Recently, I heard of an author who put their editor through a word mill with a flurry of emails and argumentative assaults, grinding the poor soul into tiny pieces, nearly to the point that the editor began to wonder why they took on this particular author in the first place. It made me think through the delicate relationship between an editor and writer, and the unheralded art of editing. The colossal ego that communicates in such a controlling fashion may put so much pressure on their words they dull the fine point of their pen. What does that mean? I believe they fail to create that thin line of clarity, of defining well-written words from a sharp tip that makes each word they write so clear they each stand out and sing. Why do I know this? Anyone who fights with their editor over a few words, without presenting their case calmly and with a sweet disposition, doesn’t deserve to be a writer.
Few authors can write something so perfect that there are no typos, no spelling errors, or grammatical oddities in their manuscripts, even with the frequent use of the spell checker. John Fowles notwithstanding, there are many things that can go wrong with a book, both fiction and non-fiction, that a professional editor can help a writer correct. The errors can be everything from subtle to glaring that the writer may be too blind to see, making a masterpiece not so masterful.
The relationship between an editor and writer is a crucial one. A good editor can get into the depths of a story, to dig into the minds of the characters, and even crawl inside the writer’s head understanding what the author intended, making a home there if the writer graciously allows them in. They can tell the writer what is working, what makes the reader stop reading, what is annoying, what will make it better, etcetera. That part of editing can make or break a book and the future of a new author in the writing game.
Presently, I’m a writer at a small press and I work with a professional editor, who thankfully points out or corrects those kinds of things, saving me from pulling out my hair, and preventing me from being publicly humiliated. I check my ego into a locker and allow her to do her job. She draws my attention to areas where I may need to write more, and, sometimes, to write less.
Yes. Excising my remarkable prose may be painful, but necessary, which does make me wonder whether it’s not quite as wonderful as I believe it is. Truth is the hardest thing to take. Then I remember, I did check that ego. That snarky thing is behind a locked door, and I refuse to let it out to play. Phew! My editor can even say that a character wouldn’t do certain things, and if my mystery failed to explain certain points to help the reader keep up with the story, or whether it works at all. She admonishes me to dig deeper and solve the problem, massage those words until they squeak. She’s had me write more chapters to get it right, and take ones out that don’t add to the story.
I don’t want to know what it would be like to not have her at my side. She’s my conscience. She keeps me true to the story and my characters. I revere her opinion as much as I revere my husband’s, which is a great deal. Because of her honesty, we are friends, and I listen to her advice, taking it seriously, understanding that she wants me to be successful and will do whatever it takes to get me there. Do we disagree? Sometimes, but rarely. On those occasions we discuss it and find our way through it with a great deal of humor and affection. I remain open, willing to take her advice, and she’s willing to listen to my explanations. Suffice it to say, she gets me, and I love that. But, this comes from working with the same person, over and over again, with a relationship flowering into one that helps me write better with her encouragement.
I read once about a famous author saying that the one person who mattered to them in the business of writing books was their editor. They couldn’t stop singing their praises, feeling that without them they wouldn’t be able to produce a saleable book. I’m there. I’m so there. I realize that I can let my ego out to play when I receive good reviews because I let my editor help me, and didn’t let my ego rule when it counted.
Now, on to the advice. Having read several books written by self-published authors who’ve been edited by friends or the myriad of editors putting up their shingles on many social media sites, I can safely say the profession is in trouble unless they have some sort of certification. I caution all new writers to be careful when paying for editorial services, and when they find a good one not to go the cheap route. It pays in the long run to find someone who has some professional experience at a publishing house, and to receive a thorough editing for content and grammar.
Self-published authors often try to cheap out. A perfect example is a book I read that had so many exclamation points that I’m positive there were more of them than periods. And the sheer number of adulations the characters expressed to each other began to make me annoyed, then angry, then sad. It forced me to skip over most of the dialogue to find the story, like the sex scenes in Fifty Shades of Grey everyone had to skip over because they were boring, redundant, and stupid.
Frankly, I couldn’t even write a bad review for it. The mess needed a thorough rewrite to just qualify as a book. A good editor would have told this writer to go back to her typewriter, delete 99.9% of that kind of dialogue, and to make the conversations reveal more of the story rather than have the characters engage in incessant flattery, which reveals nothing except that the author craves compliments. The story fell flat because of it, and I fault both editor and author.
I did finally come to the conclusion, after slogging through the story without being pricked by all the exclamation points, that this writer was taken to the cleaners by her so-called editor. Yes, the grammar was correct. So, was the punctuation and the spelling, even with all the exclamation points. But, a good editor is more than that. If she had hired a professional, the editor would have told her to go back and rewrite it, to dig into the heart of the story and pull out the meaning, then submit it. I can only assume that the author believed her work only needed to be checked for those particular things, and paid the minimum to achieve the state it was in, and the unprofessional hack complied because they wanted the money.
Once again, I wish to warn all you self-published writers out there to have an editor do more than check for grammar and punctuation. Every book requires more than the minimum to sell, to be successful, to make a reader want to recommend the book to a friend or family member, and to return to buy the next one, if the author makes it that far. So much for self-publishing, and self-appointed editors trolling for the selfies business.
Don’t forget that authors and editors go hand in hand. They belong together, and are an intricate part of the book selling business, of your book selling efforts. Authors don’t stand alone. Without editors we would have excessive exclamation points and stories that fall on their faces, breaking their wee noses into bloody messes, and humiliated in front of the world. Editors are God’s gift to us writers, and I say a prayer that they never go away. So, check that ego, hire a professional, and take their recommendations seriously. You might just write that next masterpiece.
Order your copy today: http://www.amazon.com/Truth-Nothing-But-Lies/dp/0992883601