If you’ve ever read this blog, or accidentally engaged me in conversation, you’ll know I have Quite Strong Feelings about editing. And writing…
Writers! What would your perfect editor look like? I’m doing a research project, and I’d like to speak to you.
Conversation online (here, or on the blog, or on Twitter) is welcome and encouraged. But if you’re heading to LonCon3, NineWorlds, FantasyCon or the Edinburgh International Book Festival later this year, I’d love to chat in person, too!
My perfect editor: someone who loves my work but is not afraid to say “we can make it work better IF” and then proceeds to list the reasons!
Bonus wants: editor may also love Rainbow Rowell, LM Montgomery, YA, and have a healthy appreciation for Lee Pace
I think that, especially in a freelance setting, it’s important for editors to tell writers what kind of editing they offer, and for writers to tell editors what kind of editing they are looking for. You say in the post linked to above that editing should not just be about correcting spelling mistakes etc. Well, substantive editing shouldn’t, no. But that’s pretty much all copy editing or line editing is for (fixing spelling and grammatical errors, and correcting to house style where applicable). So if you hired a copy editor to do a copy edit, there’s no point in criticizing them for not doing more than that. Communication is key here.
If I was looking for a substantive editor to help me edit a novel for publication, I’d look for someone who can and will edit for plot, characterization, and continuity. As you say in your post, I would want someone who will help me tell the story I want to tell, in the best way possible.
I would also very much appreciate questions or constructively phrased criticism rather than bluntly pointing out ‘errors’ - e.g. “Why did you do this?” as opposed to “This is wrong - take it out.” I say this not only in the interest of avoiding hurt feelings but also because, at this level of critique/editing, the line between an ‘error’ and a ‘stylistic choice’ is much less easily drawn.
I hope this is helpful!
Thanks so much for reblogging and replying!
(Advance apologies - my answer got a bit long)
I definitely agree that editors need to be clear about what they’re offering. It’s all about having a clear brief from the start and making sure that the writer (or publisher - whoever is hiring the editor) is getting exactly what they are asking for. Both sides need to understand and agree on what they expect from the edit.
As you say, this is especially important for a freelancer who may not only offer distinct services, but who may be working with writers who do not understand what sort of edit they need, or what it involves. It is also important to clarify with publishers, who might all have slightly different interpretations of edit levels.
Also, I have worked with publishers and authors from around the world and the USA, Australia, and to a lesser extent, the UK, do not all have the same expectations and understanding of each editing term. The editor needs to make it clear what they mean by a copy edit, or a line edit, or whatever, and to compare that against what their client is expecting. Again, as you say, this comes down to communication and making sure the brief is clear.
I did ramble on a bit in my original post! I fear my message may have got a little lost. I am not looking to redefine editing by any means. I do not mean to say that editing “should not” just be about correcting spelling and grammar etc. Indeed, sometimes that is precisely what someone is after and a lot of editors specialise in that kind of service. What I am looking to do is find out how the other abilities and knowledge many editors have can be best utilised.
I know that a lot of us are able to help with less obvious things, if only people knew they could ask. I am often asked in conversation for advice or guidance that doesn’t fit neatly into “copy edit” or “substantive edit”… which is why I am asking these questions of the world at large! This is less about changing the kind of edits people already offer, and more about seeing how such services could be broadened and adapted to offer extra information or support that writers need and want. This is also why I am interested in talking to writers and creators from other fields (fanfic, film, comics) - so I get some different ideas about what is possible and available…or missing.
For example, I often work with writers who self-publish and who have no idea what to expect from an edit - or what publishing will involve for them. Since they have never been locked into a traditional publishing system, they have no preconceived idea about what process they “ought” to be replicating, and can often be clearer about what they’d find helpful. Yet sometimes they also need someone who can give them the kind of feedback they would only otherwise receive from an agent or publisher.
Similarly, when I work with traditionally published authors they are able to articulate more clearly what they feel is missing when working with a publisher - either because there is a service they once enjoyed earlier in their career that is no longer offered, or because there is guidance and support they need that just isn’t available via their agent or publisher.
Not every editor will be able to step in and offer what an author wants; not every editor will want to. But editing is often misunderstood and I think there are ways for us to help.
Oh - and I couldn’t agree more about asking questions over black-and-white correcting. Style can trump rules and sometimes the key s to ask why a writing choice was made rather than assuming the choice was wrong.