Trust Your Editor…Or Not

Janet Grant

Blogger: Janet Kobobel Grant

Location: A Wine Country condo, Mt. Hermon Career Track Planning Retreat

When you read the changes your editor has made on your manuscript, some changes can be a real surprise. Maybe you thought it was imperative for certain information to be included in your nonfiction project, but your editor deleted it. Or you considered the protagonist in your novel to be imminently likable, but your editor didn’t care for her. What’s your editor’s problem–did he just have a bad day when he gave you the directive for a change, or does he have a valid point?

To decide which is the case, you need not only to know your rights, which we talked about yesterday, but you also need to know when to trust your editor.

In determining if your editor has a valid point, I’d suggest you start with the assumption that the editor is on your team and is not the enemy. Honestly, sometimes it’s hard to remember this when you’re looking at your edited (i.e., butchered) manuscript. Since your editor is your advocate at the publishing house (and might well have been the person who convinced the publishing committee to buy your project), he’s most likely seeing flaws in your manuscript that you’re too close to it to recognize (and your mom and friends are too enthralled by the idea of knowing a published author to offer much insight).

Now, sometimes an editor does overstep her bounds. I recall a time one of my clients, who was writing a series, received the edited text for her third book in that series. The editor thought the protagonist’s style of dressing and personality weren’t to her liking so she just changed the manuscript. Hello! I don’t think so. Turns out the editor thought the author wasn’t as strong a writer as the editor, who aspired to write her own series in that genre. So she simply took over my client’s manuscript. Wild, huh?

Obviously that’s an extreme example of how an editor can swerve outside the boundaries of what is appropriate feedback or editing. Often the concerns an author has about the editing are much more subtle.

Your next step is to talk to the editor. When I was an editor, I invited dialog. I understood it was the author’s work and the author’s name was going to be on  the cover. My job was to make him or her look as good as possible. If I spied problems, I was supposed to figure out a fix. Sometimes my fix was acceptable to the author; other times the author, after we had talked over the problem, would dig in and find a better solution than I had. We brainstormed options and at times came up with a new route neither of us had thought of.

Generally editing is a collaborative process between the editor and the author. But it takes both of them being willing to work as a duet–no solos allowed.

8 Responses

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  1. Teri D. Smith says:

    I have a question. Does the “butchering”, excuse me, “editing” of your manuscript hurt less than a rejection?

    Just asking.

  2. Julee Schwarzburg, who edited my novel ROOMS, (B&H Fiction, April 2010) had strong opinions on what needed to be changed, added and axed, but she made it very clear from the beginning it was MY manuscript and not hers.

    We had open dialogue about all the changes and by the end of the macro edit and line edit I felt like I’d had a brilliant co-author on the book.

    Yeah, I know, I was spoiled. She was wonderful.

  3. Hi Janet, Thanks for this reminder. I can imagine it’s very difficult to determine who’s right when the author and editor don’t see eye-to-eye. Subjectivity is bound to play into it quite often, but as I heard Deb Raney say once, “Choose carefully your hill to die on.” Surely there are few instances where a compromise can’t be worked out if both parties are willing to collaborate. There’s no one right way to write a book.

  4. KC Frantzen says:

    This is very encouraging.
    Thank you!
    I’m adding to my list of pre-requisites for authors. In addition to determination and patience, according to this excellent blog, we need a very healthy dose of objectivity and humility.
    Good stuff. Keep ’em coming!!!

  5. Jessica says:

    Hi Janet,
    Wow, what a great post! Thank you for the insights. 🙂 And what a weirdo story about that editor. LOL
    Hopefully she stopped editing and was able to sell her series. *grin*

  6. Is it possible that there’s too little editing?

  7. janetgrant says:

    Bill, indeed there is such a thing as too little editing. Often editors have too many manuscripts to edit and rush the process. That’s why so many published books are bigger than they should be; they needed to be edited down.

  8. BethDazzled says:

    Great post. My favorite part of the writing process- besides the thrill of a new idea popping its shiny new life into view- is brainstorming. I get all my best ideas that way. That and the shower for some reason…