In this month's blog, Eva Hartmann (www.yourfictioneditor.com) contributes her unique perspective on a very important topic that recurs throughout The New Blue Pencil blog: the writer-editor relationship.
Find out more about Eva at the end of this post!
M Y EDITOR WILL TELL ME IF THE STORY WORKS, RIGHT? My editor is going to transform my book into a breakout bestseller, right?
Many authors look to editors to tell them if their writing is good and if the book is going to make a lot of money once it gets released. I, for one, wish I had a crystal ball. But though I am not able to predict a writer’s literary future, it is within my power to dispel a few myths about what editors actually do and try to explain away the disconnect that lies between them and some of their clients.
Editors Are Industry Experts, Aren’t They?
To some authors, editors seem to be strange creatures who toil alone doing something mysterious with words on a computer and who have potent magical powers because they are often the ones who screen submissions and decide whether they are worthy of their publishing house.
Doesn’t that mean they are experts in the subject matter? They must KNOW what readers want; why else would they be in that position?
Why, indeed? The thing is, unless an editor has expert experience in storytelling, like Michael Hauge (Hollywood story and script consultant) or Donald Maass (literary agent and author of The Breakout Novelist), they really don’t have license to tell an author what is great or not. Mostly, an editor can point to elements that make great writing and story weaving, but at the end of the day, it is the readers who really decide if a book is any good. Trying to predict how anyone will react is nearly impossible.
Publishers do try to follow reading trends by accepting more books that are similar to what’s hot right now, which is why some otherwise very good books are rejected by publishers. There are times when the industry may say that vampires aren’t selling anymore or that shifter stories are dead, but the truth is that genres go around in continual cycles. And, sooner or later, a novel breaks out that leads publishing in an entirely unexpected direction.
Aren’t Editors Just Grammar Trolls?
Authors are also thrown for a loop when editors send back manuscripts with way more corrections than authors are expecting.
How can there be so much to correct? English is my native language!
The process is kind of like taking your car to the mechanic and trusting them when they tell you the engine needs to be completely rebuilt. How do you really know if the mechanic is telling the truth? You don’t. You just have to trust training and experience. For most mechanical issues in a manuscript, the editor should be able to point to a style guide or other reference to show the rationale behind the corrections. But it is not an editor’s job to teach an author how to edit.
Does It Really Matter Who Edits My Manuscript?
Yes! It matters. A problem can arise in the relationship because authors don’t understand the editing process and often don’t know what kind of editing they need.
Aren’t all editors the same?
If we return to the mechanic example, should a driver of a vintage VW bus send it to a Mini dealership to be fixed? Of course the answer is: “No, not really; it is best to have a specialist, someone best suited for the task at hand.” Some editors want to edit a variety of work at a variety of levels, others do not. There are those who prefer to stick with developmental editing, others with copyediting or proofreading. Some editors are authors themselves and have additional training in the craft of writing, but not all do. (And it’s important to note that the craft of writing is actually very different from editing.)
This is why it is important from the outset that expectations for the assigned project are clear to both parties. And this is when a sample edit comes in handy. In only three to five pages, an editor can get a feel for what level of edit is needed and the author will get a glimpse of what to expect. It’s kind of like a first date: both parties can see if they will get along.
Aren’t All Editors Merely Frustrated Writers?
Developmental editing is where the lines can become very blurred with the job of the writer, and there can be times when an editor oversteps the mark. As an author myself, I have experienced this issue twice. In one case, I had completed a novel, and by the time the editor got done giving “feedback,” she had outlined a completely different book than the one I had just finished writing.
Editors are supposed to help authors tell their story, not the story the editor thinks it should be. We should be able to go in and point out what needs strengthening or what needs to be cut because it is going down a rabbit hole. But to tear an author’s work apart and completely rewrite it is not what we get hired to do. Those types of things are the domain of coauthors and ghostwriters, not developmental editors.
It can be a little tricky for editors to keep to their side, but it is critical to stay on task. Some authors, especially first-time authors, are very close to their work. It was a journey of faith for them, and they can often feel vulnerable and exposed when showing their beloved book to others. After all, no one wants you to tell them that their baby is less than cute.
And so, as complex as it may seem, authors and editors can make a great team and have fun together, provided that they find the right partner and are careful not to step on each other’s toes. If, as a writer or editor, you have come across other kinds of misunderstandings, share your experience in the comment box below!
If you enjoyed this post, read Writers & Editors: Are they on the same page? and Why Even The Best Writers Need Editors, and Beyond Copy: Adventures in content editing.
About the Author
Eva Hartmann is a voracious reader and a fan of all genres of fiction. She is also a multi-published bestselling author of contemporary romance and paranormal romance novels (find her work at jewelquinlan.com). As an editor, her focus is also fiction (yourfictioneditor.com), and helping authors polish their manuscripts until they shine. She also has the additional goal of helping authors develop their online platforms through easy video workshops. Eva does pro bono copyediting work for nonprofits via the Embark Editorial Agency.