Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Working with an Editor: Yes, Author, It's Your Fault

I always get these ideas around the time I begin editing a book, and I seem to feel the need to impart my wisdom thoughts upon other writers. This is one of those times when I feel strongly about setting the record straight. 
I've read reviews from readers who will at times, perhaps unknowingly, blame the book's editor for errors. It would be easier for authors to put the blame for all errors on the editor, but it wouldn't be true--at least most of the time. 

Editors have a tough job, and it's a job most writers and readers don't always understand. While our minds are creative, theirs are analytical. While we're worried about whether or not the hero and heroine have the right chemistry, they're worried that what is supposed to be a romance has turned into a science fiction novel. 

It's true that obvious poor editing can be blamed on an editor . . . assuming an editor was even hired by an indie author. If the book comes from a publisher, and it's overrun with mistakes, then by all means blame the editor. 

In a previous Working with an Editor post, I've said that at the end of the day, every decision rests on the author. Mind you, I'm speaking primarily of indie authors, and perhaps some small publishers. Big publishers take some of the decision-making out of the hands of the author. 
So, what is not the fault of the editor? Everything else.  

My editor catches details I wouldn't unless I read the book at least a dozen times, and even then I miss things. Which is why when it comes to the minute details of punctuation and grammar, I pretty much say "yes" to everything she finds and corrects. But what about plot, flow, and character development? Sorry authors, but that's on us. I've said it before, but I'll say it again. Editors bring the technical skills and polish, but writers have to bring everything else.

I'm a fairly simple person when it comes to writing software. I've tried all types, but in the end I opted to stick with Microsoft Word. This comes in handy when it comes time to edit. My editor and I use the nifty Track Changes feature and litter the right column with comments. Sometimes these comments become a source of laughter, but most of the time it's "tough love" on both sides. She tells me her thoughts, and I either counter or agree. Sometimes these thoughts are only questions, which I find equally great and annoying. Annoying because the questions make me think, and that can be exhausting and exhilarating all at once, and great because after I do a bit of thinking and lots of silent complaining, I discover that all that thinking made for great revisions. 

After the first couple of books, I learned to be stronger about voicing my own opinions and asking better questions. She might then counter with more questions of her own. This can sometimes result in a colorful bubble with half a dozen comments, all of which result in a happy ending. It's important to keep in mind that the last comment is either me telling her I've made a final decision, or her offering a "thumbs up." The last comment is never the editor making the final call. 

It's not fair to put that burden on the editor. We're the artists, we're the creators of these works of fiction, we're the storytellers who went without sleep, food, or sanity for bursts of time in order to complete the manuscript. So why is it that in the eleventh hour, it's often assumed that the editor will carry us to publication? 

 So when can you blame the editor? 
  • When the book is awful and the editor does an injustice by telling you it's great. 
  • When the editor "just goes through the motions." What I mean by this is that the editor will go through the manuscript once, perhaps twice, correct surface errors, and leave you to make revisions without ever looking at it again. In my opinion, this is the mark of a lazy editor (please don't throw the tomatoes too hard). A better editor might be more of an investment, but it's an investment worth making in your book--and your writing career. 
  • When the editor takes away your voice. Fault can be placed on both the editor and author with this one. On the editor for trying, and the author for allowing it.
So, what is not the fault of the editor? Everything else. Working with an editor can be not only instructional, but it's also a lot of fun with the right editor. Learn from them, hold yourself accountable for short-comings in your book, and write a better book the next time around. 

If you're starting out as an indie author before going the traditional route, your book will be more desirable to a publisher if it's the best that it can be. This is code for "don't skimp on the editor." If you plan to stay an indie author for whatever reason, you'll get nowhere in the long term if you skimp on the editor. The day will come when you discover that you've learned something about writing, about yourself as a writer, and most importantly, what you're capable of doing. 

Further Reading.
The Writer vs. The Editor at The Writing Whisperer

Disclaimer: My editor does not edit these posts. I take full responsibility for any errors, and I'm sure there are some.

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