Friday, January 28

Editor is Not a Synonym for Magician

If I was in a room full of people and the question was asked, 'Who here feels insecure about their spelling and grammar?' I would raise my hand.

I'm not perfect. I make many mistakes and there are a lot of things I don't know. The thing I try to remember is to ask questions and not close my eyes when there are answers to be sought and improvement to be made.

I know that there are a fair amount of writers, like me, who haven't got the strongest grasp of grammar. They slip up and they know it.

Except that's okay because that is what editors are for, right? It's their job to fix a writer's mistakes and shortcomings, and to make their work polished and publishable.

Not quite.

It is a fact that editors exist. The confusion with plenty of writers seems to be why.

An editor is there to go through the manuscript, communicate with the author, proofread, help with sentence structure, look at the structure of the manuscript as a whole, and see how well the story flows, among many other things.

I think I used a very important word there: help.

An editor is there to help you. The initial writing process is one of solitude. You have to work hard on your own to get something done. If someone comes along to give you a hand in the editing stages, there is something you should feel and that is a whole heap of gratitude. An editor is there to help you but that doesn't mean you can shove the whole load on them and go, 'Here! It’s your problem now.' You're not going to get any help if you toss them straight off a cliff, weighed down with an anvil of adverbs.

Have you ever heard the phrase, 'Help me to help you'? It’s a great one. If someone comes along to give you a hand, and they don't do everything you want and more, it's not the greatest if you punch them in the face and yell, 'This is all you're fault!' as the poor editor lies on the ground, quivering and spluttering through the blood from their broken nose, 'All your fault. You're at fault.'

Remember that room full of writers I was in? Well, just keep in mind that every one of them wants to get a literary agent...and an editor...and a publisher. Now, think of all the writers in that room who have the mind-set that the editor will fix everything. Then think of the other who have more of a humble approach. If you take into account the sheer number of writers who want to be published, the ones who are going to be less taxing to an editor will have a better chance of being taken on by a literary agent, who is the first one to read your manuscript and will have some idea of the amount of work it will need.

Pfft, so basically editors are just lazy?

Sure, an editor checks grammar, sentence structure, keeps an eye out for clichés, talks to you about your manuscript, is knowledgeable of current literary techniques and the industry, works at all strange hours and listens to you and encourages you and – well, if I had that much stuff to do and more, I'd take on the less troublesome client, wouldn't you?

An editor isn't Superman. They can't use their laser vision to remove all the mistakes from your manuscript. What does an editor do? A lot. That doesn't mean that they never run out of steam.

I've read work that writers have shucked off on one or more people to edit, and the end result still came back reading like a first draft. That is not because there were a couple of grammatical errors. It is because the writing was poor.

Yes, an editor is there to help you with the structure and feel of your work as much as just picking out the odd typo or punctuation error. These days, though, a writer can't bathe in the thought that things will just be done for them.

A writer needs to be involved in networking, marketing and understand the publishing industry. We also need to have enough self-awareness to evaluate our own shortcomings and do our best to fix them. That doesn't mean that we don't need or deserve help.

Editors exist and there are many who are brilliant. That doesn't mean that they can fix a writer's problems with the snap of their fingers. Nor should they have to.

It is important for a writer not to be ignorant of their own role. Everyone has their shortcomings but you have to be your own editor first. A fresh eye comes after you have given the editing process your own attention.

1 comment:

4thguy said...

This is something that we need to remind ourselves constantly. An editor isn't there to correct each and every silly spelling mistake, that's what F7 is for. :)
I'd seek help on story flow and endings though, because I don't have much experience in that.