Friday, July 16, 2010

The Myth of the Evil Editor

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

Recently, in an online conversation touching on self-publishing, a self-published writer commented on how happy she is that her books are truly her own--published exactly as she intended them, not mutilated or adulterated by some big publishing house editor whose main goal is to turn out cookie-cutter authors. When I replied that I've worked with three editors at five large publishers over the course of seven novels, and have never had my work mutilated or adulterated, much less transformed into a cookie, she told me that I was "very lucky," for she knew of many writers who'd had the opposite experience.

I didn't ask her who those writers were. If I had, I suspect I would have gotten a vague response about a friend of a friend, or an article she'd seen at some point, or some other form of non-first-hand information. Like the fear of theft, the idea that the main function of publishing house editors is to turn books into clones, and that authors who publish "traditionally" can expect to have their manuscripts slashed and burned in callous disregard of their original voices and intents, is largely unfounded. Nevertheless, it's quite common. I've often seen it used to justify a choice to self-publish ("I want my book to remain MY BOOK!"), or presented as one of the reasons why self-publishing is superior.

At its best, the author-editor relationship is a partnership. The editor doesn't want to turn your book into a cookie; she wants it to be as good as it can possibly be so it will sell robustly and make money for everyone. To that end, she suggests ways in which your manuscript could be strengthened and improved, and leaves it to you to make those changes in the best way you can. You're well-advised to take her comments seriously--she's a professional, after all, and writers who believe they don't need an editorial eye are letting their egos run away with their good sense. But it is still your book, and if you disagree with your editor you're free to say so, and to make a case for keeping things as they are, or for making a different change.

My best editorial relationships have been like this. My editor spotted weaknesses or inconsistencies that I missed, and suggested ways to make what was strong in the book even stronger. I didn't always agree; in that case, we talked about it, and sometimes I realized she was right, and sometimes she realized I was right. At the end of the process, I wound up with a work that was still completely my own--but better. Even in my most adversarial relationship, with an editor who inherited the book and neither liked nor understood it, there was never a question of being strongarmed into making changes I didn't agree with. I simply said no, and that was that.

Does every commercially published writer have a fabulous relationship with his or her editor (the kind that is the subject of those gushing thank-yous in the Acknowledgements sections of so many books)? Of course not. Are there horror stories? Of course there are. No doubt some will appear in the comments thread of this post (I'm thinking of the story I heard from an author whose editor inexplicably decided to transform one of her characters into an animal). But contrary to the evil editor myth, horror isn't the norm. The experience of most of the commercially published writers I know has been more like mine--relationships that range from great to just okay and sometimes poor, but that don't typically involve the kind of manipulation and mutilation that the myth says we should fear.

In fact, the greatest number of editorial horror stories I've heard have come from not from commercially published writers, but from unpublished or self-published writers who hired less-than-qualified independent editors from listings on the Internet (there are many, many dubious editors out there), or from micropress-published authors whose inexperienced publishers employed editors with no relevant professional skills, whose idea of editing was to eliminate all words ending in "-ly," or to switch all the punctuation around, or to rewrite random sentences in their own style. Since smaller publishers often reserve the right to edit without the author's permission "so long as the meaning of the work is not materially changed" (this can cover a lot of ground), the author may not have any recourse. By contrast, every big-publisher contract I've ever signed has included a clause ensuring that no substantive editing (other than copy editing) is done without my approval.

There are many reasons to self-publish. Fear of editors should not be one of them.

58 comments:

John Smith said...

You're right. You shouldn't self publish because of fear of editors, especially if you don't have any first hand experience. Writers should remember that what editors want best is to create a book that tons of people will enjoy, just like the writers.

Beth said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Beth said...

Well said!

Meagan Spooner said...

When I was reading this, it definitely occurred to me that talking about the evils of editors and "cookie cutter" manuscripts might have been a way to make the writer feel better if she was having secret doubts about self-publishing. Self-publishing can be wonderful in some cases, but can also be a source of regret in others, especially given all the publishing scams running around.

One of the things I most look forward to about getting published someday is having a professional editor to work with. Someone objective to help me figure out what works and (more importantly) what doesn't? Sign me up!

KD said...

At Phoenix Comicon, someone asked this of a panel of four writers. All chuckled. James A. Owen had the mic, and he said he didn't know what the questioner was talking about. He said, "My editor makes me look good!" Leanna Renee Heiber agreed. "My editor keeps me from looking like an idiot."

Yet the myth persists.

Mary Nida Smith said...

I am most grateful to all my editors at magazines and newspapers I have been published in. I have never met a bad editor except whose who own Pod; so-called publishing companies

Eric said...

Myth? Next you'll be telling me there isn't a Santa Claus!

Delphine Dryden said...

My editor is the best thing ever, and she makes my books better every single time. And while there's such a thing as artistic integrity and establishing a writing style, I think it's important to remember that you may write in a vacuum but you certainly can't sell books in one. Good editors know what works for readers, and knowing what will/won't resonate with readers is a vital part of their expertise. If an experienced editor thinks your work needs a great deal of revision, then self-publishing the unrevised version seems like asking for disappointment.

Odin said...

In the end, the goal of the publisher and the author should be the same. To sell as many copies of the book as possible while still telling the best story possible. I would sincerely hope that a professional editor would make this process both easier and more successful.

Stacia kane said...

Ha, I posted a bit about this exact topic today; great minds think alike? (Or in our case, a mediocre mind--that would be me--and a great one, which would be you.)

Anyway, yeah, I wrote a couple of blog posts about art and compromise, and a lot of people seemed to think that editors would force you to compromise, or that not wishing to compromise means not accepting editing, which is basically the same thing in reverse. But I've never had an editor try to change my work; I've never had one tell me I can't do this or that (with one exception, but that was a complex story and something I was happy to change anyway, in an erotic romance novel). Aside from that it's never even come up.

I love my editors. They make my work better. They offer advice. They're partnerships, and ones that enriche my work and life.

Su-sieee! Mac said...

Thanks for the post. Editors are not to be feared. I've been on both sides of the table, as development editor and as author. I like to think that I was and am a fair and reasonable editor, working with authors in a partnership to turn out works of which they and me can be proud. As an author, I've worked mostly with fair and reasonable editors in respectful and enjoyable partnerships. The worse editor I worked with requested changes because she wanted to see her words in print, not because her changes improved the text. I thought of her as an inexperienced editor and a self-absorbed person. Fortunately, I only worked with her once.
~Su-sieee! Mac
This and That. Here and There. Now, Sometimes Then.

Heather Solos said...

The horror stories certainly made me nervous, but so far I've been thrilled with my editor. It's my first experience and I appreciate having my work tightened up.

steeleweed said...

Anyone contemplating a career of writing should read 'Pilgrim Son' by John Masters. He was an officer in the Indian Army until Britain got kicked out. He emigrated to the US and set out to become a novelist. His observations on writing and publishing are intelligent, mature and pertinent.

karenranney said...

The author/publisher and author/editor relationship is not an adversarial one. If my publisher sells oodles of my books, it affects their bottom line. It's contingent upon both of us to provide the very best product possible for readers.

My editor culls, recommends, and spots things I've missed. I love her opinions, because my books are always stronger for them.

I've been privileged to work with a number of editors - and they've all be great.

Anonymous said...

I am about to select a self-publish using iUniverse. What are the latest pros / cons for using them? Is there a company out there that is better ($ / delivery / ethics) I should be looking into using instead? Tonilee

James C. Wallace II said...

I will stand up for the other side and say that I loathe editors, especially those who say only that this is wrong or that is wrong, never what is write.

All of you make a good argument about the value of editors, but I can state with great certainty that the few editors I have worked with butchered my work and left me feeling like I had been raped!

If that sounds extreme, think how I felt when my words looked foreign to me, when the emotion of my story vanished like so much vapor, when the very intent of my foreshadowing was left in a pile of good intentions on the part of the editor.

My style, my choice of words and phrasing, my words are mine and mine alone and I like what I have put down on paper. I choose not to give in to the whims of others and stand by my choice.

To date, I do very well and am quite happy with my work, my life and my writing.

Please don't respond with some plea to reconsider this or that... or even some of the other. Don't tell me I got a bad editor or I misunderstood their intent.

I DON'T CARE!!!! I LOVE MY WORDS and they will remain MY WORDS for as long as the Land of Oz exists!

C. M. Albrecht, Crime Central said...

This is just slightly off the main thrust of the article, but my own take about self publishing is that if I had a great How-To book, something I could promote on the Internet or even on Craig's List, I might prefer to go that route and keep all the loot for myself. But as for fiction, my own particular ego needs a publisher who thinks my book is worth publishing. If I have to publish it myself, I'll never really feel that I'm an "Author".

M. M. Justus said...

I just wish I could find one who's willing to take my manuscript on.

Kathryn Neff Perry said...

Victoria, I really liked this post. I remember the first time my manuscript was returned by my editor. I saw red. Literally, red ink. At first I was hurt because she was criticizing "my baby". But the more I read, and let it sink it, I realized she was on to something. We developed a relationship exactly like you described. There were times she was wrong, and more times than not, I was wrong. But I listened to her. I'm proud of the "product" she helped me develop. My writing skills are better because of her. Thanks again for a wonderful post.
Hugs
Katt

Jan said...

My experience with book editors has always been positive. In those rare instances when the editor pointed at a problem, but the solution she/he suggested didn't work for me...I proposed a different solution and we were all happy! The editorial process in books has been amazingly smooth. And I do "work for hire" where technically editors don't have to make me happy AT ALL. And yet, they still treat my work with respect and still leave any changes up to me, not them.

Now, I have also worked with a host of magazine editors. Most are very good. A very few change your work without discussion and what ends up in print is not what I wrote...and at least once was factually incorrect. That was painful.

Desert Eric said...

Wouldn't the adage apply: A writer who edits him/herself has a fool for a client.

Dan said...

As someone who has been writing for a number of years and not sold a heck of a lot (one story, actually!), I have come to understand that there are two types of story writing.

The first is the story you just have to get down on paper. But you realize no matter how good it is, it will never see print. It is just the creative urge expressing itself. You write it for your own satisfaction. I have one that is a crossover of two very popular genre’ shows, but it will never see print. I’m content that I was able to write it down.

The second is the story you write because you love it and want it to get published. In order for that to happen, you must be open to criticism and allow your work to be edited. You are writing not just for yourself, but for the marketplace.

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for this post. I have been reading about the evil editor for 4 years, basically since I started my novel. People say, "Self-publish so the work is your own." I always say that I want the work to be good enough to get published by a reputable publisher. In fact, if I had self-published, I would have put out a very mediocre product.

Writer and Cat said...

I would think, in this limited market, especially with genre fiction, if an author's work was in need of mutilation, the editor wouldn't buy it in the first place.

M.R.J. Le Blanc said...

Honestly, I think most writers who say these kinds of things are the ones who don't want to admit their work could use improvement. An editor saying 'this should be changed' is taken more as an attack rather than a way to make it better. Though sometimes I'm sure there are times when the editor and author just don't jive, but that doesn't make editors bad.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...

I am about to select a self-publish using iUniverse.
7/16/2010 7:54 PM


http://accrispin.blogspot.com/2006/06/ac-crispin-57-iuniverses-publishing.html

http://www.ripoffreport.com/book-magazine-publishers/iuniverse-self-publi/iuniverse-self-publishing-comp-2dad7.htm

In fact, you should always google search any company by putting their name + "scam" or "ripoff" into the mix.

http://accrispin.blogspot.com/2007/02/happy-valentines-day-from-writer-beware.html

Publishers are supposed to pay YOU.

http://www.brendahiatt.com/id2.html

Lulu-com is a no upfront cost venue. Your book won't be in stores, but you get that with any self-pub/vanity venture.

STAY AWAY from Publish America. Do that seach + "scam" on them to see why.
---------------------------
I've worked as both a writer and editor, so I have both sides to consider.

One of my editors I can trust not to change things, but that goes even for when things *should* be changed!

I have had fights with this editor, and many times her suggestions were terrible. I stuck to my guns and was later proved right.

Another editor I have is just great. She absolutely makes me a better writer! When a change is needed, we figure things out, we don't dig in and fight.

As an editor I treat the writers the way I like to be treated.

Most understand, but I've had a word-diva who went batshit insane when asked to cut word reps and trim dead wood in an overly-long story. She was literally screaming into the phone.

She's off my list of writers I can work with!

Her publisher decided to drop her. Yes, she had a book on the NYT bestseller list for a couple weeks, but the numbers dropped on the 2nd title, and her attitude alienated the editors from wanting to work with her.

I've dealt with other NYT writers farther up the ladder than that neo, and they were professional every step of the way, dreams to work with.

It's a give and take. Both sides need to be professional, not adversarial. The goal IS to have a great book in the stores!

Brad Jaeger said...

I love editors. Someone in my corner that wants to help me look more impressive than I actually am...what's to hate?

rick crawford said...

Wow, sounds like a horrible experience. My first experience in getting work edited was good. I paid, but the editor was professional. I found her from a book on publishing so she came well recommended. I don't think I would spend money unless the editor came recommended.
www.rickybruce.com

Savannah Terriella said...

I was on a self-publishing site and was astounded by how evil the site hinted every publishing house was, how your work would be twisted into something you'd never want, and how you would have so much of a better experience with 'our friendly staff'!

Or something along those lines. After a while, you start to believe it. Then you get a splash of ice water when you read this blog. Many people also don't want to go into the hassle of getting an agent, so they use the excuse you mentioned.
Great post!

arbraun said...

I'm glad that's true for the most part and am happy to hear I don't have to be paranoid about my novel being ripped to shreds, although I agree it does happen. I think worthwhile fear of editors is justified more with short story magazine and anthology editors than novel editors, but still the problems are in the minority.

Charlotte Castle said...

In my experience it is usually the arrogant 'my work is perfect' writers who remain unrepresented and unsold.

Of course your editor is a professional and is there to make your book stronger. Simon's Choice is far better for various editorial interventions - though it is true I argued my case on a number of points and won.


cx

Anonymous said...

Any self-respecting self-published author knows that you still need an editor. You simply can't catch all your own errors without a second pair of eyes.

If you find an editor that is not part of a big publishing house, the chances they are a scammer, or simply bad at their job increase exponentially -- in that case being a little fearful isn't a bad thing, but then again, it would be your own fault.

If you find yourself a freelance author, ask for a sample of their work or check with former clients.

Anonymous said...

@Tonilee
"I am about to select a self-publish using iUniverse. What are the latest pros / cons for using them? Is there a company out there that is better ($ / delivery / ethics) I should be looking into using instead? Tonilee"

Please oh please, don't put that amount of cash down to self-publish. Visit the Absolutewrite.com forums and ask around.

Anonymous said...

BRAVA! Another pro-self-publishing myth busted! POD: only for the get-rich-quick schemers, the lazy, and talentless.

Shawn James said...

Editors aren't evil. A good one makes good writing great, and great writing spectacular.

I wish I could afford one.

Marian Perera said...

I'm careful when it comes to spelling, grammar and punctuation. I read my manuscript over at least three or four times before it was accepted by a publisher.

My editor still found problems I'd overlooked (such as a few hundred repetitions of "though" and "at least"). She made the manuscript better as a result. I can't wait for her to get started on the sequel.

Laura Resnick said...

Yeah, I've been puzzled by the Evil Editor myth, too, which I do indeed see propounded often by various people as a "justificaton" for self-publishing.

I've worked with some excellent editors who helped me make my work better--in some cases, substantially better. I've worked with some mediocre editors whose editing didn't make much difference to the quality of the work, but with whom I didn't have disputes or feel railroaded. And I've worked with at least one unbelievably incompetent editor--but my many and dautning problems with this person were mostly administrative; and even our editorial disagreements were never in any way about trying to force my work into a "cookie cutter" mold--and the editor never questioned my right to complete artistic control of my own work.

Where editorial control or dominance is a reality is in speciality areas of fiction--things like work-for-hire, series/category romance, and that sort of thing. And anyone not willing to work with that level of editorial control can easily just avoid working in those specialized fields. (The case where an editor inexplicably rewrote a writer's character as an animal occurred in the context of a contract where the publisher, not the author, had artistic control of the material.)

Moreover, the people who MOST need a (good) editor are new writers. I wouldn't be nearly the writer I am now (22 years into my professional career) if I hadn't worked with an excellent editor early in my career who taught me valuable craft lessons when editing my books--and by "editing," I mean making suggestions to me, not making changes FOR me or without my permission.

Having been around a long time, I certainly know plenty of bad editor stories. But those stories don't evince How The Job Works; they're examkples of what happens when a writer and editor are badly repaired, or when an editor is simply bad at the job.

And editing being a profession with long hours, poor pay, and no glory, so it does indeed have a number of people who aren't very good at what they do. Editing also has a VERY high turnover level at the lower levels. For example, during my first four years in the biz, my first, second, and fourth editors all quit their jobs and left publishing (and, no, not because of ME).

S.M. Carrière said...

I'm so glad you published this post. It is very true that editors do want the best for a story, and that they really do care about preserving the author's integrity.

I had an experience recently where several rounds of edits came through with the editors rewriting sections - even adding dialogue and scenery description.

At first I was affronted. I was unsure and a tad defensive, but after a little back and forth, the editors and I came to a solid understanding and they are now some of my favourite people.

It was quite the learning curve for me, having never worked with editors before. It's an experience I'd never forego, however.

The editors weren't evil. Most of them aren't! People just starting out need to hear it - there are so many opinion pieces to the contrary it's hard not to have a bias when an editor finally does come into play.

Great post. Thank-you!

Charlotte Castle said...

Whoah! Hang onthere, ''anonymous'...

"POD only for the lazy and talentless..."

I think you might be making something of a sweeping statement there. I went with a POD publisher because my novel was only 65,000 words and UK agents wouldn't look at it. My publishers promised me that I wasn't signed in (I can go anytime) and frankly, they're editing and marketing have been great.

Don't you think marking every single person who has ever published POD as 'lazy and untalented' is a little harsh? My novel is currently doing a blog tour (just behind a Philippa Gregory title) and there hasn't been a review that's come in yet that hasn't been 5 stars and used the word 'best seller'. Clearly I'm doing something right... oh, and I have very small children and start work at my computer at 5am and normally finish around 10pm, inbetween nappy changes, meals and bathtimes. The lazy tag seems particularly inappropriate...

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said: "If you find an editor that is not part of a big publishing house, the chances they are a scammer, or simply bad at their job increase exponentially -- in that case being a little fearful isn't a bad thing, but then again, it would be your own fault."

There are thousands of good freelance editors out there, many of whom once worked for publishing houses and decided to go it alone, some of whom have always freelanced. If you want to find one, a good way is to go to a professional editors' association. In Canada, that's the Editors' Association of Canada; I'm not sure what the American equivalent is.

Gabrielle said...

The professional editors association in America is the Editorial Freelancers Association (http://www.the-efa.org/).

Keep in mind that there is no quality-check run on members, they just have to self-identify as editors and pay their dues. Even a credible, professional editor may not agree with your point of view, or may not be someone you can work with.

I love my authors, I love developing a rapport with them and working with them to make a book or story as good as it can possibly be.

When I start with a new author who isn't familiar with how I work, I'm always careful to explain my corrections -- which rule of grammar or style I'm following, and why, and why I think this passage isn't clear enough or how it could be misread, or why I think this moment deserves a stronger emotional punch. I invite the author to discuss if they're not happy with my suggestions or disagree with my assessments.

Usually, even if they don't like my particular resolution, they'll see the issue I see and acknowledge that it needs fixing. Sometimes, in a troublesome spot, I make a suggestion I know they won't like. It allows them to crystallize something nebulous that had bothered them, and triggers a "not that, THIS" revelation to produce something that really shines.

I never lose sight of the fact that it's the writer's words, not mine. I do try to help a manuscript meet its full potential.

I'm not a teacher grading a paper, I'm a partner in the process... and that partnership is where all the excitement and the fun is. I think the "nightmare" editors are the ones who lose sight of that.

Notanaturalmartyr said...

to anonymous who is about to self-publish: try Amazon's createspace, nearly no-cost because it's DIY, a lot of work, but can be fun. I would love to have had an editor, but the Amazon route worked for me as I learned a lot about promotion although I didn't do much more than cover my costs. I also developed more confidence in my work and in myself because of the positive responses from people who bought the book. (Ssylka by Ann Campbell).

Notanaturalmartyr said...

I apologize if I violated some unwritten rule by the (small) plug for my book. I was too much influenced by websites that say plug it every chance you get.
Sorry.

Anonymous said...

From Anonymous @ Tonilee sends: Thanks for all the feedback. I logged into Lulu and may use that one. But, is there someone out there that know of a blog that can walk me through lessons learned on using it? This is the first time I have ever blogged and it is wonderful the help I have already received.

BTW, I paid an editor $1000 to review my book. While she did have some good grammar corrections, I could hardly read her chicken scratches comments. I do not believe she read the whole thing (~200 pages) as she missed sections that obviously needed an editors pen. Now I'm $1K further into this one.

Yes, I know the lady from previous work where I'd submitted articles to the newspaper where she was the editor. Anyhow, blah - blah - blah from me.

Thanks a bazillion for your helpful comments.

Anonymously Tonilee

Anonymous said...

MYTH persists? How utterly ignorant. Even in-house editors know which of their colleagues are talented and which are not. I've edited on both sides of the desk, and I assure you there are mindlessly destructive editors at big publishing houses - and brilliant freelance editors as well. The extra horror of the bad editor with a desk job is that it is almost impossible to get away from him/her.

Anonymous said...

@Tonilee: The best place to learn about the lessons learnt about Lulu, is the Lulu forums. If you need to know something, chances are someone else asked before you did.

Kat said...

Finding one good editor that won't butcher your work is rare to find nowadays. I know one though, thanks.

Ashley Lynn Waldron said...

All the editors I've worked with have been helpful, cordial and understanding. Trained eyes see things my eyes cannot and help me become a better writer overall. It's both arrogance and ignorance to think your work is perfect and should never be tampered with because no one understands your genius.

A Valentine Joseph said...

I love this post.... I am a self published author. Self publishing was not because of fear of editors. The editors I have worked with were very great. They offered great suggestions and pointed out errors I didn't see. After all was said and done my book was much better. We all suffer from tunnel vision so an editor is always needed end... You are so right...

Frances Grimble said...

I've worked in publishing for over 25 years. I've been a freelance writer, I've been a freelance editor, I've been an in-house project editor, and I've hired freelance editors. All nonfiction, but I can still make some relevant points.

It's not valid to overgeneralize about authors, editors, or publishers. In my experience as an editor, some authors are very objective about their work, and turn in virtually perfect manuscripts. Some throw half-written work at their editor and expect the editor to rewrite it to the extent of being an unacknowledged coauthor. Many authors are always pleasant and professional; but, well, I have had a few that were difficult. For example, I had one who had once worked as an in-house editor at the same publishing house. She kept directly contacting people on the project with whom authors were not supposed to interact (such as graphic artists) and tried to get them to argue with each other. And I had one who was a Woody Allenesque neurotic who used to call me up at home about his problems around 6 AM (till I learned to leave on my answering machine at night).

And, some editors are very experienced and professional. But some recently got a BA in English, and assume that means they know how to edit. There are a few experienced editors who freelance because they have such difficult personalities that no one wants to work with them all day. There are a few who have burned out and who should move on to a new profession, but who haven't (though typically they talk about doing so).

Then, there's the editor from Hell. I was explicitly trained NOT to be one. Including all kinds of details like never to use red pencil (almost all authors react better to the same comments in anything but red), how to present suggestions without making authors feel defensive, and many other details.

I worked in-house mostly with editors trained the same way I was, so when as a freelance writer I discovered a few editors from Hell, I was surprised. I am talking about editors who signed off contractually on an outline and part of the work, and I wrote the entire work following the outline, etc. Then the editor got a new bright idea, wanted me to write an entirely or substantially different magazine article (or even book, in one instance), then changed their minds again and wanted yet something else. I learned to firmly point out that my contract covered writing this project according to the outline and contract, and if they wanted a different work they had better give me an additional contract and additional payment for it. So yes, these editors clearly had the attitude that an author was merely someone to carry out the editor's ideas.

It is also not true that editors who work for self-publishers always produce bad work. Yes, experienced editors tend to gravitate to publishers who pay more and who provide a fairly steady stream of work. However, as a member of a freelance copyeditor's e-list, I can testify that many of the same editors work for several kinds of client, including large publishers, micropresses, self-publishers, academic journals, and commercial businesses. Including people that I know have been editors for decades (I personally knew one who was an editor while I was still in college). As a freelancer, you often need to go where the work is, and to be open to accepting jobs from a variety of clients. If you're experienced, you tend to have preferred clients (typically the ones who provide the most work and the best pay), but less preferred clients are very useful. They help you fill holes in the schedule, when less pay is better than none. They can make work more fun, and broaden your background on the resume, by giving you different kinds of material and somewhat different tasks.

In summary: Not all editors are evil (a better word would be incompetent), but some are. It's just like any other profession. Some people are better at it than others.

Frances Grimble said...

Part 1

I've worked in publishing for over 25 years. I've been a freelance writer, I've been a freelance editor, I've been an in-house project editor, and I've hired freelance editors. All nonfiction, but I can still make some relevant points.

It's not valid to overgeneralize about authors, editors, or publishers. In my experience as an editor, some authors are very objective about their work, and turn in virtually perfect manuscripts. Some throw half-written work at their editor and expect the editor to rewrite it to the extent of being an unacknowledged coauthor. Many authors are always pleasant and professional; but, well, I have had a few that were difficult. For example, I had one who had once worked as an in-house editor at the same publishing house. She kept directly contacting people on the project with whom authors were not supposed to interact (such as graphic artists) and tried to get them to argue with each other/play politics. And I had one who was a Woody Allenesque neurotic who used to call me at home at 6 AM (till I learned to leave my answering machine on at night).

And, some editors are very experienced and professional. But some recently got a BA in English, and assume that means they know how to edit. There are a few experienced editors who freelance because they have such difficult personalities that no one wants to work with them all day. There are a few who have burned out and who should move on to a new profession, but don’t (though typically they talk about it).

Then, there's the editor from Hell. I was explicitly trained NOT to be one. Including all kinds of details like never to use red pencil (almost all authors react better to the same comments in anything but red), how to present suggestions without making authors feel defensive, and many other details.

I worked in-house mostly with editors trained the same way I was, so when as a freelance writer I discovered a few editors from Hell, I was surprised. I am talking about editors who signed off contractually on an outline and part of the work, and I wrote the entire work following the outline, etc. Then the editor got a new bright idea, wanted me to write an entirely or substantially different magazine article (or even book, in one instance), then changed their minds again and wanted yet something else. (I had to firmly point out that my contract covered writing this project according to the outline and contract, and if they wanted a different work they had better give me an additional contract and additional payment for it.) So yes, these editors clearly had the attitude that an author was merely someone to carry out the editor's ideas.

Frances Grimble said...

Part 1

I've worked in publishing for over 25 years. I've been a freelance writer, I've been a freelance editor, I've been an in-house project editor, and I've hired freelance editors. All nonfiction, but I can still make some relevant points.

It's not valid to overgeneralize about authors, editors, or publishers. In my experience as an editor, some authors are very objective about their work, and turn in virtually perfect manuscripts. Some throw half-written work at their editor and expect the editor to rewrite it to the extent of being an unacknowledged coauthor. Many authors are always pleasant and professional; but, well, I have had a few that were difficult. For example, I had one who had once worked as an in-house editor at the same publishing house. She kept directly contacting people on the project with whom authors were not supposed to interact (such as graphic artists) and tried to get them to argue with each other/play politics. And I had one who was a Woody Allenesque neurotic who used to call me at home at 6 AM (till I learned to leave my answering machine on at night).

And, some editors are very experienced and professional. But some recently got a BA in English, and assume that means they know how to edit. There are a few experienced editors who freelance because they have such difficult personalities that no one wants to work with them all day. There are a few who have burned out and who should move on to a new profession, but don’t (though typically they talk about it).

Moses Siregar III said...

After reading the original article and all the comments, I have to agree to some degree with the self-published author who made this statement. Probably most of the time, editors at major publishing houses will improve a manuscript. Most of the time, the "evil editor" is indeed a myth.

But clearly not all the time. One potential benefit to a self-publisher is eliminating that risk. An indie publisher can hire their own editor, and then take or leave their comments. They do not have to worry about major hassles with the person, or losing control over their published words.

So while publishing houses' editors are wonderful and helpful to authors most of the time, there is still a risk of having a bad experience with one, and self-publishers don't have to worry about being locked in to any relationship that isn't working for them.

Of course, they have other things to worry about (including putting out a bad novel, paying for a bad editor whether they know it or not, etc.), but being harmed by a nightmare editor isn't one of those things.

tsc said...

I had an experience like that with a POD house last year. They agreed to take on my manuscript and handed it off to an editor, who got back to me with corrections. She had chopped up my carefully cadenced sentences into bite sized chunks of four or five words more appropriate to a first grade reader, and totally robbed the book of its style. Naturally, I protested, the "editor" then refused to work with me, and the publisher eventually dropped it.

Probably a good thing. But having read several hundred "works" from the authonomy slush, my guess would be that most self-publishers who talk like that prefer not to have their work enhanced by putting it into professional hands. They simply have a cognitive disconnect to their own lack of artistry, and regard competent editing as an insult to their creativity.

Glynis said...

You mean they don't have big teeth and claws? ;0

I self published two poetry books for fun. My debut novel is far too important to me, and I want the adventure of querying agents. I was so nervous the other night when I hit the send button for the first time. It is done now, and the worst thing that can be said is 'no thank you'.
Happy scribbling :)

Karen McGrath said...

I'm an editor for a publishing house and a freelance editor. I have to say that the "Evil Editor" routine is an emotional marketing ploy. Create a fear in the public, and then exploit that fear for money.

The fear is losing control. The created fear is once you employ an editor, you will lose control of your voice. The answer to the created fear, self publish with fill-in-the-blank and never lose control again - making them thousands richer than the $500. you may have spent on an editor to help you clarify your message and save your reputation when the book hits the market.

I haven't met a self-published author yet who wishes they never used an editor's service. But I have met many who wish they had. The self-publishing places don't care about sales. They've made their money on you, sales don't matter to them.

An editor's money is made on sales in a publishing house so it's in their best interest to make the book shine, with the author's blessing. Ghost writing costs a lot more, btw, no editor will do that without charging ghost writing fees.

Good editors provide references. I wouldn't consider self-publishing without an editor, it's literary suicide, imo.

Moses Siregar III said...

The self-publishing places don't care about sales. They've made their money on you, sales don't matter to them.

Basic POD operations don't make much money on you unless you sell copies, and most smart self-pubbers seem to use services like Lightning Source and CreateSpace, which fall in this category. Vanity presses are a different subject, though who in their right mind would use those service?

Victoria Mixon said...

Victoria, thanks for this! I've been an independent editor for almost two years now, and this is actually the first I've heard of such a myth.

The truth is business is great for me, and at this point I have a stable of enthusiastic on-going clients who continue to bring me their new manuscripts even while fresh clients continue contacting me. Two of my first clients have gotten excellent agents in the past year, and others have decided to delve deeper into their craft before going back to querying. They understand for the first time the difference between being amateurs and being professionals. And they're thrilled!

This, in spite of the fact that I have pretty darn high standards for literature, so I push them really hard to produce the best they possibly can. They just never knew they had it in them.

I love the actual work--both the developmental editing and line editing--but the part that makes it so worthwhile is the wonderful response I get over and over again, client after client, that they didn't know their words could sound so professional, they didn't realize there was so much great material inside the stories they want to tell, they had no idea writing a novel was so hard, so time-consuming, and so extraordinarily rewarding.

It's true that, in the field of independent editing, there are lots and lots (and lots and lots!) of folks hanging out their shingles as 'editors' who have no training or experience. Always, always, always do your due diligence before you hire anybody. I'm listed on Preditors & Editors, I post my client feedback prominently on my site, I post sample editing, and I maintain a blog, an advice column, and an online magazine where I can showcase my knowledge of the craft. Potential clients have the right to know what to expect from my work, even if they never hire me.

Excellent independent editors are out here, and due to economic and technological developments in recent years the burden of paying for editing is, unfortunately, beginning to fall more and more on the shoulders of the writers.

But you don't know how productive, educational, and inspiring the mentoring of an excellent editor can be until you’ve got it.