Wednesday, 3 October 2012

In Praise of Editors

…but first, a shout-out for another good cause. Twitter friend and talented artist and graphic designer Angie Shawcroft is helping to organise a Spooktacular Sponsored Stroll at Chatsworth House, Derbyshire on Sunday 28th October to raise money for Cancer Research UK. Follow the link for more info or click on the image to register.





And now down to the serious business of this post.

Editors.

Before I went on my September blogging break, I read this blog post, which left me, well… mystified. One paragraph in particular stood out:  I am really sick of reading about how writers can’t possibly string together so much as a tweet, let alone an entire novel without someone else hanging over their shoulder steering the course. That’s what editors do, after all. Were you fully aware of that? Editors take other people’s material and structure it to suit either their own preconceived notions or the fiscal necessity of the platform they’re editing for.

Um… what?

I am a debut author who is going through the later stages of having her first novel prepared for publication next year. So far, ACID has been worked on by 3 different editors and has gone through 2 major rounds of revisions and a round of copyedits. The whole experience – though it has been a lot of work – has brought me to one conclusion:

Writers need editors.

Perhaps it's because I love revising anyway (much more so than writing first drafts!), but I've found the whole editing process – once the initial post-first edit letter OMG-why-didn't-I-see-all-the-things-that-are-wrong-with-this-book-it-needs-so-much-work-I'm-the-worst-writer-ever shock wore off – both exciting and thoroughly rewarding. The insight the team at RHCP have had into my book is incredible, strengthening it in ways I'd never have thought possible. If the version of ACID that's hitting the shelves next year was the version that originally sold, I'd be cringing at the thought of people reading it (not least because I have a mathematical blind spot, and always get mixed up with my chapter numbers and dates!).

At no point has my original vision for the book been lost. At no point has anyone tried to change the book just to fit in with a preconceived notion or platform. It's my book, made better with the advice and guidance of skilled (and lovely) people who are true experts. Made better in ways that, because as an author I am often too close to my own work to see its flaws, I could never have managed by myself.

No, I don't need an editor hanging over my shoulder steering the course as I write my novels. But I do need editors to help those novels realise their full potential once the first draft is written (and also my beta-reader, and my agent, and… you get the idea). I truly believe that whether you're starting out or an old hand, traditionally- or self-published, the input of others is what helps you shape your work and get better at what you do.

Editors, I salute you.

26 comments:

  1. Yeah, editors (in my experience) are great. I've never worked with one who wants to change my material to suit their own agenda - only tweak it here and there to improve it in some way. As for the blog post you refer to, well, it's far too long to read at this time of the morning (needs an editor?) and left me confused. It starts off cursing editors and ends by praising them. Ah well, what do I know?

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    1. I'm with you Dan - it's a mind-boggling post. I think written specifically to antagonise!

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    2. I know, Dan, that was my reaction to it as well. I found it totally confusing… not sure what point the blogger was trying to make overall, to be honest, so I addressed the points that stood out to me!

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  2. Oh Emma - how I agree with you. Self-publishing has opened doors for so many people (and I'm one of them - travel writing is such a niche market) but that doesn't mean that any of us can write our best book by ourselves. Editors are not there so make our work look like theirs - but to bring out the best in it so it is even more ours.

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    1. Thank you, Jo – and I agree with you!

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  3. Totally agree! My book has been through several redrafts and edits, and it's improved and improved. You're so right about the 'oh-my-god-why-didn't-I-see-that's - there's so much we CAN'T see when we're so close. Like you, I also love editing more than first-drafting, but we always need fresh eyes.

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  4. Good post Emma. I agree with you, although not having written a novel the only comparison I have is my OU assignments. Each time I get my feedback, I completely agree with what my tutor has put, and have one of those 'why didn't I do it like that moments'. You do need fresh eyes to put things into perspective, and I would imagine it's even more important with something as personal as a novel.

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    1. Thank you, Lynn. Any sort of writing needs a second (or third) pair of eyes, I think. It helps you improve as a writer, too!

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  5. I can't wait to actually have a real life editor read my work and make is wonderful.*sighs*

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  6. It's a strange post. And written by an editor at that! So... I don't know what to make of it really! Kinda reminds me of that kid at school who told outrageous lies just to get attention.

    Of course writers need editors. Regardless of how you publish or who you hire, you NEED a second pair of eyes looking over your work. No question about it.

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    1. I agree, Mary. I thought it was bizarre… which is why I wrote this post!

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  7. This is an interesting one, Em. Having read the whole of the blog post, the writer does state that she has overexaggerated and has taken a humorous slant on this at times. The writer also makes some thought provoking points. I'm sure that there are poor editors, as there are poor writers, plumbers (oh yes, they installed my bathroom so I know about these!) etc... but I also agree with your point, that editors can throw a whole new light on our initial manuscripts, seeing things that we just can't see because our vision can be so subjective. It isn't about where we put a full stop and whether we should use commas for parenthesis here, or not, it's about having a wider vision and being able to see what our work could become, isn't it? This, to me, is where the value of editors really lies.

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    1. I can see that the poster exaggerated at times, but it didn't seem very humorous to me… more ranty and a bit confused. The responses to commenters were the same. Although yes, I agree there are bad editors out there - usually scammers, who are trying to make a quick buck out of people. But as you say, having a GOOD editor is very valuable, and I didn't agree with the overall point of the post, which, as I understood it, seemed to be saying that 99% editors were bad and out to ruin your work.

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  8. P.S. That 'she' (in my comment above) should say 'he' by the way... oh, what irony :D

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  9. I'm with you on this issue Emma. Great post!

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  10. That's exactly how I feel about it! Though I don't have an editor, my agent did make several monumental suggestions to my book. When I first read her notes, I thought all that work sounded daunting and would take me away from the book, but after careful thinking I addressed pretty much everything she brought up, and I'm SO glad I did. At its core, it is still the same book, but now it's much easier to actually get to that core. And THAT is when I really learned to appreciate revisions even more than drafting.

    Good luck with your copyedits or whatever phase you're on now!

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    1. Thank you, Caryn! My agent is very editorial too, so I already had that experience before my book sold. And, like you, I found it to be a very rewarding process. Revisions are where the book is made, I think. :)

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  11. I enjoyed your post. I finished an ms recently, and a couple agents have it at the moment. I'm curious how much a writer can expect her book to change. Do storyline and characters change? Mostly sentence structure and flow? Someday I'd love to read a book before edit then after edit to see.

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    1. Hi Stephanie! ACID hasn't fundamentally changed at-all; it's the same book, with the same basic story at its core, that it was before it sold. What the editors who worked on it did was to help me find the best possible way to tell that story, so I *did* end up changing part of the middle and the end – but I was happy to do that, as they work so much better now. At no point did I feel like changes were being suggested just to suit the editor (and I say suggested, because they were just suggestions - at no point did anyone say 'you HAVE to make these changes or else'. If there was anything I didn't agree on, I discussed it with my editor, and we reached a compromise).

      A good editor works with you – after all, they want your book to succeed as much as you do. When your book sells or gets taken on by an agent, or even when you give it to your beta readers or critique partners, you're part of a team. It's a great feeling knowing that these people are helping you to make your book the best it can possibly be.

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    2. Stephanie - me too! Would be so interesting to see how books differ during revisions!

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  12. Wonderful post! I often think that editors must be the heroes of publishing - all guts, no glory. :D

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    1. Thank you, Leigh Ann! And yes, I agree! :)

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