Wednesday 27 August 2014

Your Editor Thinks He’s Shakespeare

Signs of a problem: manuscripts come back with errors introduced and creative ‘suggestions’.

The symptoms: frustration; disappointment; embarrassment.

Your book needs an edit. You think you’ll cut corners by hiring an English Literature undergrad who’s never done any editing before but swears hiring him will be the best pint of beer you ever spend.

However, when your manuscript comes back, it’s full of unwelcome additions. Where you first introduce your unconventional, short, tubby, chain-smoking detective, your editor has put a note in the margin that reads, ‘I would be more likely to put my faith in a tall, dashing chap with meticulous personal habits.’ Where you introduce your quirky, intellectual female sidekick, your editor comments, ‘Are you sure you want to make the woman sound smarter than the man? This could put off male readers.’ When you write, ‘Honestly, I laughed until I was tickled red!’ the editor points out that the expression is ‘tickled pink’.

A good editor knows when to stick an oar in, and when to respect your personal style. A proofread involves correcting spelling and grammar, and checking punctuation and formatting. A line-edit includes reading for style, continuity, plot and narrative inconsistencies. Unless you agreed on a full critique, an editor shouldn’t be suggesting changes to Bob Barrrowroot’s appearance and personal habits. Under no circumstance should an editor make plentiful suggestions on how to bring your manuscript in line with his or her personal preferences.

As a new author, it can sometimes be difficult to stick to your convictions when faced with a more experienced person making contradictory suggestions. However, it is your book, your vision and your career on the line. If you wanted to give somebody else the final say, you’d seek out a publisher.

Always review an editor’s suggestions. Some authors blindly accept them all and that is a mistake. It’s very easy not to notice you’ve written an ambiguous sentence when you know what you meant. Editors are not mind readers and yours may assume a different meaning, which could lead to editorial suggestions that will alter your meaning. Consider each recommendation individually.

If your editor is treading on your toes frequently, or simply does not gel with your style of writing, then look around for a new one – perhaps one who insists on two pints? Working with an editor who continually pulls in the opposite direction will do nothing to improve your work.

No matter how frustrated you feel, you must not shoot your editor. If you decide to part ways, you may wish to recommend him to an evil rival at some future point.

Additional Blog-Exclusive Advice

By Nick Metcalfe

Ego and the Editor

Ego. Everyone has one. For a writer, it’s important to have a sense of self-esteem and a belief in one’s writing. An editor must know what he or she is doing and have confidence in his or her abilities. But when there is a clash who gives ground; who backs down and accepts that the other is ‘right’?

As a writer I know that I have much to learn—particularly having chosen to self-publish. One thing that I have learned is that editing is an essential component of the book production process. I don’t mean proof-reading (don’t get me started on that pet peeve), or copy-editing. I mean an examination of the text that will lead to modification, change and rewriting—the process that can attack the ego of the writer and, with each accepted modification, can add to the otherwise considerable ego of the wrong ‘type’ of editor.

I write non-fiction. My first book was a long-term project that had been on the go, on and off, for a decade before it got to the editing stage. I had lived with the opening paragraph of the opening chapter for almost that long. I had read it and reread it countless times. I was happy with it. It made me nod and silently agree that it was a great start. Then I sent it to my editor. The very first email that I received back read: “Chapter 1, page 1, paragraph 1, line 2: You say ‘....’; this doesn’t make sense.” She explained why and suggested that I rewrite it. I cannot describe the flare of irritation, the blow to my ego and the feeling that this would be a torturous process.

I learned fast that my editor had a canny knack of knowing when something wasn’t quite right but that her lack of detailed knowledge of my subject meant that she knew she had to tell me the reason that she thought so, leaving me to craft a new way of telling the story. This approach boosted my ego and made me feel that we were improving my work.

If your editor’s ego leads them to think that they could have improved on Shakespeare’s drafts and if your ego is big enough to think that you could give the bard a run for his money, you are not likely to get the best out of the relationship. Finding an editor that you trust and who can offer honest and objective criticism, and to whom you are willing to listen, is vital if your precious work is to have any chance of success.

  • Believe in your writing but know that your ‘finished’ draft is flawed.
  • Trust your editor but put your foot down when you want the deckchairs rearranged your way.
  • Know that a good editor and a talented and energetic writer will make a great team—where there’s no place for over-inflated ego...

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