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!