Sunday, August 12, 2012

Editors Are Not The Boogeyman

Special thanks to Tom Cadorette for prompting the discussion that lead to this post. One day I'm sure he'll out-ninja me in our immortal editorial duel. No not really. Tom is awesome and much like the Shaolin and the Wu-Tang, we'll totally join forces to fight off the Manchu dogs. Or something.


I'm an editor. I make my living editing things. That means people (individuals, companies, agents, groups) send me their creations (novels, games, plays, scripts, manuals and even cookbooks) and I help make them better.

Notice that I didn't say that I live under the bed and terrorize small children. Or that I live under a bridge and consume goatflesh weekly. No, I'm an editor, editing is what I do.

The word and concepts of editing carry such weight, such anxiety and such stigma that I often wonder about what people are thinking when they engage or don't engage an editor. So I asked a lot of people this last week that question, and the answers really stuck with me. I'll address the concerns in this post.

Editors won't understand what I'm trying to do, they'll just ruin it. This idea, I think, comes from some sort of pride or ego and suggests that whatever you've created, you think it so good and so brilliant that no one can understand it without your explanation or patronizing hand-holding. What it screams at me is: "I'm afraid of sending my work to an editor because they'll suggest changes."

What that thought doesn't talk about is that engage an editor is a conversation, not supplication. When you retain me to help make your project better, we talk about it before, during and after the edits. In fact, I won't edit something if I don't understand it, so it's up to you to be able to explain to me what the manuscript is trying to accomplish before I jump in there and help it do that.

As nice as it would be for you to genuflect and offer your work to me and my ego on some humongous platter along with a steak (rare) and a milkshake (chocolate), that's just not what I do, and the idea voiced above demonstrates a lack of investigation.

Yes I'm saying it's totally fine, well and cool for you, authors and creators, to ask an editor questions about HOW they work, so that they can demystify the process. Investigate before you act. Don't avoid taking that step forward because you're operating under a false premise.

Also give us some credit. We might not have been there for the genesis of your creation, but if you are able to explain what it is and what you want to do with it, I'm sure we'll figure out the best way to help you.

Editors are so expensive. Well, yes, you're going to pay money for a professional to do their job and improve the situation, hopefully. Were this not about a manuscript or creative effort and all about a clogged drain or a busted washing machine, you likely wouldn't think twice about calling a service technician to come out and address the problems, and you likely would accept that paying them for their time and labor is part of the deal.

So why can't you have that same sort of concept for an editor? Sure, we don't wear coveralls and lug a toolbelt around, but we do work on diagnosing and fixing problems in the things you care about.

Is it a commitment? Yes. Is it sometimes pricey? Yes. But if your goal is get this creative endeavor out into the hands of consumers and customers, why wouldn't you do everything possible to get there? And why wouldn't you pay to get the best help possible to make that happen?

But I want to get my product out to the market now! If I wait, I'll miss "the window". This is pure and raw impatience. This is sort of like starting a course of antibiotics and wondering why you're not all better after you swallow the first dose. It takes time. It doesn't take lifetimes, sometimes it's days or weeks or months to get something edited (depends on what it is, who's working on it, and what their schedule is like). While you can mitigate some of the time by doing things like working on how you'll market the creation once it's out of editing, or you can start gathering ideas for the next idea you want to develop, or you can just plain go sit down and take it easy. Have a cup of coffee. Go for a walk. Things will get done and get very exciting for you soon enough. Savor the downtime.

Rushing a product out to consumers is a disaster-in-the-making. A rushed product may lack the necessary or desired layout as well as contain errors large and small that an editor would have caught and flagged. Not only does a rushed product hurt itself, it impacts all the future products that may also occur...a dangerous precedent for production. (Because it raises the question: "Do I want to buy the next thing they make if that one thing was sloppy?")

Guidelines, guidelines, guidelines. Okay, please find me the person who says you have to only use Deep POV to get a book published. How about the person who wants all stories to be romance tales? I'll wait here.

Okay, so this idea comes from the assumption that you can only publish a book by going through the "traditional" model (agent to publisher). Lots of publishers have guidelines as to what they accept and what they reject. They're detailing in the Writer's Market, for example. I've got my copy open to page 309 for instance, and I'm looking for the paragraph ANYWHERE on the page that says "We require Deep POV, omniscient narration and no puppets." It's not on that page. Or 310. Or 311. Why?

BECAUSE what a publisher wants is a book to publish. That's their job. Your job, author/creator is to produce a book of a publishable nature. And part of shaping that story is to get it edited so that it can be published. That's all. What you do with it after publication is entirely up to you. The nuts and bolts of the book are important because they need to work towards the goal of making the story enjoyable or stronger or better crafted, but your authorial success is not measured by how well you turn a phrase (unless you're one of the douchey people who live and die by journals and literary snobbery. Or that one Lit professor I had).

I don't need an editor because I'll never be a success story. With that attitude you're right.

I don't know where to find an editor. You can ask me. I can give you the names of quite a few editors who you may be interested in.

Look, editors are available to you to help you make your creation into a reality for other people. That's all. Sure, the process of finding one, working with one and seeing your work marked up is difficult, but the end goal remains the same - to get the best stories out to hungry audiences.

Ultimately the choice is yours.

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