Thursday, April 5, 2012

What Not To Say To An Editor, Part 1

One of the more popular series of posts on this blog is the What Not To Send An Editor.

What I want to start today is a new series, What Not To Say To An Editor. Previously, we talked about stuff I get in the mail, now let's talk about the things I hear, get told and read in emails.

Now before some of you cry foul that a guy who has problems with his tone shouldn't be talking about sounding professional, I'm not chastising you specifically, I'm just pointing out red flags that I see in emails.

"Thanks but I'm not interested in having my work edited." This comes after I get an email asking what I do, and possibly after the email where I say how much what I do will cost. What this tells me is that you don't want other people to see what you're creating for any number of reasons (some discussed below), and that possibly you think your work doesn't need to be edited. Generally, if you think you don't need an editor, you do, often badly.

"I don't want to give you a copy of my work, you'll steal it." No, I won't. Here's why - I've got my own work to deal with, and don't really have the time to go around shopping your work as my own. This is particularly true if your work is fraught with errors and problems and things that need fixing -- why would I put my name on something that isn't the best? (And if you think I'm going to spend the time fixing your material, not get paid for it and then turn around and claim it's mine, you should probably consider how much effort that is without any sort of paycheck.)

"I don't need an editor, I've had my friends look this over a few times." I'm glad you have friends. Are any of those friends trained in writing theory and craft? Do they have experience in helping improve your writing, word by word if you need it? Are they unbiased? It's great to have your friends read your work, but to help the work develop, you need someone critical and unbiased. Like an editor.

"I've already given the story out to beta readers, and they're totally helping." Okay, I'm going to repeat what I just said about friends and add to it that if you're giving a reader a story in fragments or a story incomplete, you're robbing them of the total experience of the story and hurting yourself by not working hard at your craft. This is magnified if you're letting the reader dictate how the story should proceed or end, since the story is yours, not theirs. If they want to tell a story, they should be writing.

"I don't need you to tell me what I'm doing wrong." When I hear this sentence, I usually have to walk away for a second, because what immediately follows is the person saying that editing is basically what your high school English teacher did, and she was a real bitch, so you don't need that again in your life. The problem is that I AM NOT AN (YOUR) ENGLISH TEACHER, and it's my job to help you write better, and that means we'll be talking about what you're not doing well and what you can do better. If this was a gym, would you not want the trainer to tell you you're lifting the weight incorrectly?

"Don't you just press F7 in Word? I can do that." Sure, you can do that. I think I could train my dog to do that. But that's not all editing is. Editing is the process of evolving the story through technique and construction. Editing is part of the story telling process because it helps clarify and strengthen the material on the page. Pressing one key might take care of typos and some (it's not perfect) generic grammar, but you can do a lot more to help a story stand up and be noticed than just spell all the words correctly.

"I edit my own work." Yes, that's what every author should do. We should go through our work and look for the parts we need to tweak and look for the big glaring errors that jump out at us. But, we also have blindspots - scenes and ideas that we're attached to, or feel bias towards, so even if they don't help the story, we keep them in, because we like the work we've done. (I should point out, we like ALL the work we do, but like Animal Farm, some work is cooler than others). The best way to correct the blindspots is to hand the work over to someone else.

"I heard from XYZ person that you didn't edit their stuff, I think that makes you a jerk." The reason(s) I didn't take XYZ on as a client are none of your business or your concern (in much the same way you can't really comment as to how I spent my Wednesday evening - you weren't involved, you weren't there.) If my decision not to work with someone leads you to think I'm a jerk, that's a you-thing. Your mind, your thought, your decision. If that decision you made means you also decide not to work with me, that's fine too, I understand - there are other editors in the sea.

"You're so expensive." If you look at the pricing guide put out by the Writer's Market and then look at my prices, I'm just a little north of the middle of the road given the type of work I do. Why? Because I've been doing this half my life. Because I've built myself on delivering good results quickly. Because I'm good at this. Because it's a job and this is how much it costs. Just like when the sink clogs, the washing machine goes kaput or the car starts making that weird sound, you can try and fix it yourself.

(This one time my dad tried to fix the dishwasher when I was growing up. We ended up re-doing the whole kitchen (new appliances AND floor AND cabinets) that year).

Don't skimp on what's important to you. If you care about this story, make sure it gets the care and help and support it needs to be the story you meant to tell.

And yes, this will be a series of posts. Stay tuned for part 2 which gets a little more technical.

Happy writing.