Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Editors. (Take a deep breath. Everything's all right.)

Does working with editors turn you into the defensive, angry, self-righteous author? Here are four things to tell your ego when the evil editor complex strikes.

1. They’re editors, not readers.

The editors that you choose to let start cutting into your work are not reading the piece on a beach on their vacation. If the only feedback is “It’s interesting, I like it a lot,” they are not being an editor. An editor doesn’t read a piece to enjoy it was a reader. They’re reading it to find weak spots – to make it better. It can be crushing to hear “Wow this needs a lot of work,” from an editor. You already put in a lot of work, after all. But trust me, it takes a lot of work to get to a point where it needs more, so don’t be discouraged.

2. Being defensive defies the purpose.

I like it when writers get a little defensive, but not when they completely shut out everything the editor suggests. I’ve worked on projects as an editor when the author is so adamant, I just stop making suggestions. So what’s the point of the editor if that happens? It’s a waste of everyone’s time. The great thing about being a self-publisher is that you really do have the last word. You don’t have to take all the suggestions an editor gives. But don’t let the suggestions you aren’t going to use interfere with the suggestions you should!

3. You are the expert and nothing changes that.

As a self-publisher, I don’t have the resources to pay a professional editor, but I do have a team of a select few readers that have editing strengths in different areas. Some have studied literature, some have not. Some have worked in the writing field, some have not. Just because someone has a degree in literature doesn’t mean they know more than you. I witnessed a lot of English degree people that didn’t read the books they were assigned in lit classes. That’s all lit classes are! How do you learn anything about literature if you don’t read? A degree doesn’t make you. A degree is what you make it. I’m going on six years studying literature and writing. I have my degree and I continue to read, edit other people’s work, and practice my own writing. When I get overwhelmed with suggestions I need to remember to trust my own knowledge, skills, and intuition. On the flipside I’ve gotten great advice from people who know what time it is and know way more than me. You know when you get suggestions from someone brilliant, and that’s great. But you should still be the expert when it comes to what’s best for the audience, the story, the characters, and the whole point of the book. It’s up to you to take suggestions, leave suggestions, and do the piece justice.

4. If you were holding the red pen, you’d be doing the same thing.

People have asked me what would happen if I launched my own publishing company and were the chief editor. Well. Everything would have to get past me. And I’m picky, rigid, unforgiving and terribly honest. But as a writer, I can’t always give that terribleness to myself, because I truly can’t see the forest for the trees. So I put my trust in the editors I choose to give it back to me. And when that makes me insecure or discourages me, I have to remember that I would do the same thing. And it isn’t for some power trip, it isn’t to tear an author down, it isn’t to rewrite the piece for them – it’s to make the piece better. It can always be better. I’ve said that as long as there’s a book I haven’t read, there are things about writing I haven’t learned. And as long as there’s an Ursula Le Guin book on my shelf, there’s proof I can be better. I don’t know why I can dish so much of it, but get wobbly and panicky when it’s given back. But knowing my own motives in reading other people’s work makes me feel better about taking suggestions from others. It’s very psychological.

I’ll do another post on editor-philosophy at a later date. Until then I hope this softens a few porcupine quills when it comes to editing. If that metaphor makes any sense at all. Happy new year!

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