Choosing an Editor: Glinda or Elphaba?

Do bears bare? Do bees be?
This one’s for you Bethany & Laurie.

I recently joked around on Twitter about the very strange bond between an author and editor. I said that it reminded me of a “David & Maddie” type of relationship. I was amazed at how many “LOL” and “Amen” responses that I received from other authors. Well, from those old enough to catch the reference, anyway. 🙂

For those that have never had the pleasure of working with an editor before, I’ll try and describe the process: It’s a little like asking someone to take a look at your finest painting—the one you’ve spent countless hours on, perfecting the brushstrokes and use of color—and then pay them to smear pooh on it. Why? Because your brushstrokes weren’t as perfect as you thought, and your use of color wasn’t varied enough. Sure, your feelings are hurt and your gut reaction is to tell them that they don’t know what they’re talking about, but here’s the stone cold truth: Yes, they do.

An editor isn’t paid to be your friend and give you the warm and fuzzies about your work. They’re not going to stroke your hair, tell you everything is going to be all right, and sing songs about puppies and rainbows. They’re paid to make sure that you don’t embarrass yourself and release something into the marketplace that will represent you poorly. Are they going to step on your feelings in the process? Absolutely. Are you going to get a better book because of it? Without a doubt.

As long as we’re being honest here, I don’t know that I could ever trust an editor that was overly nice and complimentary about my work. What if their feedback could have saved my book from obscurity, but they were too afraid of hurting my feelings? That doesn’t help anyone. I must be insane, or at least part masochist, but I prefer an editor’s words to sting. Why? Because someone needs to be impartial enough to tell you the truth.

It’s too easy to feel content because “My mom said that my book is great,” or “my husband/wife said I’m the next Charlene Harris.” It’s safe. It feels good. It’s comfortable to believe that. However, you’ll be in for one hell of a reality check when the general public gets a hold of it. No matter how ruthless an editor’s comments can seem, they pale in comparison to the heartless rantings of an Internet troll.

You'll thank them later.

Working with an editor can be difficult to ease into. Take me, for example. Before working with my primary editor, Bethany, I was attracted to her ad because she promised to be gentle and respectful. You know, to really work with the writer and help them fine-tune their inner voice. Sounded great to me! After working with Bethany for three days, I was ready to fire hire. Well, punch her in the face and then fire her. She was brutal! I couldn’t believe that I was paying someone to talk to me the way that she did. She sliced and diced my manuscript, nitpicking every little thing to death, and then had the nerve to outline every tick and mistake I had made. I was furious! I thought to myself, “Oh yeah? Well, where’s your book, hot shot?”

The thing is, as I made the adjustments and fixes that she recommended, I could see the improvements to my manuscript begin to take shape. I started to see the original draft for the clunky mess that it was, and how much better it became under her keen eye. It was at that point that I realized just how valuable an editor can be.

Now days, I trust Bethany implicitly. She goes to great lengths to not only polish my manuscripts, but also to make sure that I understand the rule of thumb behind her corrections so that I can apply that knowledge to my future works.

The moral to my story is this: Don’t be so sensitive. It can be uncomfortable granting someone unrestricted access to something so personal, and sure, I do sometimes still get angry at comments that editors make. But as odd as it sounds, that’s how I know that I’m working with a good one. An editor doesn’t rip your book to shreds because they’re mean. An editor rips your book to shreds because it needs it. I’m not made of glass, and you shouldn’t be either. Have faith in your ability to write a good book, but never take for granted the power of a good editor.

2 comments

  1. I LOVED Moonlighting!!

    I believe editors are the way you described until you sell as many copies as a John Grisham or James Patterson, at that point I think they do a lot of ass kissing. They still smear pooh all over it but they smile and ask if they can get you anything while doing it.

    1. LOL! Well, then dare to dream that we’re all lucky enough one day to find us an ass kissing editor that craps on our work while fetching us coffee. 🙂

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