Posted by : Sherri Cornelius Wednesday, November 18, 2009

So I have this editing job. I haven't decided yet if it's a good idea to associate my writer persona with my editing persona, so I won't be linking to or mentioning the company by name in this post. I've learned some things that would benefit my author friends, so I thought I'd share in a vague, generic way.

First of all, it's not like a critique. In a critique you can say things like, "I can't follow the action in this scene," and then leave it up to the author to figure out why. That's perfectly acceptable, because as the critic you're doing the author a favor, and they'll take what you have to offer. As an editor, I have to figure out exactly what confuses me about the action, and then say that. Saying it is the hard part. If I do my job right, the solution will be obvious to the author, even if I haven't suggested a solution. Which ties in with my next point.

Editing is a balance of telling the author what to do and letting her decide how to do it. Except in the case of punctuation, where there is a right way and a wrong way, but even then if she feels strongly about leaving out a specific comma, that's ultimately her decision. I have to be very careful about rewriting anything. If I can't move around phrases she's already used to fix it, I leave a suggested fix in a comment, then she can either take my advice as is, change it another way, or tell me to take a flying leap. Although the last one on that list might be counter-productive, since I'm an impartial observer (or at least as impartial as anyone can be), and I'm only here to make her look better. Which leads to...

The editor is there to correct mistakes, no doubt. But among some authors there's this attitude of, "So I don't know how to punctuate a sentence correctly, that's what editors are for." Let me take a moment to point out I've not yet edited an author with this attitude, but I've seen it around in the blogosphere. But let me tell you something, dear authors, this attitude is stupid. STUPID. If my harsh words pull one author away from this abyss, they will be worth it. Not only is it good to know your craft inside and out for your craft's sake, but there's a practical purpose for knowing the nuts and bolts, and then putting them into practice BEFORE sending it to your editor.

If I have your manuscript for 20 days, and I spend the full 20 helping you polish your words, you are going to have one tight, well-written book. A tight, well-written book will increase your reputation, generate better word-of-mouth, ergo selling more books and creating more fans. However, if I have to spend seven of those days correcting hundreds or even thousands of typos which could easily have been found before the ms came to me, then you are getting only 13 days of word polishing. We might only have time for plot and eliminating confusion, and very little time for word choices and flow.

So those are the observations I have so far. I'm sure I'll have more as I go along, and maybe even change my mind about some of those up there. (Except for the last one. Since I basically called everyone who doesn't agree with me an idiot I'll have to stick by it. It's true anyway.) I'm getting the education of a lifetime, being on this side of things.

{ 13 comments... read them below or Comment }

  1. I think your "harsh words" are not only true, but accurate. It's STUPID for someone to claim to be a writer if they can't properly form a sentence, including punctuation. The whole "that's what editors are for" mentality probably only exists among UNpublished authors.

    Can you guess why?

    When I got that response from someone about correcting things like punctuation, my response was, "Oh, you don't need to worry about that; with writing like this, you'll never GET to an editor."

    That's harsh. What you said is just true.

    A lot of so-called "writers" don't want to take the time to get into the details of the craft. I can't understand that. The claim is, a story doesn't have to have proper spelling and grammar and punctuation to be a good story. My counter-argument has always been you can't TELL a good story WITHOUT those things! ARRGH!

    Good insights. I think we're pretty well in agreement.

    What you said about critique is interesting, though. A post about that would be worthwhile too, if you're so inclined. :)

  2. I just noticed this post published 4 times. Heh.

    You were the inspiration for this post, Knyt, and now you've given me fodder for the next one. If I come to you with my hand out for the one after that, remember you spoiled me. :)

  3. Thank you! *applause*

    I've seen those people around too, mostly on another site, but that attitude of "that's what editors are for" is annoying even for me, and I'm not in the business. It's akin to a lawyer saying he doesn't need a law degree to practice law, that's what juries are for. Insanity!

    Bottom line, you have to know the nuts and bolts of your craft, or it's not your craft and you're just a pretender. All it is, is laziness, people who don't want to learn how to spell at this point in their lives and think they can make it the editor's job to do the heavy lifting.

    If I was able, I'd send the work back with a note - no editing until the words are spelled correctly. I'm an editor, not a secretary who takes dictation.

  4. Oh, ps and you can delete this, but your post came through 4 times in my reader, and I think you have 4 copies on your blog - this one was the only 1 with a comment.

  5. I'm thinking you have a future in editing, blogging about writing/editing, and perhaps even being an agent! I like your voice in these posts alot- friendly yet firm.

  6. Wow, thank you Sarah! What a kind thing to say. I think I would enjoy having a regular job where I can beat writers into submission--er, I mean, gently guide writers TO submissions. Or something like that.

    Fal, I saw that, I don't know what happened there! It's fixed now.

    And I wish it were that simple, just sending it back. Something tells me a person with that attitude would make the editing that much more difficult in that case. I'm so lucky all my authors have been open to suggestion so far. I truly appreciate them.

  7. How did you get this job? Do you do it from home? What are the qualifications?

  8. I think it would be hard for me to be patient with a "writer" who couldn't put a sentence together propoerly.

  9. Indeed. And I'm not especially patient anyway.

    Yellowcat, I replied to you via email.

  10. Very well written I agree one hundred percent!

  11. That's great, Sherri. You will learn your craft just that much better by helping others with theirs. But I can understand some frustration around not even attempting good grammar, punctuation, etc. Good luck with it!

  12. Mistakes embarrass me. I teach English and I still make amazing mistakes--though I try to catch them. Of course, the reason I bother people like you is so fresh eyes can look at my work and say, "It's you're not your.

    This is a great post. It reminds me how I try to convince my students not to rely on spell check--useful but not everything. And grammar check--forget it!

    I want to look professional, not sloppy. Now if I could only wrestle those unsightly commas to the ground...

  13. You, my dear, have nothing to worry about in that department. We care whether we look sloppy, and that's the difference.

    I guess the nano pressure's off, eh? Good to see you back.


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