The lighter side of editing

The lighter side of editing

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Don’t Trust Your Editor … Too Much

An editor works to make a manuscript perfect. Should
an author blindly trust that he'll succeed? No!

Stock image from GraphicStock.

The author-editor relationship is built on trust: The author trusts the editor to correct errors in a manuscript without screwing anything up, and the editor trusts the author to pay the bill on time. Usually, this system works out just fine. Most editors I’ve known will make every effort to edit as flawlessly as possible, and most authors pay promptly. Sometimes an author will skip out on a payment, but that is a subject for a different post. Today I’m thinking about authors who trust too much.

Most of my editing projects go like this: I read through the work, marking up changes and inserting questions and suggestions as I go, and then I return the marked-up work to the author. Sometimes (though not as often as I’d like), our agreement is that I will do another editing pass after receiving the author’s comments/answers/changes. Ideally, the author will read through the entire work before sending it back to me. Even more ideally, the author will read through the entire work one more time after my final edit.

But as we all know, things are often not ideal.

In the real world

If I have just returned an edited 350-page book with instructions for the author to read through it carefully before sending me an updated manuscript, and the updated manuscript hits my in-box a mere eight hours later, I can be pretty darn sure the author did not read the whole thing; said author most likely responded to my questions/suggestions and maybe—maybe, mind you—looked at some of the tracked changes before approving all of them. If I have just returned a 350-page manuscript and the author e-mails me two days later to say that the self-published book is now available on Amazon, I can be pretty darn sure the author did not read through the whole book one last time before hitting Publish.

This is a problem, for me and the author.

We try to be perfect, but…

Remember back in the first paragraph when I wrote that editors “will make every effort to edit as flawlessly as possible”? I chose that wording for a reason: Editors are human. Even the best, most experienced editors make mistakes sometimes. Yes, a skilled editor can miss a simple typo even when they’ve read through a manuscript two or three times.

We are not purposely imperfect. I am honest and conscientious about my work. I would never deliberately leave a mistake in a manuscript or knowingly introduce a mistake by subtly changing the author’s meaning when I reword a sentence to improve its clarity. But suppose I were less honest and more sloppy. Suppose I were vindictive or evil. How, without reading through the entire edited manuscript, would the author know that I hadn’t changed a character’s eye color or twisted some wording to reflect my own style, opinion, or political persuasion?

I’ll say again I would never ever ever do any of those things, and the vast majority of editors follow the same code. But I am not perfect, and I get the creepy-crawlies when authors assume that because I have done a careful edit, the final product will be flawless.

Yes, I try to be perfect, but…

Authors, own your work

Now, I’m not suggesting that authors should do all the hard work of writing and the heavy lifting of line editing or copyediting. I’m not suggesting that authors should treat editors with suspicion. I am suggesting that authors should treat their relationship with an editor as an interactive partnership. Don’t hand your manuscript over to someone and say, “Here, fix this,” blindly trusting that the editor is going to do everything just right.

Authors, trust your editors, but own your work. Take the time to look at the edits in your manuscript. Ask questions if you don’t understand something or if you disagree with something the editor has done. Read through the whole manuscript. Yes, I know it’s a hassle and you have a kid and a full-time job and you’ve already worked on this book for six years and it’s about to drive you batty and you just paid an editor a wad of dough to fix everything for you.

But remember this: When that book is published, it’ll be your name, not the editor’s, on the cover.

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