Monday, July 25, 2011

Perspective: Editor vs. Author

It’s all in the way you look at it.

I’m an author and an editor. So when I turn in a manuscript it’s perfect, right? Wrong. No way. Far from it. I think it’s that whole left-brain-right-brain thing. Supposedly it’s the left side of the brain that is analytical and logical and the right side that is intuitive and creative.

Theoretically, people are usually left or right brain dominant. My brain is split. Well, of course it is. I’ve never claimed to be normal. LOL The truth is, I suspect most people are split. Sometimes we’re logical thinkers and sometimes we’re dreamers. It’s just that simple.

So what the hell am I talking about? It’s like this. When I am in writer mode, I think like a writer. I’m creative. I envision scenes in my head and put them on paper. When I’m in editor mode, I am far removed from the story. I can’t envision the scene unless I read the words. Therefore, if the author hasn’t done the job well enough, I can’t see the action.

As a writer we know everything our characters are thinking and feeling. However, we don’t always get that down on paper. Sometimes we’ll write something and just KNOW that it’s as plain as the nose on a body’s face what we intended. Then an editor reads it and you’ll see CLARIFY marked next to those words. HUH?

When it comes to punctuation, one of the things writers are guilty of is misuse of commas, ellipses, and em dashes. Why?  Because inside our writer heads, we input pauses and interruptions and such exactly where we think they should be. We hear all of those little hesitations our characters make. We see their actions hesitate. So we automatically write it the way we see it, which, of course, is contrary to rules of punctuation! LOL

My first two editors told me I was a very clean writer. I strutted around like a proud peacock each time I heard that. But I was dumb. Yep, I was. That was years ago. Long before I realized I needed to study the craft of writing. As we all know, writing isn’t just about where to put the commas. It’s also about a whole lot of other things like POV, characterization, mood, tell vs. show, etc. etc. etc. The mechanics of it all.

You see, I submitted a manuscript to a different publishing house and was accepted. WOW! Wonderful. I was on my way. Right? Wrong. LOL The thing is, I thought I was a clean writer. But at this new publishing house, I was lucky enough to find an editor who knew her business. Yep, it was my first REAL edit. I’m afraid not all publishers and editors are created equal. Unfortunately, we usually learn that the hard way, too. I did.

So my first REAL edit got me on track. I studied like there was NO tomorrow, which is how I ended up as an editor.  

I know for a fact that there are authors I’ve edited for who envision staking me down in the desert and pouring syrup all over my body so an army of fire ants will come along and devour me. How do I know this? Because I’ve envisioned doing the same thing to my editors! Except I’m even more evil. I soak leather straps in water and then tie the editor to the stakes, including tying one around the neck. That way as the leather straps dry in the hot sun, they slowly squeeze. So the editor is both choking and being eaten alive by fire ants at the same time! YESSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS!!!!

Every editor does it differently. Editing is subjective for the most part. As far as punctuation is concerned I tend to be in favor of how the author sees/hears it in their head. But as an editor, I have to at least try to follow the rules. My main concern, however, is with content. Readers aren’t stupid. They really don’t care too much about commas and ellipses. They care more about the story. So if they see a typo or some punctuation out of place, they generally overlook it unless it’s far too much to overlook—and that’s where careful study of the craft comes into play. While no two editors will see it exactly the same way, there should be enough consistency throughout a manuscript to nix all complaints.

So the next time you receive a round of edits and you open them up and GASP, take a step back. Remember that you’re looking at the manuscript through different eyes. It’s all a matter of perspective. After I’ve gone through an edit with an author, I generally hear back from them. What do they say? Basically, they tell me their book is much much better. I am often told that at first they didn’t trust what I was suggesting, but the deeper they got into the edit, the more they learned and simply GOT IT! Basically, authors hate me at first and we end up as friends by the end of the edit.

It’s an editor’s job to point out every tiny, itsy bitsy thing they see in your manuscript that could throw a reader out of the story. I don’t care how unimportant and minuscule it seems. If your editor isn’t doing that, then your editor isn’t doing their job.

Some writers turn in cleaner manuscripts than others. All that means is that one writer is farther along in the writing craft than the other. Doesn’t mean their storyline is better than the other author’s. Just means they did a better job of telling it. Which is what YOU the author want to do. Study the craft. Become one of those “clean” writers.

I was thinking this morning about the two cleanest writers I’ve ever edited for. And I’m going to give them a shout out. Hey, everyone needs a little pat on the back from time to time, don’t they? Those two writers are Emmy Ellis, writing as Natalie Dae, Sarah Masters, and under several other pseudonyms I can’t always remember, LOL, AND Destiny Blaine, who writes as Destiny Blaine, Natalie Acres, and a couple of more pseudonyms I can’t remember, LOL!!!

Both Emmy and Destiny are thorough writers with an excellent grasp of different writing techniques. They understand the mechanics. And I’m sure both of them would say that in no way does that mean they don’t need an editor. Both of them are smart enough to say just the opposite. That’s all a part of understanding the writing craft in general.

So hats off to Emmy Ellis (who is also the head of the art department at Total E-Bound) and to Destiny Blaine. You can find these ladies at their websites.

On another note, my newest release, Strip Down, from Ellora's Cave is now available at Amazon! Check it out! I'm getting the most amazing reader feedback. Emails have been pouring in. And the verdict is that Strip Down is one damn fine story! I suppose I should be humble. But somehow I just can't be. LOL


Anonymous said...

You are spot on, Tess.

I'm not an editor, I certainly need one, and I did learn a lot from the two I've had so far.

I have learned a lot about writing, all the details like you mentioned, so I do try to do my best in those areas and with punctuation, sentence structure, etc. But as an author, I'm too close to my own work to see some of the things an editor would point out. Even if I stay away from the story for 4-6 weeks, I find some things to fix, but ultimately, I still need the editor.

I've heard horror stories about bad, bad editors, but luckily, I've never had a bad one. I hope I never do.

BTW, I have Strip Down on my TBR list. I'm looking forward to reading it.

Sharazade said...

Oh, excellent post. I've been a professional editor for... 8 years? something like that, and a published author for longer. I (ahem) like to think my editing is virtually flawless--but I absolutely still need an editor for my own work. You are quite right about the two sides of the brain! What an editor provides, in addition to correct comma placement and consistency among verb tenses, is an outside view. You can't give your own work an outside view because you are not outside!

I like too this point that you made: "While no two editors will see it exactly the same way, there should be enough consistency throughout a manuscript to nix all complaints." You're quite right, two editors would give a manuscript two (not hugely different) treatments--but they should each be correct.

I think any writer thinking of hiring a new editor should ask for a short sample edit (I typically ask for around five pages--and not the first five pages, which are usually the most polished!) to see if you like what that person can do for your work.

When you go through a publisher, of course, you don't necessarily get a choice of editor. I know authors who devotedly follow the best editors around from publishing house to publishing house--because that's the person who's going to do the best possible for the quality of your book. I've been very fortunate to have been given some wonderful editors for my books. It makes a difference!

Harlie Williams said...

I haven't been published but my three critique partners found different things for me to work on in my WIP. It was quite interesting to see the three different critiques and how I'm going to work through them and incorporate them into the story. And you're right,pay attention to the little things when you write.

I remember a couple of months ago, I sent you something of mine to read and you had completely marked it up. At that moment, I realized that I didn't have a clue as to what I was doing. I have kept that marked up copy with me whenever I write and refer back to it as to what mistakes to avoid and what I actually did write. The lessons you taught me with that old WIP is truly invaluable and I will treasure the time and effort you helped a newbie realize that writing is hard and its about sitting around in silk PJ's, drinking coffe and eating BonBons.

Thanks for the post and I truly am getting better, thanks in part to you.

Emmy Ellis said...

Ah, bless your heart. Thank you for mentioning me!

Love ya!


Anny Cook said...

I deeply appreciate a good editor. After writing a book or two...well, let's say I've had the gamut from the absolute worst to the best.

Just one thing I would add. When you receive your edits, read through every bit--all the notes, all the changes requested--and then walk away. Maybe even walk away for a couple days. Then read through them again.

If you totally disagree with your editor on a required change, initiate a dialogue. If you just can't come to an agreement, ask for another opinion.

It will cost you in all sorts of ways, though. I did fight for one of my books. I suspect I'll never be asked to write for that house again. But then, I'm pretty sure I won't want to, either.

Good post, Tess.

Elece said...

Loved today's post!! I haven't been writing for very long, but I love it! I started dabbling in doing critiques, and have found I absolutely love doing them! Im not an author or editor, but damn! one day I want to be both. So I totally get where you're coming from. I've found my best "writing" is when I finish doing a crit, and then look at my WIP. Seeing it from "different eyes" makes a world of difference.

I'm so happy that Strip Down is getting such great feedback. I loved it myself! As for the humble...if I wrote that kick-ass book, I wouldn't be either!!! Lol!

Tess MacKall said...

So glad you've experienced only good editors, Casey. I had three really bad ones. Editors who were not even capable of college level vocabulary which is what you need overall.

But I was a newbie. lol

Everyone needs an editor. No exceptions.

Hope you enjoy Strip Down. Let me know!

Tess MacKall said...


My self-edits are pretty damn good. But they will NEVER be perfect. There is simply no way for an author to catch every issue. As authors, we read through our characters' eyes, from inside their heads.

Now I'll catch comma issues and typos. And I can beef up scenes here and there. But overall, I can't catch everything.

Asking for samples of editing is a very good idea. It can certainly give the author an overview of just what an editor is capable of. And in this age of self-publishing, authors hiring editors is going to be the norm.

Tess MacKall said...

Keep up the good work, Harlie! You took the advice I gave you in the spirit it was given. Lots of times authors won't do that. When you can accept a critique and learn from it---well...that's half the struggle right there.

Enjoy your learning experience. Keep soaking it up like a sponge. You'll get there. No doubt about it.

Tess MacKall said...

You are the quintessential writer, Emmy. Truly.

Harlie Williams said...

Thanks Tess. I still read it and realize that I truly did suck at first. Getting better.

Show vs tell....the hardest thing for me to learn.

Tess MacKall said...

Walking away from an edit for a couple of days is a good idea. Especially when you have a bad reaction to the edit.

And authors should always ask questions. No reason an author shouldn't. Negotiate things that you absolutely want to keep. But have a good reason for keeping it, too.

When I edit, I give a reason for everything I suggest changing. The author won't always agree with me. If I feel strongly enough about it, I'll most certainly convince them. And if I feel that strongly about it, then it means I am trying to change something that is going to cause the author big problems, or is going to cause the publisher big problems. Other than that, there is usually a way to compromise or to flat out convince an author. That's my job. To convince the author. Make them understand.

Tess MacKall said...

Elece you are such a doll. Thank you again for all of your kind words.

So you want to be an editor too???? Okay, good going. The world can always use more good editors.

Your work is better once you finish a crit? Same here. Editing somehow releases the creativity in me. I'm primed and ready. lol

Tess MacKall said...

Show vs. Tell. That was the hardest for me as well, hon. I couldn't get it to save my life. Drove me insane. Drove my crit partner to drink. LOL You're doing just fine, hon.

Elece said...

I would love to do both. But when it comes down to the bottom line, I'd love to be an editor. Don't get me wrong, I love writing and have stories amuck in my head. There's just something about reading a story, and if it's a good one, making it kick-ass! I'm a perfectionist at heart, so I love getting down to the nitty-gritty. Lol!

Of course there is always a big fat BUT. I ain't got no edumacation or degrees. Nuttin'! I don't think my cosmetology license is going to do a darn thing for me on this one. I guess my hope is to write, write damn good (hopefully), get my foot in the door and such. Then see where things go. It'll be hard work. But anything is possible if you don't give up, right? And I want that gig!! :0)))

Molly Daniels said...

So far, I've only had 4 editors (one for each book, lol!) I loved the first one; butted heads with my second (not the one credited, but the actual one who didn't know what she was doing...yes, got a 2nd opinion and we compromised); and so far am happy with #3 and 4. I hope it stays that way:)

Natalie Acres said...

Hi Tess,

Thank you so much for the compliment. You’re a great source of inspiration and support, Tess.
I learned a great deal from editors and authors like you! :)