We all growl about editors, especially copy editors. In plain fact, they’re the intercession experts of the writer’s craft. A good editor, like a good wife or husband, it a gift beyond compare. As creative people, we need encouragement, support, understanding – all sorts of intangible, but instantly recognized, input. No matter how we treasure our individuality and the pride we take in weaving words into literature, without someone urging are compared to how contrary husbands too frequently are.) Today, however, I want to talk about how we interact with our editor.
First off, understand that once you start working with an editor, there’s nothing about you that appeals as strongly to that editor as your success. Think about it. This is a woman or a man who’s career in inextricably linked to your own. If your books fail, your editor fails. A few bumps like that and the editor’s on the corner selling t-shirts from a suitcase and you’re explaining to all your friends why none of it was your fault. And you may be right. Good books don’t always succeed. Bad books can catch the public eye and make the authors rich – and not do the editor any harm, either. So what’s an author to do?
1. Believe in your editor. She/he’s working for you. (For you new guys on the block, that’s the way it works: The editor works for you, not the other way around.)
2. Never forget that publishing is a for-profit operation. Your editor won’t. At the end of the day you’ll be agonizing over your place in the literary canon. Your editor will be going home to sweat blood wondering if your sales will help him/her make the house payment. Since I’m assuming you’re writing commercial fiction, I’m going to assume you’re smart enough to take commercial advice from someone who’s played the game successfully and is trying to make you rich.
3. Be true to yourself. Your editor wants you to succeed, but if she/he could do what you do, he/she would sure as hell do it. If you’re going to face down your editor – and there certainly will be times when you must – don’t do it out of pride. Do it out of awareness of your talent, your craftsmanship, and the soul of your work.
4. Don’t think you’re all the editor has to work on. Editors are overworked, underpaid, and (too often) unappreciated. You have something to say about one-third of that construct. See to it you don’t assume your third even approximates the other two.
5. The other side of (4., above) is that not all editors are created equal. The world’s full of horror stories about lazy, incompetent, and generally crummy editors. Some of the stories are true. That takes us back to (3., above). You’re a writer. You’re unique. Have enough pride in your work and yourself to insist on considerate treatment. Not preferential – considerate. When you have a legitimate gripe, sound off.
6. It’s not your editor’s job to love you, nor is it your job to love him/her. You’re supposed to work together to polish a piece of work that’s impressed so many people it’s being readied for big-time commerce. Be professional. Be civil, no matter what. Remember Please and Thank You? Use them. And when the chores seem to be outweighing the rewards, think back on how eager you were – and how hard you worked – to get to the point where you have an EDITOR. Then shut up and get back to work.
7. Be aware you’re involved in the grandest gamble of your life. Throw the dice. Enjoy the game.
Well said, Don. Editors are often the unsung heroes of publishing.