If you’re a writer, or if you know one, what I’m about to say is something you’ve heard before in one way or another.
Being a writer is great. Sharing your writing with people, though equally great, is taxing on your nerves. Letting people read your work is like letting them see you naked, and I don’t just mean you hope they’re going to like what they see without focusing on the flaws. I also mean you’re exposing yourself to people in a way you’re not always accustomed to or comfortable with. That’s particularly true when it comes to accepting criticism of your work, the constructive and the destructive. For many writers, their work is so personal it’s difficult to accept it could be flawed. That novel is your baby, and you won’t tolerate people putting your baby down.
Before I go any further, I should be clear. Editors can and do serve an important purpose when utilized appropriately. I just think we need to reshape the definition of what an editor is. For me, the editor can be that second pair of eyes that will catch the things I didn’t, usually a missing word or misspelled word. I’m sure I speak for many writers, myself included, when I say I don’t always catch the mistakes because my brain knows what’s supposed to be there which is what it allows my eyes to see. I’m also appreciative when the editor can point out the holes in my story. Chances are, if the editor is confused when reading the rest of the readers will be too. I’ve also recently discovered I have a tendency toward repetition of words, which an editor was able to catch and help me address.
My problems with editors are these:
First, I don’t appreciate it when an editor takes my story and turns it into his own. A suggestion to change a word here and there or tighten up a scene is one thing. Taking my paragraph, or even just one of my sentences, and making it his definition of better is something I take exception to. For instance, I had a line in my story which read ‘Danni didn’t have the heart to tell Marcy she had no chance of getting a date with Nick’. The editor changed my line to read ‘Danni lacked the courage to tell her friend there wasn’t any hope of Nick asking her out’. Okay, I know what you’re thinking. This sounds like a minor change. Why am I getting so worked up? I’ll tell you why. Number one, this is my story. I liked it my way. Number two, and on a more serious note, the characters of Danni and Marcy are seventeen. Danni is the main viewpoint character. Having been a teen once and being the parent of two teenage girls, I can tell you for a fact they don’t say they lack courage. This book is targeted to teens. Therefore, I want the protagonist to sound realistic.
Second, in speaking of my issue with editors, is how often I find their opinions will vary on the same subject. One editor told me that when use said tags in dialogue, publishers only want to see the words said, asked, and the occasional answered. As in, ‘I’m hungry,’ Mary said. The reason for this being that use of any other tag was telling the reader how to interpret the dialogue and writers should always show and not tell. After formatting my recent novel this way, a different editor suggested I invest in a thesaurus so that I could learn other ways to describe the said tags! According to this editor, reviewers and publishers wouldn’t take kindly to the repetition and readers wouldn’t be able to get a feel for how the characters were feeling when they spoke the words. Are you kidding me here?
And the differences don’t stop there. One editor says not to hyphenate time. It’s seven thirty, not seven-thirty. Another changes all of my instances of time to include the hyphens. This editor says don’t use adverbs, especially not in describing dialogue. Don’t say John spoke angrily. That editor says I have to use the adverbs, especially in dialogue, so that readers will know John was angry when he spoke. The most perplexing suggestion of all was the editor who told me I should never use contractions in the narrative of a novel and should confine them to the dialogue only. Having never heard this before, I took to the internet for some research only to find I’m not the only writer to receive this little nugget. My research also uncovered that using contractions in narrative isn’t the taboo some editors believe it to be. Many successful novelists employ the use of contractions in narrative passages, which means… You guessed it! The use of contractions in this instance is subjective and one of personal preference.
My third problem with editors is the nature of their job. They’re supposed to take a writer’s work and make it better. No other artist has to suffer this torture. No one told Michelangelo how to paint the Sistine Chapel ceiling. I’m sure no one told Picasso that blue was a terrible color and devoting an entire period to it was pointless. Okay, to be fair, these artists are deceased and I can’t ask them if they endured these crude suggestions. However, I’ve never heard of this happening to any other kind of artist, only to the writer.
So, what’s the point of this rant other than unloading some no doubt obvious bitterness? It’s to educate the writer. If you haven’t learned by now, you will learn that writing and publishing that writing is a subjective business. One man’s trash truly is another man’s treasure. Most successful authors have tales of rejection. Very few make it big right out of the gate. Having a polished product can increase your chances of getting published, but it’s no guarantee. If you want to use an editor, do so but be clear to the editor in what you want as well as what you don’t want. Ideally, you should find an editor who shares your vision of what editing should be. Following these tips and tricks will improve not only your novel but how you feel when that novel comes back full of mark ups.