Oh, Editor, my Editor

I’ve recently been through an editing process with a new editor who I haven’t worked with before. Through a series of e-mail ‘conversations’ and communications, we turned my story into something that actually deserves to be in the anthology she is putting together.

So let’s look at how we get to the point of actually being edited. It started with me submitting a 4,600 word story in the theme requested by the small press putting the anthology together (in this case, stories based around a circus, fun-fair or sideshow alley). Then came an e-mail saying it had been received. Cool. The deadline came and went, and then, a fortnight later I was told I had been short-listed. The website indicated that the final selection would be a month later, but two weeks later I got my confirmation. Then came the contract. A token payment, a free e-copy and discounts on hard copies was my payment; the rights stayed with the press that was to publish it for two years after initial publication, then it was mine to do with as I wanted again.

Then came the editing. She wanted 56 edits. 21 were changing passive voice into active voice, and I accepted 18 of these, but explained why I thought passive voice worked better in the other 3 cases. 13 were typos – my bad. 3 were the wrong name for a character (the joy of changing a name midway through a manuscript) – again, my bad. 9 were suggestions of better words (e.g. struck instead of hit); I accepted 8 and argued for keeping 1. 4 were me using the word ‘lay’ instead of ‘lie’ and its derivatives – d’oh! And the final 6 were where she wanted to expurgate sections that added nothing to the tale. I accepted 2 and argued for compromise on the other 4.

She wrote back and debated the passive voice keeps, saying they made the tone of it seem too much like ‘tell not show’, accepted 2 of my compromises and argued against the other 2, and accepted the word change I didn’t want.

My next email tried to compromise on the points she didn’t agree with.

She accepted all but one of my compromises, but her own compromise worked. Done. No arguments, not abuse, just a working relationship, back and forth between us over the course of 6 days, filled withy compromise and some good humour. She sent 3 e-mails, so did I. In the end I thanked her for her time and effort in making my story the best it could be for her anthology.

This is a cut and paste from her return e-mail: “Thank-you in return for not making my job harder than it needed to be. Your suggestions were clearly made with the story in mind. I just wish I had more authors like you.”

I was intrigued, and so when I recently got the author’s proof of the final manuscript, I returned it to say it was fine, and I asked her what she meant. She told me that one of the authors she had been dealing with had rejected her every suggestion, just that he wrote the story and that was that. He then apparently threatened her with legal action because he had signed the contract. She pointed out that the contract said the editor could make minor changes to the story and she was only informing authors out of courtesy. He said that, to him, even fixing a spelling mistake was a major change.

She said it took a fortnight of e-mails and finally a letter from her own lawyer before he accepted her changes. She said he won’t be getting a letter of acceptance again, and she will let other editors know to avoid him. Bringing a lawyer in made this the most expensive book she’d put out. I apologised for our emails and she said 4 to 8 emails per author was the norm and what she expected. Some blew out to 12 or more e-mails, and these were the authors who were difficult and hated their ‘artistic vision’ being compromised even a little. She was wary of using these authors again.

The job of an editor is not an easy one. Sure, some have been rude and nasty and just do not do a good job, but most I have dealt with have been easy to deal with and have done a good job with the final collections. Some others are great and easy to deal with, but their final edits in the book leave a lot to be desired with spelling mistakes, punctuation errors and grammatical confusions all over the place. Some of these, I have come to realise, have been because some authors refuse to be edited and it was too late to dump them and too protracted to keep on fighting. But these are the sorts of authors who will forever remain in the realm of the small presses, with even some of those giving these guys a miss once their reputations precede them.

So to every author out there – don’t give your editor a hard time, He or she is doing a tough job and they are only doing it because they want to make sure the book that bears their name is the best book possible. They are not doing it out of pettiness or out of power-craziness (for the most part). Trust their judgement. Your work will thank you for it.


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