When I tell people I’m an editor, I get some interesting comments…
“Wow, you must really know how to spell great!”
“So, what, you fix commas and stuff?”
“An editor, huh? Don’t you get tired of rewriting other people’s stuff?”
“Don’t you get tired of reading?”
“Wow, so you get to tell authors what to do, huh?”
What’s especially interesting to me is that some of these comments aren’t, as you might expect, from people outside of the writing or publishing world. Which made me wonder how well writers understand the different editing tasks and the people who perform them. As you may have guessed, that will be the topics of my next few blogs. But before I jump in, I wanted to pick your writers’ brains and see what you think. So let’s hear it, friends.
What do you all see as an editor’s job?
More than that, if you were to hire an editor, what would you want that person to do?
An editor should read my work and tell me what to change to make it more interesting, exciting, relevant, etc. I would also expect that editor to tell me what I have done well. A good editor should point out my unintended grammar and punctuation errors because I do make many.
The grammar comments could be me! But also I see an editor as eyes, outside my own brain, on a mission to make my manuscript more clear. After smoothing my ruffled ego, I find the editor improved the wording or identified rough transitions in my written thoughts. Looking forward to your series, Karen!
Thanks, Sharon. Love the part about smoothing your ruffled ego. 🙂
Brennan S. McPherson
When recording an album, a producer is the guy (or gal) who sits down with the band (or individual artist), mulls over every song, and the creative vision for every song and the album as a whole. The producer comes to understand who the band (or artist) is and what they’re trying to accomplish, and then helps them achieve their goals while making them more marketably viable by polishing the rough spots they either don’t have the experience or objectivity to see. I see the editor as the “producer” of a book, in that sense, or at least a co-producer.
In editing my novel, all the editors or proofreaders did was imbed suggestions/comments into the draft in a Microsoft Word doc (or later a typeset PDF). I still reviewed every single one and made decisions on how to address every issue. Of course, there was an editorial director overseeing that as well, and he caught my back on a few silly decisions I made, but overall, I was involved in every single step of the journey, making important decisions the whole way. There’s absolutely no doubt that the editor, proofreaders, and editorial director made the book immensely better than I ever could have alone, and they were absolutely necessary, but it seems to me that authors need to see themselves as co-editors if they expect to see their vision really attained. There are so many creative decisions that go into a full-length book, and neither an author nor an editor can make all those alone. It’s a collaborative process.
Brennon, that’s a key point: collaboration. Thanks!
Oops. Make that Brennan. See? I need an editor too!
As a writer in a non-fiction genre, I would be looking for an editor to primarily assess the content and call attention to areas of redundancy, overlap, or where the content simply didn’t match the intention of the work. Secondarily, I would hope the editor would call attention to my writing style and give suggestions on how to improve it for clarity, flow, and readability. Lastly, I would hope the editor would catch the grammatical errors and type-o’s, although that may be more the particular job of a proof-reader (I’m not sure if there is a sharp dividing line always between the two). I’m looking forward to learning more about this work Karen – thanks!
I’m going to address those very dividing lines. Thanks for the lead-in, Peter!
An editor should be able to review a manuscript and make suggestions for improvement. They should present a realistic picture of the story’s strengths and weaknesses and be able to answer the author’s questions with educated opinions. Finally, they should be clear on what work will or will not be done, and the cost to perform that work.
Realistic picture…educated opinions…be clear. Shoot, Tom, you’re writing my blog for me! Thanks. 🙂
As a Christian romance writer, I’d like an editor to read my work and then give it to me straight on what to improve in all areas.
Erin Hawley Cronin
Great comments so far, re: grammar, plot, strengths and weaknesses, etc. . .. In addition, I would hope an editor would help me make sure my work is up to industry standards. Also, I would hope they would comment on whether I need to make changes in order to better reach my target audience.
Ah, industry standards. You guys are spot on!
When setting out to publish a book, I feel it of great importance to get to know the story. What motivates the characters. Understand the author and why she/he felt compelled to write the story.
Then, of course, make sure it all works, and brings the reader a well put-together read.
That would include: bringing to the author’s attention errors in and improvements to the overall elements of style.
Does the book arc, climax and resolve? Point out any areas this does not exist.
Does the prose flow?
Thank you. I am looking forward to the upcoming blogs! 🙂
I’m just loving these comments. Motivation, well put-tother read, elements of style, resolutions, flow…
Great points, Laura.
I envision (haven’t actually had one yet) that an editor would point out weak areas in my story, reveal plot holes, give suggestions how to strengthen it, and maybe point out some grammatical flaws? Looking forward to your posts!
I’m the editor for a small newsletter put out by a nonprofit. When I edit the newsletter, I look for errors, certainly, but I also look at the big picture. Is everything in this edition consistent and congruous? Does it “work” as a whole? Is it pleasing to the eye? Several different articles or news bits may be fine on their own, but sometimes they just don’t work when put together, for one reason or another. My job is to make it work.
I guess I picture a book editor doing much the same kind of thing. Even though a book is obviously not the same as a newsletter, a book editor still has the same sort of job: to make it work.
Big Picture and Smaller Picture. Absolutely.
Did you peek at my blog for next week?
It depends on where I am in my writing. There are different kinds of editors – content, line-by-line, etc. I had one editor show me weaknesses in my story and another took a passage from my book and dealt with it word-by-word pointing out weak verbs, etc. My goal is to get my rough draft in good shape so the editor has little to do.
In a broad sense I’ve always considered editors to help refine and polish books. They lend an educated eye and point to the flaws or weak points in our writing, which obstruct the story.
My main concern would be the editor’s opinion on the plot points, characterization and if the theme resonates without being overstated. That’s the main bones of a story, so it’s most important to me.
Linda Riggs Mayfield
Karen, Here’s another viewpoint from someone who both edits and writes:
I’m a professional research and writing consultant whose primary work is helping doctoral scholars design their research studies and write their proposals and dissertations. They are highly intelligent specialists in their particular fields, but are not strong enough writers to complete a successful dissertation. I’ve also edited two self-published books for clients, one non-fiction, and the other a brilliant historical novel.
Just as writers might expect different things from an editor, as an editor, I expect to do different things for my clients, as well. I do not believe it would be ethical for me to do formal research or writing for a doctoral scholar’s dissertation, since s/he will receive academic credit for doing it, and producing it is supposed to be the evidence of expertise. I stipulate that in my contract. But if I see something in the content that I question, or that seems incomplete, I do a quick search and inform the client of what I found, with a URL s/he can access. I call what I do “substantive editing”: I identify everything I think needs correction or improvement, then teach the writer how to do what needs to be done–all online. The goal is that by the time the dissertation is done, the scholar’s writing has become much better than it was when s/he started the process, because that person has actually done the work.
In contrast, for the novel I edited, which had a fabulous story line and compelling characters but horrific mechanics of writing, I divided the pages-long-narratives into paragraphs, re-wrote whole sections, and even re-arranged the sequence of the chapters, in addition to making the many nitty-gritty spelling, punctuation, and syntax corrections. The author gave me free rein and he was so pleased with the result that he did nothing else to it after I finished. He passed away before he could submit it for consideration for publication, however. His heirs aren’t interested in it, and I think the public missed a great read.
Pieces I’ve submitted for academic publication and for the newspaper column I write have gone through peer review, then review by an in-house editor, before publication. I can make changes in the articles after the peer review, but the editor has the final say. (I’ve been shocked a few times when I saw in print in the Sunday paper what had been added, deleted, or changed!) 🙂 The non-fiction writer tended to want to argue with me about suggested changes, and I don’t do that. I say what I think, based on my own expertise, then the author makes the decisions.
When I write fiction, I ask someone with expertise to critically read it before I submit it. They ALWAYS see things I missed. I appreciate and depend on that input, but do my own rewriting.
So–I encourage anyone who hasn’t worked with an editor before to be sure to mutually understand the expectations VERY clearly, and not hesitate to state exactly what you want and need. Food for thought? 🙂
Pastor pete 51
Whwn you say the word editor I have memories of my Mom who was a sci-fi writer. After she had a few short stories published she dove into the work of a full length novel. She was so excited to find that it was accepted for publication with Avalon with the caveat of cutting the length from one hundred thousand words to fifty thousand. Mom was so mad as she thundered out the rewritten manuscript on her old Royal typewriter! But she did what the editor required and she went on to publish another seven titles.
I desire a partner to bring fresh eyes to my novel with the ability to see and disclose what I am missing whether that be grammatical mistakes or plot discrepancies. But above all, I would select an editor that brings encouragement, a caring guide to direct my path through the harder portion of publishing. As each editor has their own style and pet-peeves, I would love to find a way to discover those traits ahead of time. It would be wise for authors to understand each editor’s idiosyncrasies before selecting to work together.
LOL, Gail. Always fascinating to see what people post here, huh? I’m guessing those two comments will disappear soon. If not, well, great examples of what NOT to do.
And you’re spot on in what an editor would have to do with it.
I want an editor that loves my work including every single wonderful word and punctuation mark. NOT. I want an editor that doesn’t see anything wrong with anything I do and has nothing but praise for the work. NOT.
Personally, the editor I want to partner with should be able to see in my work what I do not. She should make suggestions and remember, though her opinions are valuable, I’m the writer. The goal is to make the work better, not different.
As an editor, I read a manuscript for flow and content and unintended errata.
When I find things that need fixing, I comment with the reason as well as some suggested fixes.
Spelling and grammar errors get the rule in the comments. Additional instances of the same error simply get a reminder.
My purpose is stated on my card:
“Editing with an eye to perfection and total respect for the author’s voice and vision.”
My goal is to partner with the writer to make the manuscript as compelling as possible.
In my experience, the editor is a magical person who prevents me from showing my bare bottom to the world. This magical person sends back changes that make me sound far more awesome than I am. The editor tightens up my writing and throws out all the lame and unnecessary stuff. In summary, the editor is my BFF.
Rachel E. Newman, CP
LOL! I love your description. When an author and editor work together, it truly can feel like magic!
Rachel E. Newman, CP
Thanks for this post! As a freelance editor, it was nice to read the expectations authors have for their editors. I am impressed that so many of the comments showed a good understanding of what an editor has to offer.
I always make sure my written agreements with authors spell out exactly what’s expected. I would hate to have a client who felt like I didn’t understand what they wanted me to do. So far communications have been spot on! What a blessing!
Boghos L. Artinian MD
I wrote a poem the usual way,
but the editor took some words away,
added others within its confines
and changed the order of some lines.
Initially, I was offended –
thought harassment was intended.
Then his version I read again and again,
to notice that my ideas it did retain,
and genuine emotions it aroused
that my bardic aspirations did espouse.
Thus I initialed the modified form,
for, to be published one must conform.
Boghos L. Artinian