Editing: what will I look like when you’re done with me?

One of my darling new authors emailed me this:

I hope I recognize my writing when you’re done editing!

At first I thought he was kidding, but then I got to thinking that he may have been quasi-serious. I can understand the fear. Here you’ve put your heart and soul into your book only to release it from your clutches and hand it over to a perfect stranger [at least I like to delude myself into believing I’m perfect, but the beagle tells me otherwise].

The imagination takes hold:

  • What are they going to do to my work while it’s in their clutches?
  • Will my story look anything close to the way I wrote it?
  • Do I have any say in the editing process?
  • What if I hate what she’s done?
  • Oh GOD! Why didn’t I become a painter like my mother suggested?

Now you’ve lost sleep, lost weight, and your cat begins to avoid you because you’ve begun to ignore your personal hygiene. R-E-L-A-X and remember one thing:

Editors buy stories because we love them. This means we love your voice. Your voice is what makes the story come alive, so it’s the last thing we want to destroy.

Ah, but what about your content?

Switchy changey

I have an author whose agent took a meeting with a Big Gun. Oh, they lurved, lurved, lurved the book. Only could they please take “some stuff out” and put in “other stuff”? The agent was mortified. Hell no, you can’t! The “stuff” you want to remove is the friggin’ meat of the story! End of meeting to the absolute miffery of the agent [to those who love to edit me, I do realize “miffery” isn’t a word. No need to comment, ok?].

Yes, the manuscript needed work. Lots of it. But in no way did that book become “my child,” because that isn’t what I, or my cohorts do. They don’t rewrite. They suggest, they recommend, they insert possible examples [with the author’s ability to reject the insertion].

Did you read that? They do not rewrite. That is the author’s job.

Furthermore, editors do not switchy changey the manuscript and turn it into something else without your permission.So even though the Big Gun publisher wanted to seriously mess with the story’s foundation, they most certainly weren’t going to do it without discussing it first.

So bless my author’s buttons for being nervous about the editing process, but he’s biting his nails to the quick for nothing. Yes, he’ll see a lot of red things – where I fixed a passive sentence into an active sentence, or removed a dialog tag. Or maybe I put one in. What I’ve done is akin to cleaning up the kitchen. But I do not dare presume to cook the meal [something my family heartily approves, the ingrates].

Where I feel something needs further development, I insert a comment and say something like “expand this idea so the reader understands this paragraph.” Or maybe there’s a POV switch and I insert a comment bubble telling the author  to rewrite the section in the proper POV.  See? I’m not cooking the meal, so it’s impossible [and incredibly stupid] to interfere with the author’s voice.


And this is why authors really have little to fear from the editing process. Sure, there may be a lot of rewrites, but so what? Presumably…ok, hopefully, you trust your editor enough to know what they’re doing and that their decisions are going to yield a much more marketable book.

I appreciate how difficult that is because you don’t really know your editor. But, hopefully, you’ve read some of the publisher’s books and can see the quality of their work.

I had an author who was scared out of her wits to be edited. Then she waltzed into a book store and bought one of our books – wise soul that she is, she chose my novel, Donovan’s Paradigm. She emailed me saying that after reading my book she felt a “whole lot better” about my fingies dabbling about the verbs and nouns of her manuscript. Awww…

Trust is vital in the production process, and we realize it doesn’t come easily. But, really, the story you handed your editor will still be the same story that comes out of editing. Or better. But not without your knowledge or approval.

11 Responses to Editing: what will I look like when you’re done with me?

  1. NinjaFingers says:

    A bad editor wants to turn your story into the one they wish they wrote (Yes, it happened to me once with a short)

    A GOOD editor wants to make your story more the one you wrote in the first place.

  2. Kelley says:

    I was just given an editor of my very own last week, and I so want to love her and squeeze her and call her George, for she is that wonderful.

    I was biting my nails wondering how her first revision notes would go. I worried. I hoped. I angsted with a box of grasshopper cookies. And then her note came.

    OMG. Yes, yes, and yes. She made suggestions that (if I can pull them off) just brought out more of what I’d been trying to say all along. And she pointed out really stupid stuff I never caught. (Um, yeah, I probably don’t need all those characs with “J” names.) I loved her revision ideas, and I think this relationship just might work out really well.

    But I think that’s the key, and what Ninja might be referring to as well. Not every editor is a George, but I’ve found most aspire to be that for their writers. And when you, the writer, get a George, it’s the most wonderful thing in the world for your novel.

  3. allen parker says:

    miffery: n 1. The act of being miffed.

    2. The reaction of a young man after spending copious amounts of money on a young female only to have said female develop a headache and wish to be returned home directly after the extremely expensive dessert.

    Still seems to fit.

  4. ‘Tis true, not all editors were created with the same literary brush, so when you get a “George,” love them and hug them and squeeze them – gently.

  5. Karen says:

    I’ve just emerged from an editing frenzy – incorporating suggestions from agent/editor – and my novel is clearly much better for it :o)

  6. Sarah says:

    I like miffery and will be very proud if I can work it into a conversation today.

  7. Pelotard says:

    I read an interview with a locally very famous author – the sort of person whose name will in itself sell thousands of copies – and he said he accepted well over 90% of editorial suggestions. Meaning that there is always room for debate, but the editor is almost always right 🙂

  8. Kelley says:

    Yes. Always love your editor. Gently. 🙂

    (I should add, so no one thinks I’m nuts-that line comes from Bugs Bunny’s the Abominable Snow Rabbit. I rip it off with love as well. But truly, everyone should have a George. Sniff…)

  9. HarryMarkov says:

    You are touching on a huge topic that psychology has yet to explain in its entirety [hehe, I am trying to be so funny].

    As an unpublished, but enlightened & always asking about why we behave the way we do, here is my breakdown:

    – We are afraid we are not good enough. Seeing the red means that we have failed at a point. Yes, we have secured an agent & an editor [apparently], but the red is being shown where you lack and writers in general are prone to suffer from low self-esteem [over-generalization, I know]. It’s an invasion of sorts that feeds the ‘you are not good enough voice’.

    – More or less identical to the first statement, but looked at a different angle, it has to do with the ego. You stopped getting indifferent rejections. You started receiving advice. Then you snag an agent and meet the editor and that’s it, the writer has blossomed into an author. And the ego is there. Out from the hundreds of thousands wanting this, I got it. It is happening. This is the dream come true. But the editor can prove you wrong that you hopped on the success train and that this is your happy ending. The red can prove the author wrong and this threatens the ego, hence why the author fears the red ink.

    Me, I hate being proven wrong. I hate being shown that I make mistakes. BUT I am always grateful to those that did these heinous acts [haha, anyone?], because I have honed my craft.

    And from all these agent & editor blogs, I am eager for my moment to come and work with you guys in order to become my best.

  10. Voidwalker says:

    I used to work with a guy who was an incredible writer. His stories were kind of ‘out there,’ which I believe was holding him back. I recall his attitude towards editors and he said that he’d never be published, because they “change” his story. I think it’s a very real fear to us writers, but I’ve learned that it is not the case. I’ve learned that editors, agents, publishers (honest ones at least) are out to make your book the best it can be, not write you a new one.

    Thanks for sharing this stuff from your perspective!

  11. BubbleCow says:

    I think that most writers are open to feedback. Yet, only when they feel the person giving feedback has the novel’s best interest at heart. So I think it is all about trust…

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