Wednesday, April 11, 2012

What Not To Say To An Editor, Part 2

Last week, I wrote Part 1 of this series. This is Part 2.

For the people just coming on board now, I'm an editor. (It's not my only job, but it's a good one) And what I'm detailing here are things you shouldn't say, write or mention in your correspondence with me (or other editors, but I'm speaking mostly from personal experience). The following statements are BIG HUGE RED FLAGS that will often lead you to rejection, suspicion of being creepy, uncomfortable work situations and becoming an example of what not to do.

Take note, good readers.

"I'm not sure you're worth it." This has only been said to me four times, and each time was a new experience in uncomfortable and bad times. If you (prospective client) and I are talking, and you heave a sigh (which is totally visible when you type, if you're curious) and then drop that bomb on me, I used to freak out and then spend inordinate amounts of time justifying why we should be working together.

When I was struggling for work and was way too busy helping other people without actually succeeding, I was always working uphill for paychecks, wondering when I'd be able to have some money in my pocket. And that absence of cash (which admittedly is a good thing to have on hand, say when you want to go out on a date or buy a burrito or purchase a video game), really turned me into a doubt factory. I doubted whether or not I was good enough to do this job, if I should get a "real" job, if I should just give all my time and energy to this relationship so that someone will love me, etc etc. Basically, being poor and thinking that having money equaled success (newsflash: it doesn't, sorry Gordon Gekko) made me think I wasn't worth much of anything -- so I'd always have to prove that I was good "enough" to a person / place / relationship / job / client / ice cream sundae so that I didn't have to walk away in shame and hide myself in a cave or something.

The point is -- that's a shitty attitude to have. And if you or I spend our time forever justifying whether or not we're worth it to other people, we're not going to have the time or the energy to actually do the things we wanted to do in the first place. (Side note - sometimes those people you're trying to be good enough for just aren't worth it. For realsies.)

So, if you say "I'm not sure you're worth it." what you're really saying is "I'm not sure I'm/the work/your potential to change my work is worth the commitment to improving, since I'm really scared about doing this because it might succeed or it might fail and discovering that really makes me uncomfortable since it is not what I am used to."

You're worth it.
Your work is worth it.

"I've been editing on my own for years, what good is your help?" I've been doing a lot of things myself for years. I built the desk I'm writing this on. I just ate some food I made the other night. But you know what's nice? Not having to do that. Letting someone else take care of a task for you is nice, and gives you more time to other things (like bathe and knit and golf). Also, if you come look at this desk I'm writing on, it's not a bad desk, but doesn't even come close to the super-desk in the other part of the office that dates back from Ellis Island and the 1880s. That thing weighs in the hundreds of pounds and was built with more skill than I thought a man could have. I trust that construction and that work far more than I trust my own, and likewise, you should trust people do the job they're good at. Anyone can screw together an IKEA desk and it'll be serviceable, but for really awesome work, go to a professional.

"If you edit my work, it won't be the same. I'll lose the voice/tone/feel/structure/vibe/sound I want." Let me just clear up a misconception about editing. What I do is make YOUR work clearer and stronger. Editing is not me coming into your work and changing it the way I want it, editing is refining your work so that it can be enjoyed by others the way you intended.

What happens when you hand me work is that you and I talk. And we figure out what you're trying to do in the story or the chapter or across several pieces of story or whatever, but basically we map out what's going on, and how you want it to be seen/experienced by the audience. Then I go back to my lair and educe that desired experience from the text. Yes, that means I might chop up sentences, delete whole paragraphs and suggest that entire characters get the boot. So, you're right, it won't be the same. Things will have changed, but that's on purpose - the changes are there to help you get your point across, get your ideas out there and get that voice/tone/feel/etc etc broadcast.

"Can I pay you a little up front and then more when I sign my book deal?" Now if this were fifteen years ago, and book deals still had large sums of cash attached, I'd say yes. But, in today's industry, and with traditional book publishing not being the cashcow it used to be, my answer is NO.You can pay me over time if you absolutely have to, or you can pay me when the job's done like everyone else. I don't want to wait for your ship to come in weeks/months/years from now and you just happen to get around and write me a check. Pay your editors, support us, and help us help you.

"[INSERT TITLE OF BOOK OR NAME OF WEBSITE HERE] says that I should get an agent and then let them handle the editing, so I like, don't need you." Ahh, the agent quandary. Here's where things get a little murky. Not because I don't know an answer to this, but because there are several answers and people don't always like them. Here we go:

a) Not every book needs an agent, it depends on what the author wants to do with it (if you're self-publishing and only need like 40 copies for example, then no, you don't need an agent).
b) Not every agent is (gasp!) a good editor (likewise not every editor is a good agent).
c)Not every book and/or website is going to be useful for you. (Be discriminating. Educate yourself with a variety of sources then make your decisions.)

There's also a fourth element here: That in order for an agent to pick up your manuscript, it should be in the best shape of its life. That means free of glaring errors, formatted correctly, and engaging with the best story and characters possible. Getting an editor to help you make that happen goes a long way to securing the agent and all those other steps down the line.

"My work is perfect, and I don't ever need an editor. I don't change a thing, and I just send it straight to Amazon. You can buy my things here, here and here - (and the rest of the email is basically a sales letter)." I'm very happy for you. Honestly, I'm glad you've distilled down the formerly scary publishing process to a few mouse clicks after you spend a few afternoons writing.

(I should point out that the above quote came paraphrased from an email that also included a sentence "I don't know what's so hard about being prolific, I already have several books published in under XYZ years." - and yes I got permission to tell you this.)

Publishing your work shouldn't be so scary that you're discouraged from doing it, but it shouldn't also be so simple that there's no talent or craft required to do it. And if you do as much reading/trawling/searching through Amazon as I do, you may encounter a lot of self-published authors with a dearth of books....and a matching stack of 1-star reviews, that often include comments about poor story structure, weak writing, bad grammar and being a general waste of money. Hiring an editor can prevent a great deal of this before it happens, the caveat being that in order to avoid ignominy as the one-star-Amazon-author, you have to exercise your brain and talent muscles to produce work and get it edited so that it's in a better than first-draft-shape.

And for the record, no one's work is ever 100% perfect on the first draft. It's just not. Expect it to grow, change and evolve as your tastes, skills and other factors (like a reader or time) influence it.

I hope you've found this helpful.

Happy writing.