exactly that–there’s no reason you should stay away from hammers just because Bob Vila used one first.

        Which is why this bit of advice is objectionable to me. It assumes the writer is saying something for one reason, and one reason only, instead of trying to determine the context of the editor’s comment by introducing a comparison in which a similar choice did work.

      4. I should add, though, that the other reason it’s objectionable to me is because I am unbelievably arrogant when it comes to my writing. Of COURSE I’m as good as those guys. Pack of losers… ;-D

      5. I like you Christohper. You should stop by more often. Now, I would agree with you. I will amend, just for you, here in the comments, that an author CAN ask these questions and be in the right, but I will stand by my advice not to for this reason: Every editor I’ve worked with has eaten me alive for prefacing my question of “Why not” with “So and so did it!”

        E.

      6. Hm. When you put it that way, I can see the value of your advice. If “so and so did it” is 98% likely to push an editor’s button, then it’s probably better to find a different way to ask the same question.

  5. Excellent, excellent post, Edward. I’ve seen so much resistance from indie authors to getting a professional editor on board, and I’m glad you’re promoting the idea. Great breakdown of what to expect, too. New follower of your blog 🙂

    1. Love seeing new faces around here, Guilie. Editing is mandatory in my eyes. Sure, some get away with it, but I know I’m one of many who will not risk selling unedited material. Hopefully, I can inform and guide people who are new to independent publishing.

      Thank you for the comment and the follow.

      E.

      1. Totally agreed. And editors aren’t necessary just for indies. In Feb I was at a writers’ conference in SF. Some of us newbies compared notes after the agent pitch session, and found we’d gotten the same questions: first was “Is the MS finished?” And immediately after, “Has it been professionally edited?” So even those of us that go the traditional route, and will presumably have the MS edited further once it’s sold, *still* need an independent editor to start us off on the right path. Newbie authors, indie or otherwise, are held to higher standards than already-published writers. Sad, maybe, or demotivating, but a reality. And perhaps, bottom-line, a good thing. It’s quality control, right? We’re all best served by promoting quality fiction.

      2. I could NOT agree with you more. If you’re going the traditional, Big 6 route, you’ll definitely want to bring your A-game. They don’t play around and you shouldn’t either. Outstanding piece of advice, Guilie!

        E.

  6. The only thing I would add to this post is that you don’t need to feel married to an editor. Just because you worked together on one book, doesn’t mean you have to go back if you don’t feel that connection. Part of the magic of going indie is that you can choose who you work with, and that is a powerful thing.

    Also: If an editor is dirt cheap, you are probably getting what you paid for; it may not be nothing, but it probably won’t keep you from having your pants down in front of the crowd.

    -aniko

  7. Great post Edward! Not quite sure as a Media rep I would have recommended using doucenozzle as my main descriptive for the uncooperative author, but as you say – this is you, uncensored and straight from the hip. ;}

    I particularly like that you point out that the editor (reader) doesn’t live in the author’s head, so when they mention that something might be missing, or a gaping hole might be apparent, the author should actually ‘read’ the words on the screen/page, and not just live in the lovely scenario dancing through their own well defined head. I added nothing new to the discussion, but my opinion has now been tossed in with the rest.

    Very sage advice, sir. Well done!

    1. I take everyone’s comments to heart. To discuss editors not living in an author’s head, I would like to say that idea just recently occurred to me over the past year. When I published Bay’s End, it was an indie venture and didn’t receive content editing. Sure, my editor pointed out a few plot points, but over all she didn’t tell me to add anything. Merely change some stuff around. Now, when Red Adept Publishing picked up Dastardly Bastard, that opened my eyes to a whole new world. My content editor brought up what might have been there, but I missed elaborating on it. I thought, everything that was in my head is on the paper. What are they going on about. But then it occurred to me that there was far more in that world than I first assumed. I had author’s blinders on, simple as that. My scope of vision was lacking because I was so involved in writing the major piece of the story. When my editor allowed me to pause and take a step back, I saw everything so clearly. It had all been there the entire time. I have no doubt I would have missed all of it had they not said something.

      Thank you for stopping by and commenting, Nina. You’re always welcome back any time.

      E.

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