January 19, 2012

An Editor and an Author: Partners in Prose

Pamela Hearon, Danielle Thorne, Laurean Brooks, Linda Swift. Murray State University Bookstore Book Signing Event, October 2011

Nearing my fifteenth anniversary in the online publishing world, I recently had time to think about being not only a writer, but an editor, too. Like love and marriage, you can't have one without the other. Okay, maybe you can... 

I'm currently editing full time for two different electronic publishing houses, and have edited for websites and review content. Years ago, I also provided a critique service, but I've found editing more to my liking over coaching. Writing is a lonely journey, and like it or not, I've learned that the best education is experience. Try and try again. 

This past year was very busy, banging out two to three edits a month. Not an ideal schedule for me, as I really like to be thorough, but one of the happy benefits of being a content editor means the manuscript will still go to copy editing. 

The biggest headache for me, and luckily it was rare, were the assignments that put me in contact with difficult authors who felt like they needed to double-check every change I suggested with their friends. The worse issues arose, when authors took out all of the changes and reverted the manuscript back to its original state, mistakes and all.

Now I don't claim to come close to knowing everything. I'm not a walking copy of The Chicago Manuel of Style, but I do have years of experience and good extinct for what works and what doesn’t. I'd be lying if I said I didn't feel a twinge when an author contests my suggestions and then goes on to have poor sales. As I said, experience is the best teacher. 

On the other hand, I've been the author with the editor who had a God complex. There is nothing worse than being assigned to an editor who goes beyond suggestions and corrections and attacks your voice--through altering phrases or rewriting sentences to suit their own ideas. This can be heart breaking. Especially when contentions arise. More often than not, in these situations, the final copies of the manuscript end up being a mess. Luckily, most of my editors have been awesome, but when I find myself in these situations it makes me reflect on how I handle editing for other writers. I've easily decided that the Golden Rule applies to everyone--especially editors.

Reading can bring great joy. If you love to write, I encourage you to pursue any of your literary dreams. As an author, I hope you will be open-minded when you find yourself working with an editor. Be thick-skinned as you go over critiques and take advice with a grain of salt. Allow them their experience, but have the courage to speak up for yourself when you disagree. There's no need to be rude, manipulative, or lie -- and don't allow your editor to treat you in that way. It's your work, and you deserve to have it be the best it can be. 

By honestly airing your concerns and keeping a calm, cool head as you discuss issues that arise, whether you are the author or the editor, you can be a part of creating a wonderful story that both project partners can be proud of.

~Danielle Thorne


Susan Roebuck said...

I have the utmost respect for professional editors and reviewers. Not only do you have to be able to read carefully but you have to convey your opinions (and advice) in the most diplomatic way.
I've heard nightmare stories of awful authors. For me, as an author, I'm more than happy to have someone give me constructive criticism and advice. It's the only way I can develop.

Laurel Hawkes said...

A good editor makes any story better, but it takes a certain amount of self confidence on the part of the author to realize it, and embrace it. Thanks for the point of view, on both sides.