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Wednesday, November 11, 2015

The Editor/Author Relationship

I know some of you have never worked with an editor, and some of you have, but I have a few things to say about the Editor/Author relationship.  Some editors might approach the process as a dictatorship, with the editor being the dictator.  I don’t personally know of any who are this way, unless it’s about certain things, but I’ll get into that in a minute.  My personal approach is something of a partnership.  When I’m editing your work, a little of my own heart and soul becomes entwined with your work.  I come to know and love (or hate if necessary) your characters almost as well and as much as you do.  At the same time, I often see things about your characters or story that you don’t, and I’ve helped authors more fully develop these things or get rid of them if need be.  When I’m editing, I might make suggestions regarding phrasing, but I always let my authors know that while they’re welcome to use my wording exactly, it is only there to serve as an example.  I’ve had authors who rephrased it exactly as I suggested, and I’ve had authors who rephrased it entirely differently, but which still corrected whatever issue I was pointing out.  An editor shouldn’t go in and rewrite your book.  That’s not what we’re for.  While you might say something the same way I would say it, you also might say it differently, so my words are only intended to help you find yours.  I’m not going to change something arbitrarily, or simply because I don’t understand what you mean.  If I’m concerned about it, I’ll leave a comment and ask you about it.

For example, Carol and I had a conversation regarding regionalisms.  There was something she said a certain way (sorry Carol, I can’t remember what this one was specifically) and I was wondering if she was missing a word in the phrasing.  Then I discovered it classified as a regionalism.  This spawned an entire conversation regarding regionalisms and how, when someone asks me if I want a pop, I always think, “No.  I don’t want you to pop me.  What did I do to you?”  Around here, it’s either a soda or a coke.

“Do you want a coke?”


“What kind?”

“Mountain Dew.”

Once Carol explained the wording, and that it was how she and others around her always said it, it made sense.  I left it in the manuscript because I felt it added authenticity to the scene and “local flavor”.  I’ll even let you get away with using ain’t and git (as in “Git yerself outta here!”) in dialogue, because I’m from the South.  Ain’t is a word here.  However, don’t even think about using it in narration.  Not gonna happen.

For the most part, I work with authors.  If they disagree with me, I expect them to open a dialogue with me and tell me why they disagree.  Sometimes it’s simply misunderstanding the meaning, and an explanation clarifies it, so we’re good to go.  It stays as is.  Sometimes I understand, but it still has to go, so we have to reach a compromise.  And still sometimes it has to go, no matter what.  For example, Carol and I had to reach a compromise regarding “K” as a word.  She wanted Bert to say “K”.  Now, I completely understood her reasoning, (and yes, I have Carol’s permission to share this) but our publisher had a House Style Guideline that absolutely forbade the use of “K” as a word.  They would only allow okay or ’kay (only in dialogue).  For the record, a lot of other publishers have the same guideline.  Carol and I finally compromised on ’kay for Bert’s dialogue, but even if we were in his POV, it had to be okay in narration.

I try to be friendly with my authors and get to know them.  Some aren’t very reciprocal in that regard, but most are.  There are a few that have become friends.  I’ve only had one or two that you could probably describe as prickly, but we still worked together without any major issues.  With other authors, our relationship was strictly limited to edits.

My comments to an author are honest, and I try to use humor, because I know how hard it is to write and then have someone tell you this scene isn’t working, this character is coming across as a doormat, or another character you want readers to like is actually coming across as a huge jerk.  I’ll also tell you if I don’t like a character, even if it’s not yet clear whether or not I’m supposed to dislike them.  One character in a manuscript I’ve recently edited was coming across as a real annoyance.  I wanted to smack her.  Another character in the manuscript was accused of poisoning someone (no, they didn’t), and I told the author I wouldn’t be surprised if the annoying character had actually poisoned the person.  The author got a laugh out of that.

So, if you disagree with your editor about one point or another, open a dialogue.  Keep in mind that their hands might be tied by the publisher’s guidelines, because part of our job is making sure your manuscript adheres to them.  And that (along with grammar) is where most of us will become dictators.  Always remember that we, like you, want your manuscript to be the best it can possibly be, and we want to see it do well.

And for the record, even though Carol said I did, I’ve never told any of my authors they were falling down the stairs like a defunct slinky…at least, not in those exact words.  *grin*


Huntress said...

Oh for Petes sake. I just had a conversation with s total stranger about sweet potatoes (Missouri) vs yams (southern vernacular) and I gave her the example of Coke, pop, and soda. A coincidence? Nah. My hubby said it was ESPN. I started to correct but was laughing too hard to speak.

Liz A. said...

Good to know. "Regionalisms". I like it.

Angela said...

ROFL@Carol! We do call them both here, but I hear yams much more frequently. Don't forget the other southern vernacular...sweet taters. :) And ESPN? LOL! Love it!