Well, I’ve done it again. Upset people with my opinion. I seem to be good at that. I read a blog post at http://blog.nathanbransford.com/2012/04/ten-commandments-for-editing-someones.html
The link was emailed to me and I responded to said email with my opinions as an editor. Now I have people acting all butt-hurt (thanks, Marie, for that colorful term) because I don’t think this guy understands what an editor’s job is. His bio says he’s an agent-turned-writer, but he doesn’t appear to have ever been an editor.
I agree with what he says from the point of view of an author and as a member of critique group. I don’t agree with it from the point of view of a freelance editor or as Executive Editor of Hidden Thoughts Press. Here are my thoughts on his points. If you agree with me, yay! If you don’t, yay! Either way, I’m good with your response. If more critique groups followed his points, we’d have more good critique groups. If more editors followed his advice, we’d have happier authors but I’m not sure we’d have more quality books. Anyway, read on if you choose.
I want to start this by saying my opinions below will probably offend some of you. And I want to say not all editors work the way I do and this may not hold true for some. But it holds true for me and will give you some insight as to how I work, regardless of whether or not you like or agree with the following responses to Nathan Bransford’s 10 Commandments blog post. I also want to point out the source is a former literary agent turned writer. According to his “About Me” section, he is not now nor ever was a professional freelance or acquisitions editor. If he was, and I’m wrong, he doesn’t make mention of it and probably should.
As an author and critiquer/critiquee, I like what this guy has to say. His advice boosts the writer’s ego.
As an editor, I have to say, “Nope.” He may have been an agent. He may be a writer. He is NOT an editor and his advice to “editors” reflects this. And authors need to remember that probably half to three-quarters of the freelance editors and many of those working in small presses or vanity/subsidy presses got a degree in English (hopefully) and declared, “I am an editor,” typically with no experience.
Here’s why, as a freelance editor and executive editor of a publishing house, I don’t agree with his 10 Commandments.
1 – Any good editor is going to remember it’s not their book. This doesn’t even need to be a commandment for good editors, and bad editors aren’t going to follow it anyway. A freelance editor who works with one client at a time may be able to work with an author to create the book they want to write. I try to, as a freelancer. As the executive editor/sometimes acquisitions editor for a small press, I won’t. My job is not to work with the author to write the book they want to write. My job is to whip the book into publishable shape as fast as possible and make changes that will create a saleable product. Freelance editors may defer to the writer but ultimately their job is to get the writer published. After all, the more published authors a freelancer has on their resume, the better they are at their job. An acquisitions editor is paid to accept and put out a popular product that will result in amazing sales for the house. Deferring to the author may or may not happen depending on the editor. I will negotiate on points. I do not defer.
2 – Again, nope. Not my job as an editor. I assume the writer wants to be published. I’m not in the business of stroking egos or providing moral support. Even as a freelance editor, I assume the writer wants to be published. There are better ways to find moral support than spending money for a freelancer or submitting to an overworked, underpaid acquisitions editor. As an editor, my approach is to give the writer what they need to get the work published. Moral support is not part of my job description.
3 – This piece of advice gets a response of, “Yes, but.” He’s right when he says, “You’re not doing anyone favors by being too nice,” but wrong when he refers back to his own Second Commandment. Again, I repeat, it’s not my job to stroke egos. I don’t change my approach based on what the author’s ego needs. I approach every job as if the writer’s goal is to be published. If they’re looking for ego stroking, find a friend or a relative, or a “puff” writer’s group.
4 – This is another “yes, but.” Again, he’s right when he says, “You’re not doing anyone favors by being a jerk either.” This is true. But writing is a dog-eat-dog profession. The author is only as good as their last sales report. There is no place for the fragile writer in the publishing world. As an editor, freelance and executive/acquisitions, I try to be polite, and I try not to crush egos , but if you want to be published, the author has to accept that most changes are orders. The changes have to be made or there’s a chance the offer to publish will be revoked. Authors need to keep in mind that an editor’s job, be it freelance or acquisitions, is to help them put out the best possible product that people will want to pick up off the shelf.
5 – Pointing out problem areas is helpful to authors. So is offering solutions TO A POINT. Part of an editor’s job, again freelance or acquisitions, is to know what’s already on the market. Editors have to make suggestions like, “What if he had feathers instead of hair?!” for two reasons. A) if there are already 20 books out their with a hairy main character, a feathered main character may have a better shot of selling a book in a possibly tired market. B) An editor’s job is to make the book better and if that means having a feathered main character, then that means having a feathered main character. If the author doesn’t like the suggestions, he’s free to change his mind and find another house or another editor. If the author doesn’t know how to fix problems like weak writing, too many pronouns, too much character filtering, whatever, then it’s the author’s job to find out. Editors are NOT writing instructors. Don’t try to make us such and don’t expect us to be such. Ask questions, make suggestions, but don’t expect us to teach you your profession. Editors don’t have that kind of time. If that’s what the author needs, then a creative writing class or a good critique group will fill that hole.
6 – Again, another, “yes, but” here. An editor does need to figure out why a scene, character, whatever isn’t working and get the author to fix it, but the editor’s job IS to figure out how to make the weak area better. That’s what editors do – they work to make books better so they sell more so the author makes more, so the house makes more so the editor gets a raise. This whole commandment reads contradictory to me too. Telling editors to identify weak stretches without thinking about how to make it stronger is just idiotic. The author doesn’t have to make the suggested changes. Probably not a wise decision if the book is being edited for publication, but still true.
7 – Bullshit. “Just make it work?” Nope. Again, I call “bullshit.” My job as editor is not to “just make it work.” My job as an editor is not to, “Throw out everything you learned in English classes.” I AM looking for theme, I AM looking for symbolism, I AM looking for what the book means. Why? Because the reader is. The reader is looking for all of this, whether they realize it or not. Readers read books which speak to them. They read for a good story, they read for strong characters, they read for theme, they read for a hidden message, they read for escape, they read for a variety of reasons. Writing is about creating a good story. Editing is about tweaking that good story to create a book readers want, be that for theme, symbolism, whatever. To ignore these parts of the writing is to ignore the purpose of the writer.
8 – Again, I call bullshit on this. No good freelancer or acquisitions editor is going to tailor their editing based on the amount of work that needs to be done. If major surgery is needed, an acquisition editor is going to reject the work sans ANY real editing. There may be notes about fixing weak plotting, weak characterization, whatever, but no editing. A freelancer who wants to add another published author to thee resume isn’t going to scale back either. Again, as a freelancer, I assume the author wants to be published. I don’t stroke egos. I focus on every issue I find. The author is paying me per word to do a job. If I see major plot or structural issues, I’m going to focus on them. If I see chapter issues, I’m going to focus on them. If I see grammar issues, I’m going to focus on them. If I see character inconsistency in actions, dialogue or descriptions, I’m going to focus on them. For me to charge someone per word for an edit, they get copy, line and content edit UNLESS THEY REQUEST OTHERWISE. For me to do less because I might damage their ego is akin to theft in my eyes. They are paying me for a job I didn’t do, in other words. There is a reason to spend time on edits that may be changed in future revisions, and the key word is “may.” If I edit a work and point out all the problem areas, a solution may be found to tweak another area that’s minor and prevent a major revision. If I hadn’t edited completely, that solution could have been overlooked, resulting in a major revisions that wasn’t truly necessary. My job as an editor is to help the author create a saleable product. If the author gets overwhelmed, they will have to find a way to deal. Harsh, I know, but true. You aren’t going to find an editor at TOR whose going to hold an author’s hand every step of the way. If they did that, there wouldn’t be a TOR publishing house.
9 – “Remember that personal taste is personal” – yep, it is. As a freelancer, I tell authors to take what they like that I’ve done and throw the rest out. As executive editor charged with growing a house and a stable of authors, guess what? It’s my why or the highway. Why? Because it’s also part of my job to know what readers want, to know what will sell and what won’t and make sure those books that won’t sell for Hidden Thoughts Press don’t see print with that name on them. I try to keep my personal reactions out of an edit when I’m looking for works for HTP because I know my personal reactions are just that. I’m looking for works that will resonate positively with the reading majority, even if they don’t with my. I’m in the business of making money. If I make a dream come true with the offer of a publishing contract, that’s great. But that isn’t my goal. My goal is to find works that will sell and edit them to give them the best chance at that. Most professional editors are going to have that same approach.
10 – Another, “yes, but” response. My job as a freelancer or executive/acquisitions editor is to be positive, but to still tell an author how it is. If a manuscript sucks, it sucks. Being positive isn’t going to change that. As a freelancer, I’d be happy to work with an author to create a work that doesn’t suck through offering suggestions and even brainstorming on problem areas. I like to see people succeed, and I like to be a part of their success. As an executive/acquisitions editor, my job is to reject manuscripts that suck, not work with the author to make it better. My goal is never to crush someone’s spirit, but I have to tell it like it is. Anything less is a disservice to the author. So my response, as a freelancer is, “be positive but tell it like it is. This sucks but here’s why and here’s how to fix it.” As an executive/acquisitions editor, my job is to reject those that suck, not fix them.
In the end, my job as an editor, regardless of whether I’m in the role of a freelancer or executive/acquisitions editor for Hidden Thoughts Press, is to help the manuscript sell. If I tell you, you have too many pronouns, it’s not my job to tell you how to fix the problem or give examples. That is for a good critique group to do. If you, as the author, don’t understand what I’m saying, or don’t know how to fix the problem, then it’s your job to find out, to ask questions and to make sure you understand the comments. Your friends, family and critique group are your support system; they will be there to hold your hand and call that editor nasty names with you. The editor’s job to make sure you have a manuscript that sells, not hold your hand and stroke your ego. Selling books is the essence of editing. What this blog describes is the essence of a good critique group.
Well, we are back from Salt Lake City! World Horror Con 2012 was a fantastic time. I got to catch up with old friends, make new friends and meet people who I’ve been chatting with on Facebook. The Stoker Awards were great and I got to see Rick Hautala and Joe Lansdale receive their Lifetime Achievement Awards. Jeff Strand entertained us all with comedic talents and John Skipp became a grandpa. All in all, an outstanding weekend. I can’t wait for the Stokers next year. 2013 will find us in New Orleans. Prepare yourselves for my onslaught as I attempt to get my story, “Widdershins” into the running. Those haunted house statues are the ultimate in cool and I want one!
Evil Jester Digest Vol. 1, containing my story, “Widdershins,” is available on Amazon in print and Kindle format. You know you want it.
Evil Jester Digest Vol 1 is out and contains my story, “Widdershins,” along with tales from Gary Brander, Rick Hautala, Tracy Carbone, David Dunwoody and more! At $2.99 you can’t afford not to grab this one!
The “Live and Let Undead” anthology from Library of the Living Dead Press, an imprint of Twisted Library Press, is now available for purchase.
Just follow this link to buy several copies and support small presses!
Here’s the book cover too!
I know I’m not the most reliable blogger, but I’m working on it. Life keeps interferring. Anyway, just a quick post to let you know the Wicked Women Writers Challenge for 2011 is on! Follow the link to listen to 10 amazing stories by 10 Wicked Women, then vote for your favorite. The woman with the most votes will be crowned Most Wicked 2011 and one lucky voter will win a prize box from the ladies. Prizes could be anything from a nice thank you letter to signed copies of books.
Okay, yeah, I know. It’s been a while since I’ve posted anything here. Life keeps interferring with what I need to get done.
I now have a pretty good grasp on the new novel. Still no title yet, but the characters come out to play more easily.
I have a few pages of notes for the new novella. No title there yet either, but the characters desperately want to come out and play.
Sapphires & Toadstones has been recorded and is in the final editing stages for the upcoming Wicked Women Writers contest from Horror Addicts. That should be sent in soon, provided the Technology Gods quit screwing with me. I swear, I am their center of attention right now. It wouldn’t surprise me in the least for this post to either A) not show up or B) show up with words I did not write.
A new short story called Down That Road . . . is coming together, and a few previously written short stories have finally agreed to let themselves be edited. Much easier to do when the characters cooperate.
Stories contained in the Live and Let Undead anthology from Library of the Living Dead Press are coming along in their second round of edits, and stories for The Wickeds anthology from Horror Addicts are coming along in their first round of edits. Those should be sent back to the respective authors in the next few weeks.
And Mr. Stabby may have a new playmate. For those of you unfamiliar with Mr. Stabby, he is an old knife I rescued from Goodwill after unkind people rudely disposed of him. He has a carbon steel blade and a heavy hickory wood handle. In his previous life, Mr. Stabby was used for breaking down meat carcasses. And when I say carcasses, I mean like half a cow. Now, he is much happier in his new role as my enforcer. Anyway, Mr. Stabby has been anxious to meet the Evil Little Jester, a friend of fellow author Charles Day. We will see how that goes.
And finally, I have a spot on Steve Lockely’s blog scheduled for July 23rd as a guest blogger. What possessed him to open it up to me and several fellow writers and editors , I don’t know. But, I’m taking advantage of it. Look for the link as we get closer to the day.
The zombie-pocolypse is coming, and even the government is preparing for it. The CDC put this post out and, while the post is really about emergency preparedness, it does touch on the zombie-pocolypse. Good advice can be found in this article. I, however, would make sure to add a chainsaw, aluminum baseball bat, machete and a few other assorted weaspons to my arsenal. After all, when the zombies arrive, I don’t want to be caught defenseless. Who knew that the Left for Dead games were actually instructional videos?