I’m pretty sure that most writers go through a stage, early on, in which their reactions to editors are similar to a medieval person’s reaction to meeting someone with bubonic plague. “Don’t come near my words! You’ll kill my story!” When I was a new writer I recall a friend once telling me that I seemed “a bit resistant” to editorial advice. She was a master of understatement.
Even so, I knew editing was important. Prior to this I had been writing in a fan fiction community, and I was a big advocate of employing beta-readers. I was relieved when first readers caught grammar and punctuation errors, and would always polish my work … on that surface level.
When I signed the contract for my first novel to be traditionally published, I began to understand that editors don’t just help you clean up your copy. They help fix bigger problems with your story, like gaping holes and gnarled plot points and having the wrong point-of-view character. As writers we are often too close to the story, and too attached to it, to see the problems. So we really do need editors.
Important note #1: editors aren’t looking to replace your voice with theirs, or to in any way hijack your story. Seriously. They are not the enemy.
When I asked my editor, Linda, about this, she replied, “Editors really do want you (and your book) to succeed. It may seem at times like we’re putting you through unusual and cruel forms of torture, but it’s only because our objective eyes can see things about your writing that you can’t, and we’re trying to share that knowledge. We want to make you better writers.”
I chuckled as I read her reply, because with my book that was just released, Uncertain Soldier, Linda did put me through the proverbial wringer. It was the hardest revision and editing work I’ve ever done. I hope that what I went through made me a better writer, if only to avoid having those kind of revisions ever again.
Important note #2: editors are usually right. Not always, but usually. The end result of my brutal revisions was a stronger, more cohesive story. It was worth the sweat.
Linda passed on two pieces of advice that might help you navigate your writer-editor relationship.
First, remember that working with an editor is a collaborative venture. Editors are not vengeful gods whose every whim must be satisfied in order for your story to be published (my words). As Linda explains, “It’s your name on the book, and you have to be happy with it in the end. If your editor does or suggests something you don’t agree with, talk about it. Nothing is ever carved in stone, and there’s usually a compromise that will make you both happy.”
Second, don’t rely strictly on email. As a writer who lives in a somewhat remote, rural area over halfway across the country from my publisher, email and the Internet are amazing tools for connecting with other writers, my publisher, and my editor. But as we all know, communicating via email (or online in general) can sometimes lack the clarity we need.
In Linda’s words: “A person-to-person conversation (even over the phone) is sometimes worth a thousand emails, especially if you are stuck on a plot point or a character issue. Brainstorming works better when you can immediately bounce ideas off of each other, and the conversation can flow naturally, not in the “your turn/my turn” way that email’s transpire.”
So keep those things in mind as you work with your editor. Above all, remember that good editors want to help us make our stories the best they can be. They are worth seeking out, and worth listening to. I’m lucky that I have a great one. How about you?