“Never throw up on an editor.”
— Ellen Datlow
Recently, an author contacted me about another editor she was using, and the practices, notes, changes, and comments this editor was making. To say I was appalled, is an understatement. The author showed me notes this editor had made.
It was obvious the editor was a Opinionator-Terminator, not an editor, because she was literally in a fight with the author about OPINIONS—claiming she was right, and the author was incorrect.
The battle was not over grammar, not spelling, not punctuation, not even the functions and allowances of the Chicago Manual of Style…the arguments were forcing the author to justify why she chose to name characters what she did, and why she titled her work with that title…. She was belittling the author, and tearing apart subject matter that was irrelevant.
If an author wants their character to have an accent or lisp, then that is the author’s decision. The editor’s job is not to challenge that decision, but to make sure if the character had an accent or lisp in the beginning, they also have an accent or lisp in the end—continuity, flow, and logic.
If you are dealing with an editor who is an Opinionator-Terminator, you may feel too afraid to say anything (and fairly, saying anything to one of them may not have the outcome that you desire). This is one reason you want to have a clear and concise contract laid out before starting the editing process—know what it is you are expecting. You also need to know your rights as an author.
You—the author—are the creator and final decision-maker with your work of writing: poetry, book, short story, essay, novel, biography…. The editor is there to help you, assist you.
What should an editor change with minimal (if any) notes to the author?
What are the items an editor should leave comments for the author, but shouldn’t make the changes?
An editor should tell the author what items are or aren’t accepted in CMS standard. Those are facts, but they aren’t laws. If the author chooses to reject a change, the author’s voice and choice still reigns supreme—YES, above the CMS, above the editor, and above all.
An author can choose to reject the standard of CMS, if they feel it will alter the readability or the understanding of the project for the reader. The author makes that decision, not the editor. The editor can leave notes, but there is no reason for an editor to attack or harshly defend their points and opinions. That is not their job. Authors shouldn’t put up with it.
An editor’s job is to make sure and find the mistakes—iron out the punctuation, spelling, and grammar. It is not an editor’s job to grade the entertainment value or the subject, or to test the humor factor. That is the author’s choice and decision—they are the creators of the work.
It is okay to challenge your editor, and to disagree with them. If they don’t allow for this, then they are not an editor, they are an Opinionator-Terminator. You need to seek out and find a real editor in order to find success.
If you are looking for an editor, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Your editor is going to spend weeks pouring over your manuscript. She (or he) is going to eat, sleep, and breathe YOUR book. She (or he) will be correcting spelling, grammar, margins, indents, spacing (line and character), punctuation, formatting sections (for consistency), comparing character logic and plot flow… Your editor is going to be BUSY. Don’t treat them like your time is more important than theirs—or like you are their only client.
Your editor is not a magician. She (or he) has other clients, and those clients all have deadlines too. When you know you are getting close to finishing your manuscript (not the day before you plan on handing it over to your editor), notify your editor. They need to estimate the time needed on your book, and let you know when they can do it, and then add it to their schedule.
1) Again, stop treating your editor like they can do magic. They can’t. If you missed giving your manuscript to your editor on time, several things should happen:
If at all possible (I mean, come hell or high water), stay within the deadline of when you said you would give your editor your manuscript.
As SOON as you know you are going to be late, notify your editor. Their time is valuable, and they need to schedule in another project. Remember, they blocked out time for YOU.
If you are late with your project, and you didn’t give your editor notice, you should be paying a late fee. You reserved their time, and you did not cancel it. Respect them enough to pay for the slot you scheduled.
2) Tell your editor about your deadlines.
Ideally, you should have given your editor the manuscript with time to spare, but if you need a rush on the edit, then you need to communicate this. Also, all rush edits need to have a rush-fee. You are asking your editor to SUDDENLY include your manuscript in their schedule. This means something else has to be shuffled (or possibly dropped) for you.
When you send your manuscript to your editor, it should be in one file (not broken out in sections, chapters, or parts). If you change anything after your editor has started to work on your manuscript:
Most editors will require a change-fee, because they have to transpose all their notes, edits, and changes to the new document. Some editors refuse to work with any changed manuscripts, so it is best to ask in advance.
Most editors work with .doc and .docx files only. Ask your editor what he or she prefers, and then—send them what they ask for.
If you send your editor files she (or he) has to convert (e.g. .wp7 when they asked for .docx), you are taking two risks:
Possible lost information:
If your editor has to convert the files:
It means she (or he) doesn’t have the program your files are saved in. Therefore, once conversion is complete, your editor will not know if anything is missing from your manuscript.
There is also the possibility that your editor can’t convert the file, and the file will have to be returned to you. This delays your editor, and shrinks her (or his) timeline of work—because the deadlines are still the same.
Abusing your editor:
You want a loyal editor who roots for, cheers for, and fights for you. Not one who resents you every time you send them your manuscript in the wrong format. See the first item listed on this page.
More than likely, your editor won’t need to speak to you during the editing process. Radio silence does not mean anything is wrong, it means they are steadily working on your manuscript.
If your editor comes across something that needs to be addressed immediately, before they get too far into the book, they need to be able to reach you. Email is a good way to communicate, because they can copy/paste the questionable areas for you to read, and give them feedback (e.g. your editor may discover that your main character’s name changed in spelling, but you intended a plot-twist, and need your character’s name to change; you want them to check with you before correcting all the names throughout the book).
Both communication and respect assure success; they also enable teamwork to grow and thrive between you and your editor—who is on YOUR TEAM, and desires to be there. She (or he) hopes you succeed, and is excited to be along for the journey. Your editor is dedicated to helping you grow, and cares that you keep learning how to be an amazing author.
Help your editor to help you. Teamwork brings success!
It’s true that writers need to write to an audience. But the process is not a game of Pin the Tail on the Donkey. As a writer, you do NOT need to find the audience you think is best worthy, and then force yourself to write for them.
When C. S. Lewis was asked about his books, The Chronicles of Narnia, and whether he wrote specifically so children would read them, he answered:
Lewis wrote what he loved; he didn’t morph his writing so it would be read and liked by his audience. He found the audience that would cherish his writing. Children love his books; adults do too. Why? Because C. S. Lewis poured passion through the pages of his books—a love that is obvious, and not forced, a contagion of enthusiasm that inspires generations, young and old, to pick up his books and read again.
Know your audience, don’t choose your audience; your audience has chosen you. Write what you know, write what you love, and write what the world will want to read again and again.
Editors are members of your team—like coaches—wanting YOU (the author) to succeed. They are paid to find mistakes, errors, and faults, in order to make you a stronger and more successful author. They are not paid to pat you on the back, tell you how amazing you are, and do a little flattering dance to your glory—that is part of the marketing team’s job [haha!]. Your editor is not your friend—they aren’t there to encourage you by cheering your good points. They are there to point out the ugly and sloppy aspects that need help, that need polishing and fixing.
Don’t fear your editor. The editors are here for the authors. They aren’t going to highlight your face green (as the comic above suggests), but they are going to help you see the errors and weaknesses in your writing. Then (hopefully), you learn and grow, and become a stronger writer—which leads to an amazing author. A good editor can be a great teacher; make sure you treat their insights and time as valuable, because it is priceless.
Your editor will pick apart your work, but it doesn’t mean you are a bad author. It means your editor wants you to be better. Coach Lou Holtz, the winningest (yes, that is a word) college football coach, is known for tearing into his BEST players. He would pick them apart mercilessly. Why? Because he saw untapped potential. He wanted his players to improve beyond where they were. Even when they were good, he knew they could be great. A great football player is remembered, and people come to see them. A good football player is cheered for the one game, but no one comes back. Your editor wants your readers to come back.
Always pay your editor for their work. A great editor slowly reads through your book, flushing out the mistakes, making notes for the author, fixing the punctuation and grammar, checking with the author on flow and logic issues, researching quotes for accuracy, making sure your book aligns with the standard for publishing (per the Style Guides)….
How much your editor will do for your book, is dependent on which level of editing you have paid them for—just like taking care of your vehicle. If you take your car to a car wash, but you really wanted them to replace your muffler, you are going to be surprised. More than likely, they will leave a note on your receipt that you have a muffler dragging behind your car—but they will not have done anything for it, except wash and polish it. Know what you need (which editing package) and then be willing to pay for what you need. It will be worth it.
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