Editing Etiquette

Growing frustration

Writers and editors have a love-hate relationship. Okay, sometimes it can feel like a hate-hate relationship. Writers all know they need to be edited, but getting the manuscript back with those edits can be more painful than passing a kidney stone. And editors know they need to respect the author’s voice and style, but seriously? They want to use an em dash where? Generally speaking, though, we work things out. We talk it through, wrestle our disagreements to the ground, and come out pretty much unscathed. And the manuscript is the better for it.

But what happens when the writer disagrees with the edit? When, in fact, the writer feels the edit has changed his voice, or that the editor has so “corrected” things like grammar, phrasing, and punctuation that it’s no longer her book. Trust me, I’ve been there.

I still remember receiving one of my novels, opening it with great anticipation–and reading a sentence that was written in a way that I’d been teaching writers for years NOT to write. I went back to my version of the edited, author-approved manuscript, and the sentence was NOT written as it ended up in the book. I was on the phone in a matter of seconds, having a heated conversation with the in-house editor, who explained that a new copyeditor had worked on it and they’d discovered too late that this person had “corrected” a number of novels in ways that angered a number of writers. Happily, those things were corrected in the next printing. Unhappily, there are books out there that make it seem like I was saying, “Do what I say, not what I do.” Argh!

Thank heaven those kinds of circumstances are rare. But lately, I’ve heard a number of writers talking about how they wish an editor hadn’t made this change or that change. And that got me to thinking. Are we who have been involved in editing a long time preparing authors well for the editing process? So here, for your perusal, are some tips for getting through the editing process with grace—and being happy with the final version of your book.

  1. Before the editing starts, ask your editor for a conversation. Use this time to help the editor know why you wrote the book, what’s important to you about it, and what you feel are your specific “quirks” as a writer. What makes or breaks your voice. And remember, a good editor is there to help and serve you, to draw out your best and truest voice and story. Say it with me, now: “My editor is my ally.”
  2. Put together a style sheet to send the author with your unedited manuscript. Basically, you’d list any style notes (e.g., author prefers deity pronouns capped or Author detests using semicolons. Please do not insert them. Or Because this is a work of fiction, grammatical errors abound in the dialogue. That’s intentional on the author’s part for authentic speech patterns. Please do not fix them. ) That will give the editor clear direction right up front.
  3. Go into the process with a teachable spirit. The collaboration that takes place during the editing process can make you a stronger writer, either by refining your craft or by helping you better understand your own voice as a writer. Did I mention your editor is your ally?
  4. If you get your edited manuscript back, and you see edits you don’t agree with, you are the final call. It’s your book. Just realize two things:
    1. Make sure you understand why the editor was suggesting the change. It may be that you don’t like their solution, but the problem does need to be addressed. If that’s the case, go ahead and find a solution that works for you.
    2. Realize that some edits may be made because of the publishing house style or guidelines. If those are some of the edits you can’t live with, you can still say no. But realize if you do so the publisher may say they won’t publish the book without the changes. That’s an extreme situation, but it can happen. So you have to decide if it’s a hill to die on, and if it’s important enough for you to walk away.
  5. Be sure you deal with any issues during the edit. Don’t wait until you get galley proofs to say, “You know, that edited paragraph has been bugging me since it was first changed. I’d like to strike it entirely.” That’s the kind of thing that can make people in house crazy. (And it can end up costing you money to make those kinds of changes that late in the process.) Be honest with your editor. Respectful, but honest. (One more time now, your editor is your…?)
  6. Understand that editors are humans (Now stop that! Yes, they are!), and they come to the editing process with their own preferences and agendas. I’m not saying they purpose to do things that will make you grind your teeth, but sometimes we’re put together with an editor who isn’t the best match, such as someone who prefers a more academic tone to your casual, conversational writing style. Don’t be afraid to stand firm for your voice, your story, your characters, whatever. Be ready and willing to discuss, even debate, to get your point across. But do so with kindness and patience.
  7. Make sure you put your requests for changes in writing. And keep copies of those emails, manuscripts, whatever. There may come a time when you realize a change wasn’t made, or that one was made after you approved the manuscript, and documentation can give you a much better chance of getting things changed back to what you feel is best—and what you asked for in the first place.

Anyway, those are some tips to help during the editing process.

How about you? Any thoughts or tips that have made being edited easier?

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10 Things Every Writer Should Do

  I’m a list person. In part, that’s because said lists serve to bump my memory when it gets…um…lost. But I also just love lists—especially lists of things you should (or shouldn’t) do. So here, for your perusal, are my top ten things every writer should do every day: Stretch …

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Chapters: How Long is Too Long?

I’ve had a number of people ask me lately how long their chapters should be. My answer has been: “As long as they need to be.” Now, it would be nice if I could give folks the “industry-standard” answer: “Chapters should be no less than xx and no longer than …

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How Much Back Story?

Sometimes in my review of a novel, I find that the story doesn’t pick up soon enough. I’m not sure what I’ll be reading about and my interest may lag, though I can still eye great writing.

“But I wanted my readers to know about my characters,” the author may protest.

Understandable, indeed.

However, I believe it’s important to lay out the basic conflicts for the reader early on so she’ll know what she’ll be exploring with you and will be eager to keep diving in. Before I learn that the hero had a difficult childhood and the heroine struggles with lingering effects of poverty, I want to know their immediate obstacles to their current goals. Those goals may be (whether they know it or not) their ultimate romance. Or they may be involved in a quest. Or perhaps solving a mystery. In any event, the reader wants to know what type of book he’ll be reading and will want to learn what obstacles he’ll be overcoming with the characters right away. Then, once the reader is interested in the characters’ journey, their back story will be all the more fascinating and relevant.

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The Right (Size) Stuff

One hundred and fifty years ago this fall, President Abraham Lincoln delivered his famous Gettysburg Address on the site of the battle that turned the tide of the American Civil War.  It was 270 words and took two minutes to deliver.

Not as memorable was the 13,600-word oratory by American statesman Edward Everett that lasted for two hours prior to Lincoln’s epic speech. In fact, the program for that November 19, 1863 event consisted of eight elements…four songs, two prayers, Everett’s speech and a few words from the President.

History elevated those two minutes by the President to some of the greatest words ever spoken. The rest of the program is all but forgotten.

Recently I was in an airport terminal waiting to board a flight and the well-intentioned airline employee picked up the really bad microphone and began explaining the boarding procedure for my flight in tremendous detail.

Fifteen minutes later (I am not kidding, I timed it) the announcement was finished.

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Your Writing Team: Freelance Editors

You’ve heard the old saying, “Can’t see the forest for the trees”? In other words, you can see each tree, take note of the beautiful leaves and strong branches, but because you’re focused on them you don’t see the whole forest. The big picture. And that, my friends, is where it helps to have freelance editors on your team.

Yes, for some, the editor role is filled by an in-house editor. But if that’s not the case for you, then I encourage you to consider bringing a freelance editor onto your team. You’ll be amazed at the benefits.

Good editors are a mix of coach and cheerleader. They look at your work front to back with an eye not only to the details you see, but to the big picture we often can’t see in our own work. I’m constantly amazed, and grateful, for the insights my editor brings to me as a writer. The way she can cut through the story that I’m so immersed in and pinpoint exactly what I’m doing wrong (coach mode)—and right (cheerleader mode).

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You Are Essential

On Sunday our pastor’s sermon was on 1 Corinthians 12:12-27. Although in this passage, St. Paul writes about how each person is a special part of the body of Christ, with a comparison to how all the parts of the human body work together, I couldn’t help but think of how essential we all are to the publishing process:

Writers: Without authors’ creativity and courage, no one would have a book to publish or to read.

Agents: Yes, it is possible to be published without an agent. But because of the nature of publishing, few have the broad range of contacts and experience that an agent has to understand the nuances of the marketplace, each individual publishing house, the complex nature of contracts, the intricacies of the editorial process, and where each writer’s work will best fit.

Acquisitions Editors: From the many submissions editors receive, they are responsible for deciding which books are best suited for their houses to bring to the reading public.

Sales and Marketing Teams: They agree early in the process that they can sell an author’s book, and will present it it to book buyers. The marketing team works on getting the word out about the book.

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Editing the Bible

I always thought it was interesting that Christian publishers employed Bible editors.  Of course, they are not there to edit the Bible text, but to work on the extra-Bible notes and additional material that might end up in a study or devotional Bible.

It got me thinking that there is a lot of stuff in the Bible that is just downright disturbing if you want to maintain a simplistic easy-to-accept view of God.  So, if I set out to edit the Bible text, what material could I personally do without?  Here are some things I would rather not have in the Bible: (There are others, but these just come to mind)

Cain killing Abel episode in Genesis 4 Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis 19 Numbers 14:26-33 – Moses and Aaron are not allowed to enter the promised land. Isaiah 55:8 – My thoughts are not your thoughts… Matthew 6:12, Matthew 6:14-15 – If you don’t forgive others, then I won’t forgive you. Matthew 7 – Judge not Luke 12: 49-53 – Jesus causes division. Acts 5 – Ananias and Sapphira If you do all things well, but not love, the truth is not in you (1 Cor. 13:1-3) And the toughest passage in the Bible…”I never knew you” in Matthew 7:23

Of course, this is tongue-in-cheek, but I have always felt that one of the facts that validate the authenticity of Scripture is that it contains real life.  Let’s face it, most of Scripture is the story of sinful people doing sinful things and God responding, with the ultimate response (so far) in the atoning work of Jesus Christ.

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Preach it! (or Not)

Last summer my family and I flew to South Korea and back so we needed to fill several hours with entertainment. Korean Air provides a selection of movies, so I decided to view “Gentleman’s Agreement” since I’d never seen this classic film.

I knew the story addressed the evils of anti-semitism. Of course, I am opposed to anti-semitism so I have no problem with a story coming from this viewpoint. But as for the film itself — though I’m sure some will disagree with me — I found it disappointing. I felt the story portrayed the message in such a heavy-handed way that the lesson overpowered the drama. I fell asleep mid-way through the film.

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E is for Editor

by Steve Laube

Your editor can be your best friend in the industry (besides your agent, of course). Or your editor can be your worst enemy.

Bad Side First

An editor who doesn’t reply to your email inquiries or return your phone calls is either ignoring you on purpose or is so busy with other pressing matters they can’t get to yours. If you have this problem make sure you didn’t create it in the first place by incessantly poking your editor with minor questions. It is likely many of your questions can be answered by your agent, unless they are related to the specific editing of your manuscript.

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