On editing and praise-singing…

13 Aug

Listening to the author and understanding his or her vision is vital. Photo courtesy of

Here I am enjoying a lovely sleep-in, courtesy of my wonderful partner (who has put up with Selena’s sooking for several hours this morning) and meanwhile David Gaughran is singing my praises over on his very popular blog! Thanks Dave. I couldn’t ask for a lovelier author to work with, and such a go-getter too.

I wanted to weigh in to say that I believe several factors, above all others, make an edit effective, but this got way to long to post over there, so here it is instead. The first—and I think the most important element of successful editing—is that the editor respects the author’s work so that the “essence” of the work remains intact (how very existentialist of me). That doesn’t mean a sentence can’t be completely flipped on its end and made better for it, that a paragraph or even a subplot can’t be deleted, or that a scene shouldn’t be rewritten from scratch, but that the “point” of the sentence, the paragraph or scene remains the same, although enhanced by the change.

I notice someone mentioned in the comments on Dave’s post that their editor amended colloquial language crucial to the story, and that is a case where the editor has failed to understand the essence of the work. As an editor, part of the process is understanding that this is the author’s work, not your own, and that there may be parts that irk you but may not necessarily bother the “average” reader, or aspects that are critical to the character portrayal and “feel” of the work, even if they bend the “rules” somewhat. (And let me tell you, when it comes to fiction most rules can bend and several should be entirely snapped in half and thrown in the trash).

Authors should ensure they seek a sample edit, but they also need to instruct the editor if there are elements they specifically do not want changed. The editor may still make suggestions if something really bothers them, but will then know not to spend a lot of time on those sections of the text. Another must-have element is an author who maintains an open mind and doesn’t let his or her ego determine what gets changed, but instead employs logic, critical reasoning, or even intuition to the process of amending work. Some authors instinctively know what is right for their work and their characters, and that is a wonderful thing. Ego, however, makes a very poor proofreader.

I don’t think any freelance editor expects that an author will accept 100% of their changes, but when an author is able to critically assess those recommendations and cherry pick the ones that work for a story that is a wonderful thing too. Apparently, I have about a 90% to 95% “acceptance” rate for my suggested changes with my clients. Would I like it to be higher?—sure. I’d love it to be 99%. “Ninety-nine percent?” you ask. “Why not 100%?” Well, you see, I don’t want my authors to be automatons. I don’t want them to just blindly take my word for it; I want them to learn how to make editorial decisions for themselves. The author is the master of their own words and they must also be judge, jury, and executioner. I need to grant them the right to be that.

Much of an editor’s job is persuasion and negotiation. In order for them to see the value in my changes, I must explain those amendments to them in such a way that they feel compelled to adopt them. If I don’t—if I fail to do that—then of course they will reject that change; their ego will reject it and their critical mind will reject it because it hasn’t been convinced that it is necessary or beneficial. Only explanations I make coherently, honestly and convincingly will make that author a more formidable writer.

Perversely, that may also mean there will come a day when they no longer need lil’ ole freelance me, because they’ve landed a lucrative trade deal and an inhouse editor (who may well edit their work entirely differently, but that’s okay, there is more than one way to edit a novel effectively). Dave Gaughran, I’m watching you!


Posted by on August 13, 2011 in Editing, How the pros do it, Indie Publishing


5 responses to “On editing and praise-singing…

  1. davidgaughran

    August 13, 2011 at 11:29 am


    I promise to heartlessly abandon you only for huge amounts of money.


    • karincox

      August 13, 2011 at 12:34 pm

      🙂 It’s a deal!

  2. Pauline McNair

    September 22, 2011 at 3:44 am

    Karin, I read this with interest – this novice is learning.

    • karincox

      September 22, 2011 at 9:27 am

      I’m so glad you’re finding it useful, Pauline.

  3. Biochemborg

    May 8, 2013 at 12:15 am

    I do not mean this in a nasty way. Part of the problem with Internet discussions is the inability to see other people’s facial expressions or hear the tone of their voices, and mere words can be interpreted in numerous, sometimes contradictory, ways, no matter how benign they seem. So I wish to assure you up front that this comment is not meant to be argumentative or virulent, but simply an expression of my POV.

    Ramsey Campbell once commented on a blog post that castigated writers for bad self-editing and proofing, by pointing out a few typos and grammatical problems with the blogger’s post. Another reader replied by asking him if that invalidated the blog’s lesson. He did not respond, but in my opinion the second commenter missed his point. No, such problems do not invalidate the message, but they damage the messenger’s credibility. Anyone giving out advice should be like Caesar’s wife; above reproach.

    In the second paragraph of your post you wrote “…but this got way to long to post over there, so here it is instead.” Please note you used “to long” instead of “too long”.

    Now, I would be the first admit that this is trivial. First off, I understood the meaning of the sentence. Secondly, that error does not (for me) invalidate the blog’s central message. But, just as the first paragraph of a story must (according to some experts) grab the reader’s interest or he won’t finish the story, a glaring typo, no matter how minor, at the beginning of your blog might convince some readers that it is not worth their time to finish reading the post. Personally, I think that’s a mistake; I don’t let first impressions determine my final conclusion. But I am rather different from most people in that respect.

    Here’s the thing: I have difficulty distinguishing between an objective edit and a subconscious effort on the part of the editor to impose his or her own voice on my work. And while my ego can often be an impediment, I don’t believe that’s the problem in this case.

    I would be the first to admit that my writing could benefit (probably immensely) from a good objective, professional edit. In fact, in a guest post on David Gaughran’s blog, you gave an example of florid verbiage that I instantly recognized as illustrating one of the problems with my own writing.

    I recognized that the corrected example was an improvement, but what I also saw was that it no longer represented the writer’s voice but instead displayed the editor’s voice. It was the word “swished” that did it. It hadn’t been used in the “bad” example, and word choice is one strong indicator of voice. Since I didn’t write the “bad” example my objection cannot be based on ego, but it underscores my dilemma: how do I determine when a suggested edit corrects a true underlying problem rather than simply represents how the editor would have written it? In another post you spoke of the editor preserving the “point”, the idea, of a passage, but ideas are so basic that they can be expressed in many different ways. How do I know if the editor’s expression is truly corrective or just a reflection of his or her own ego?

    I mean, if I don’t know how to properly edit my own stories, how do I recognize the difference, even in a sample edit? How do I tell if its my ego is interfering with my better judgment, and not the editor usurping mastery over my own words, even if subconsciously?

    Thank you for your patience and consideration through my tirade.


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