Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Tuesday Tip: Working With Your Editor

So you've sold a story or article, hooray! It's all roses from here, right?


Before your piece is published, it's going to go through editing. Depending on your editor, this can be a great experience, or a nightmare.

Now, sometimes the editing happens and you never see the result until print. This can be kind of nerve-wracking, because you have no idea what, if anything, the editor is doing to your manuscript. This is one of the reasons why it is so important to edit your manuscript before submitting it. The less they have to fix, the fewer chances the editor will make a mistake.

Of course, sometimes weird changes just happen anyway. My very first sale (many years ago) was a board game review for a magazine that's not around anymore, and in it one line got changed from "If you allow too many gates to open, the Ancient One wakes up and comes after you" to "If you allow too many gates to open, the Ancient One awakens, the world is fraught with peril." Huh-wha? I never did understand that change. I can only assume it had something to do with the layout...

Thing is, once it's printed there is absolutely nothing you can do about it. If you're like me, this will make you briefly insane. Take a deep breath and set it aside, folks. Giving yourself an aneurysm won't help anyone. And do not immediately run to Twitter/Facebook/MySpace/your blog to complain about it, either. That's totally unprofessional and may make future editors think twice about working with you.

On the other hand, you may end up with an editor that loves your story...if you just make these changes...

This can be harder. Most of the time, your contract (which will probably be signed long before the editing happens) will stipulate that the publisher/editor has the right to make changes to the manuscript as they require. Some contracts will be more detailed in this department than others, so always make sure to read your contracts carefully! But basically, once you agree to let someone edit and publish your work, it can become very dicey indeed as to how much they are free to muck with your manuscript.

In my experience, most editors that actually send you changes and suggestions are open to discussion. Remember, these folks are trying to make your manuscript be the best it can be!

Even if you are not inclined to be protective of your work, make sure to read the proposed changes thoroughly! I had one editor get confused as to who was saying what in one place, and the editor changed a sentence to make it more clear who was speaking - but changed it to the wrong speaker! Not only did I need to make who was speaking more clear, I needed to fix the fix that the editor made.

Now, if you're like me, you are very protective of your work. Over-protective, maybe. Neurotic, perhaps. Anal, you betcha. My first response, usually, is to get quite defensive. When this happens in person I just get very quiet, nod, and take notes. When I'm reading it, I rant and yell at the monitor. (Just ask my husband.)

The thing is, I love feedback. I need it. I want it. But no matter how hard I try, my first response is to get defensive. (Unless it's a problem I already knew about and hoped I could ignore, in which case I hang my head and pout.)

So, what I do is I read all the proposed changes. Then I set the manuscript aside until the next day. This allows me to stop being so emotional, and lets all that feedback simmer in the back of my brain. Usually by the next day I can say, "You know, she's right, that part could be better." And by then I usually have an idea of how I want to go about fixing the problem, and I'm excited about it.

Do you have to take every piece of advice from your editor? No. But think about them all very, very carefully. My husband, who for many years was a consultant, reminds me that the editor is my client. They have bought a service from me, and part of that service is me making reasonable changes to the manuscript.

It's that word "reasonable" that can be difficult.

(He also likes to remind me of our favorite line from the movie The Ninth Gate: "I don't have to like you. You're a client and you pay well.")

What not to change. Odds are you are submitting a Word document via email, and your editor is using the "track changes" feature during editing. I suggest you hide the changes, print out the edited version of the document, and read through it. Mark any changes you want to make to the manuscript. Anything that you didn't mark, leave it as it is. If your editor has made some small changes in vocabulary that seem incredibly inconsequential, just leave them. They're inconsequential. You just said so. Yes, it can be aggravating to see "yelled" changed to "shouted," because it shouldn't matter! And you know what? It doesn't matter. Save your ire for the bigger stuff.

What to stet. Sometimes your editor will make a change that just reads completely wrong to you. Maybe they've misunderstood something, or they have a pet peeve about speech tags or adverbs or commas or long sentences that you don't share. There are times when you look at a change and you just say "No." If you still feel that way even after sleeping on it and reading the edited manuscript, go ahead and change it back. On a paper manuscript, you'd write "STET" next to the change. Be aware that the editor, depending on your contract, may very well make the change anyway. You can but try.

What to change. The vast majority of the time, an editor's changes or comments denote some weakness in the manuscript. Even if you don't like the change that they proposed, try to see what it is that the editor is looking for. Find a way to fix the weak point that makes sense to you, and flows with your style. If your original manuscript was option A, and the editor's change is option B, sometimes coming up with an option C is the best strategy. Be careful that you are not just doing this because you want the whole manuscript to be "yours," or because you can't stand to see someone else have the final say in your work. You know who you are.

Remember - your editor wants your manuscript to be the very best it can possibly be. Your editor is your ally, not your adversary!

Don't be afraid to contact your editor over a particular proposed change. Be polite, be open to the discussion, and be as brief as possible. Remember, while this manuscript is your baby, your editor has a lot of people's babies to work on. Your time is valuable, and so is theirs.

Burn no bridges, waste no one's time (including your own), and do your best to leave a good impression with every industry professional you work with. You want these people not only to want to work with you again, but to be excited about doing so.

1 comment:

  1. The sleeper shall awaken. You will be fraught with peril! Good info, thanks!