March 7, 2016

Commandment #7: Respect Your Editor

There's a strange culture among writers nowadays of demonizing their editors. Not even intentionally, most of the time, but it still happens. Even authors who love their editors—who post gushing things about them on their blogs, or tweet nice things about them, or recommend them to friends—will joke about how they're paying their editor "to be insulted."

Photo credit: Tjololo Photo via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND
I get it: authors use humor to lament being beaten down by editorial feedback so that their fellow writers will commiserate. I know, too, that sometimes we editors ask for complicated changes, or we might point out a huge plot hole that derails your entire vision of the end of your book. And facing those revisions can be daunting and disheartening.

I'm not saying that there are no bad editors out there; there are, and if you genuinely believe that your editor is insulting you, inhibiting your writing, disregarding your book's best interests, or just generally feels to you like "the bad guy," get a different editor. Even if your editor was assigned to you by a publishing house, you can request a switch if you truly can't work together.

Your editor should never be the villain in your tale. Our goal is to make your work stronger, and if that means returning a manuscript to you covered in red ink, so be it. Once you've considered our suggestions and made any necessary changes, your book will be that much stronger. Better to get this feedback from us, pre-publication—when you can still fix the problems—than to have a reviewer post a scathing review about that plot hole you didn't notice, right? The bottom line is that we're on your team; you shouldn't feel any negative feelings toward us. (But feel free to lament about the revision process itself—that part certainly isn't fun!)

Here's the thing: If you're saying things like this about your editor for sympathy, consider what message you're sending to other writers—and to your editor.

For the writers, you're perpetuating the fear of criticism that makes writers react defensively rather than internalizing editorial comments and incorporating them. You don't have to make every change we suggest, but you should consider the aim or reasoning behind each one thoughtfully: Why did we think that word or phrase needed to be changed? Why is that character's action not reading realistically to us—is there something you could clarify elsewhere to make sure other readers don't have this same reaction? How is it possible that we believed those two characters were a married couple when you thought you'd made it obvious that they were in fact siblings? Et cetera.

Photo credit: Nic's events via Foter.com / CC BY-SA
As for the editors, when you complain about how "brutal" the notes we send are, you're implying that we derive pleasure from unfairly criticizing your work. We're not trying to make you miserable, and, no matter the level of revision needed, we're not trying to say that your writing isn't great. That's not what editing is about! (More often than not, we love your writing and think you're the bee's knees. But even our favorite writers need editorial guidance.)

The absolute best feeling for an editor is seeing writers improve their work and grow in their craft as a result of working with us—and that growth wouldn't happen without authors putting in the hard work of internalizing feedback and plunging into revisions.

Everyone needs a good editor. Even editors need editors.

So how about the next time you're awaiting edits, or going through pages covered with red ink, you quell the impulse to make jokes at our expense?

Not cool: "Waiting for my editor to send me her notes. So funny how we writers pay to be insulted!"

Totally cool: "Wow, every page is covered with corrections. My editor must have spent so much time on my work, helping me to make it stronger. I'm so glad she caught things I never would have noticed! Now on to revising (ugh)."

2 comments:

  1. I'll admit that the first editorial letter I received for 122 Rules--well, okay the second one too--was like a gut punch. It kinda takes the wind out of your sails when you think that your manuscript is really good and just needs some polishing. But having gone through the process, I can't tell you how much I learned and how much stronger my MS. Like by light years. Yes, it needed some serious overhauling, but that your editor will help you through the process.

    It's not an easy, but if you put aside your ego and understand that you aren't Stephen King; your editor is your absolute best friend. Do you talk about your best friends behind their backs? I seriously hope not.

    Awesome article!

    Deek Rhew

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you, Deek! This is a tough subject to write about, but it's important nonetheless. (Or maybe it's even more important *because* it's hard to talk about.)

      This is such a fantastic way of summing it up, I love it: "your editor is your absolute best friend. Do you talk about your best friends behind their backs? I seriously hope not."

      Delete