A good editor is your ally, not your enemy

I am making headway on Burning Silk now, so let me revise the review schedule. March’s review will be Burning Silk, and April’s review will be Sea Witch (first in a series) by Helen Hollick.

I want to address an important topic that I constantly encounter in my day job as an editor. I wonder if some authors are hesitant to utilize the services of an editor because of a specific fear that the editor will “take over” the book; that it will cease to be the author’s creation and become something else under an editor’s heavy hand. I know many of the non-fiction authors I work with feel this way.

In my opening letter to authors, I tell them that

My goal in terms of editing is twofold: 1) to ensure that the points you want to make are presented as clearly as possible; and 2) to ensure your audience can engage with your ideas, unobstructed by grammatical, organizational, or stylistic issues. I always remember that this is your creation, and my job is simply to make sure the book and its author look as good as possible. 

I understand this fear and address it directly in my initial correspondence. The major goal of a top-notch editor is to “polish” a work without changing the author’s tone or meaning. By “polish” I mean clean up errors, connect thoughts that may be assumed but not stated, clarify sentences, etc.  Think of it as an antique coffee table. The table itself is beautiful and valuable, but no one except you can see that because it is covered with dust and cobwebs. The editor dusts, clears the webs, and then adds a layer of polish to make the table shine and display its hidden beauty.

In other words, editors work with authors to make the AUTHORS look good. The editor doesn’t have his or her name on the front cover of the book; we are the backstage helpers. In order to work together, however, there must be an exchange of trust in the editor-author relationship. The editor promises to work in the best interest of the author (read further for clarification of this statement), and the author promises to have an open mind and listen to suggestions and ideas. With that said, the editor is responsible also for ensuring the audience can access the book (in other words, read without significant barriers of any kind), which ultimately is in the author’s best interest. This is where many disagreements in the relationship come into play, I believe. Authors have a specific line of thinking related to their books, a logic that sometimes only they can understand. After all, it was created within them and they understand their ideas better than anyone else. However, if an author is the only person who can follow the flow of her or his novel, as much as one may be convinced that one has it right, sales will advance no further than a few copies for the author and his or her family members.  The general public–the author’s audience and source of support and revenue–needs to be able to easily follow the author’s train of thought and enjoy the book. As I said, this is where many self-published authors fall off the bandwagon. They are writing for themselves, and believe that this mode of writing will be acceptable to the wider public. The public is a discerning crowd, especially given the massive selection of books offered nowadays.

The point I’m trying to make is that a good editor is your ally, not your enemy.  An editor isn’t judging grammatical or mechanical mistakes or word usage, she or he is trying to STRENGTHEN what you are saying by utilizing not only his or her knowledge of  the “rules” (grammar, style, etc.) but also experience from working with other authors and the reading public.

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