bondo_ba (bondo_ba) wrote,

Editors and other frightening monsters

The fact that I'm in the final stages of edits for a collection (see yesterday's post for details), along with a few other posts I've been seeing aroung the net lately have led me to thinking about the editing process, and how some writers manage to muck it up completely while others enjoy the ride.

I've often been characterized as an easy writer to work with, and some of my editors have recommended me to other editors - which has led to invites to anthos, gigs writing columns and, by a circuitous route, to the publication of a forthcoming short novel.  I actually believe that the fact that I appreciate the work of editors, and am enthusiastic about woking together with publications to improve my prose, was more important in this particular case than the quality of the writing itself.

Read that again.  It's not what they teach you in the workshops, is it?  They teach you that the story is more important, and that it has to be polished to within an inch of its life, or it will never see the light of day.  They are right, of course.  The first story you sell will have to claw its way out of the slushpile against stories by a lot of talented writers.  So will the second, the third and the tenth, and to do that, the stories themselves will have to be of high quality.

But there comes a point where your work achieves a certain consistent quality (you can have bad days, of course), and editors - at least within certain circles, higher or lower on the publishing totem - know who you are.  This is the point where the way you've behaved over the past few publications will either get you writing gigs or get you ignored.

Simply stated, prima donnas who believe that every work they've consigned to the page is Art, and cannot be improved, are not going to get many offers to participate in new projects if the publisher can possibly avoid it (if you're a billion-copy bestseller, I assume you can do just about whatever you want). 

So when the figurative red pen comes out, there are a few rules I always try to remember:

1.  The editor is a person who is dedicating their time (often unpaid, especially when dealing with short fiction) to making your work shine.  That, in itself, should be enough to make you appreciate it and hold your irritation in check when the editor axes that "beautiful" sentence you were so fond of.

2.  Writers are terrible at judging their own writing.  I personally hate mine, but I know of writers who believe that their sentences are immortal.  (Strangely, I've found that writers overly fond of their own voice have a lot more trouble getting through the slush.  Go figure).  A second set of experienced eyes will always make a difference for the better.

3.  The editor is likely to know, far better than the writer, what the readers prefer.  Editors are in charge of publications, and are in much more fluid contact with the final consumers of any prose.  Shut up and learn when they talk.

4.  Grammar is important.  When someone corrects your sentence structure, you should be thankful and study what they did.  If your writing is clean enough to make it through the slush, you probably already know most of what you need to know... but it's never a bad thing to learn a little more.  You can ignore it later if you want, but do so with your eyes open.

5.  Don't sweat the small stuff.  Editors almost never want to crop your work too much.  They try to let the author's voice shine through.  But sometimes, on rare occasions, they will go too far.  This is when you politely accept all the changes and suggestions except the one that really concerns you, and you send that one back.  You don't have to agree with everything an editor requests, but just choose your battles.  Almost everything an editor does to your work will make it better - it's up to you to find that one time in a hundred when it won't.

And thank them when you're done - remember, it's your name that will shine thanks to their hard work.  Many bestselling writers demand no editing...  We all know who they are, and comparing their new work with the old gives a great idea of just why editing is so important.  I suspect Tom Clancy's later books had him wielding this power, for example...

So thank you David.  75K words of my writing is now much better thanks to your efforts.

Tags: writing
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