What editors do

February 14, 2016 at 12:48 pm

whateditorsdoI’ve been running my own private editing business for nearly four years now and prior to that I edited a newspaper/magazine and also some manuscripts for my publisher, Wombat Books/Rhiza Press. I think I do a pretty good job, all things considered. Of course, no single editor is going to suit everybody, but I’d like to think I’m good at helping people improve their books. I’ve certainly received positive feedback in my time and I know I’ve had some referrals based on the work I’ve done for some of my satisfied clients.

However, it’s always the ones who don’t like me that stick in my mind the most. Like just this week. I did a sample edit for a client so he could see the kind of work I do. When reading his novel, I noticed he had some problems with point of view. This is when an author jumps from one person’s point of view to another quickly, often several times in the same scene. It’s something that traditional publishers are strict about these days, as it annoys many readers (it certainly annoys me when I’m reading!). Also, there was a section when he was doing a lot of ‘telling’ rather than ‘showing’. This means he was just relating what happened as if he was filling you in quickly on what the characters are doing, rather than let the scene play out before the reader’s eyes. There were some other paragraphs that I tweaked a bit because I thought they could be better, but all in all, I thought, with a bit of work, he could have a pretty good manuscript on his hands.

However, it was clear by his reply that he didn’t agree with my assessment. He said (and I’m paraphrasing a little): ‘It’s clear that you have no understanding of the way to write a rural romance. I’m glad I sought out the opinion of a professional editor, or I wouldn’t have realised how much they drastically try and alter an author’s voice.’

Obviously not someone who’s going to become a regular client!

Looking back, I honestly don’t think I was too harsh on him. But unfortunately, some people seem to think that an editor is just going to correct a few spelling mistakes here and there and tell you your book is wonderful. No, correcting only spelling mistakes and punctuation errors is a proofreader’s job. My job is to tell you what’s wrong with your novel and what you need to fix up to make it the best it can be.

Yes, editors can be harsh sometimes. But guess what? The reader will be worse to you than we can ever be if they don’t like your book. Wait until you get your first negative review. Of course, every book, no matter how good, will usually receive a negative review from someone, but if you don’t listen to your editor, you could be getting a lot more than that, and you may end up with a bad reputation as an author. That will ruin any chance you have of doing well in this industry.

You don’t have to do everything your editor says. Sometimes it is just their opinion and yours will be better, as you understand your story better than anyone else. However, there’s a reason we’ve become professionals. It’s usually because we know what we’re doing. So if you ignore everything we say it likely won’t bode well for your book. Keep an open mind. Yes, we’re telling you your baby’s in need of drastic surgery, but sometimes that’s necessary in order for them to have the best and longest life possible.

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