The Author/Editor Relationship

Editing Advice, Life and Happiness, Writing

Last week, a potential client asked me, “Can you please tell me a little bit more how you work with a new client?”

It was something that other potential clients had asked me and I’d always found it a bit hard to answer. I edit. That’s it. Isn’t it always the same? I look for punctuation and grammar errors. I point out inconsistencies, etc., and I use Word’s Track Change feature to keep track of it all for the author. But after I had taken a Editing Boot Camp a few weeks ago, I realized that not every editor works in the same way. Some ask questions of their author and try to offer instruction (that’s me!), and some simply change whole sentences and paragraphs without any instruction (that’s NOT me). While others seem to only want to completely change an author’s words altogether.

After I had thought about it for awhile, here is how I chose to answer her:

“My motto is: I don’t change voices. I make them louder. It’s more than a gimmick to me. I strive to not change the voice of the author, ever. I want to understand what their goals are for their work and what they are trying to convey to their reader. Very often what I will do in my editing work is leave comments asking the author questions about their piece. This way, the author can scrutinize the sentence or paragraph and determine if it truly is what they intended or if it doesn’t quite work.

I try to approach the content/substantive part of the editing process as if I’m the reader. If I don’t understand something, I point it out. If something conflicts with what I thought was happening, I point it out. If a character seems – well – out of character, I point it out. Very rarely do I change whole sentences or rearrange things without giving the author a firm reason for the change. In the end, it’s YOUR work, not mine. I only want to point out to you what may or may not work. My authors and I often have small debates and, sometimes, they convince me their way is correct. I like to make friends with my authors, but that doesn’t mean I’m lenient! I push my authors in good ways to make their work better. 

With all that said, I hold firm to many writing rules and I use the Chicago Manual of Style or the Christian Writer’s Manual of Style as my guides. These don’t affect the overall plot, but things like ellipses, punctuation marks, and spelling out of numerals – things like that. I like to instruct. I’ll tell you why I’m suggesting a change (usually based on these style guides) and encourage you to learn about this rule to apply it to future works.

I’ve worked with one author for over five years. She writes romance – which isn’t my first pick of genres, but I’ve grown to enjoy her books. We’ve created such a great relationship that I can tell what she means to say even when she says it “wrong.” For her, I often will just fix things and she accepts them because she knows I know what she means. But that’s rare and I only start doing that once I’ve worked with someone long enough to know their style and voice.”

After that, I pointed her to the testimonials page on this website and said I hoped I had answered her question. In fact, because I thought it was such a good response (for once!), I chose to make it this blog post in the hopes that others would read it and want to work with me.

When I say I don’t change voices, I mean it. I know how hard it is to write and I don’t like it when someone tells me to rearrange my whole story. They don’t know what’s in my head – only I do. And I don’t know what’s in my client’s heads either. But I want to learn and I want to help. I want their story to get OUT of their head and onto the paper in the most pleasing, and engaging way.

So there you have it. It’s how I work and I’d love to chat with you about how you work too. Drop me a message or leave a comment below. I’m looking forward to working with you!

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