Kristine Kathryn Rusch

The Business Rusch: Editorial Revisions

Written By: Kristine Kathryn Rusch - Jan• 23•13

Business Rusch logo webRecently, the Passive Voice blog pointed out a post on editing by  Lynn Price of Behler Publications. Behler Publications is an independent traditional publisher which buys manuscripts and turns them into finished books, distributing them to various book outlets and sending authors royalty statements. Behler has a contractual relationship with its authors.

I state all of that because some of the comments in the PV blog seemed to confuse Behler with independent editors whom self-published authors pay to go over their manuscripts before publishing the book.

What I realized—well, actually remembered—as I read over the comments is that writers have no clue what an editor is and what their relationship to that editor should be.

Writers don’t even seem to be aware that there are many kinds of editors within traditional publishing houses, and even more kinds of editors outside of those houses.

So I’ve decided to give you a two-week short course on how to work with an editor in both traditional and self-publishing. I’m using the term “self-publishing” this week instead of “indie-publishing” primarily for clarity.

Even though I’ll be dealing with traditional book publishing this week, those of you who self publish need to read this to understand what professional editors do and how they can help you. When you self-published writers hire an editor, you become their boss. So you become the traditional publishing company who has contracted with an editor who will then edit a manuscript from some writer. Even though that writer is you, you need to think of the writer as someone else in this instance. If you know how editing works in the big leagues, then you can approximate it in  your own small company.

If you are an editor at a traditional publishing company or one who now works for herself, please read this as well. Remember that most writers have no idea what you bring to the table. And some editors never seem to understand that they are not the last word on any manuscript, ever. Just because you editors think something is flawed doesn’t mean that it is. It simply might not work for you.

Traditional publishers have a variety of editorial types working for them. Once upon a time all of these people worked in-house. Now many of them work at home as contract employees, doing piecework, much like writers do.

I will be dealing with book publishing, not magazine publishing or anthology publishing. Editors in those fields have yet a different function which will only confuse matters here.

I’m going to deal in this piece with editors who actually work on manuscripts. There are editors who do not ever lift a red pen for any reason such as managing editors and assistant editors, just to name two. They have other, very important functions within a traditional publishing company. Remember that a traditional publishing company is most often a corporation, with all the redundancies and mistitled job descriptions that corporations have.

With that in mind, here are the various types of editors who can (not will) work on your manuscript.

1. The Acquiring Editor: Generally speaking, you will call this person your editor. This is the person who decided to buy the manuscript and shepherded this manuscript through the acquisition process. This might not be the editor who actually read the manuscript and liked it. The acquiring editor might be that editor’s boss.

The acquiring editor might never read your manuscript. She might approve the purchase through a summary submitted by the editor who actually read the manuscript.

Generally speaking, however, the acquiring editor is your manuscript’s first fan, someone who loves what you’ve done on the page enough to put her job on the line to purchase that manuscript. She’s someone who believes this manuscript will sell tens if not hundreds of thousands of copies. She’s willing to fight for the manuscript—sometimes for a year or more—to see that it will get into print.

Some acquiring editors will do content and line editing (see below). None of them will copyedit.

The acquiring editor is your manuscript’s advocate inside the publishing house. Unless something goes seriously wrong with your relationship, the acquiring editor is your best friend in-house. But—and this is an important caveat—the acquiring editor works for the publisher, not you or your manuscript. You might end up at odds with the acquiring editor. We’ll deal with that below.

2. Content editor: The content editor reads for story, plot, character, theme, structure, but not words. The content editor helps you make your manuscript the best manuscript it can be—in theory. Again, we’ll discuss some of that below.

If your acquiring editor does not do hands-on editing, you will get a content editor. This often happens to bestsellers, whose works are purchased by an editor-in-chief or a publisher (this is a position, not the business) or a vice-president of the company. That person then assigns a content editor for your book. Some bestsellers request a specific content editor. Sometimes that content editor works for another publisher and gets hired away from that publisher to the new publisher for the sole purpose of editing this particular bestseller’s books.

A good content editor will help the book. A great content editor will vastly improve the novel by offering suggestions that make the author hit herself on the forehead and wonder why she never thought of that in the first place. In all of my nearly thirty-plus years of working with book editors, I’ve only had one great content editor. She was and is brilliant.

I have, however, had dozens of good content editors, and I’m grateful to them.

More on this below as well.

3. Line editor: the line editor looks for consistency in the actual words and structure of the book. Sometimes this job gets folded into content editing. In fact, I’ve had content editors who think that line editing is their only job and never saw the forest for the trees. (I hated working with these people; they had no idea there was a story as well as the words. Generally speaking, these editors were failed writers.)

Many companies require copy editors to act as line editors. On one level, I think that’s a better pairing than line editing and content editing. Line editing requires the editor to look at the tiniest thing and to make queries like: She put on her hat on page 24. She put on her hat again on page 31. I didn’t see her take the hat off. Do you want to add that?

The reason that most companies separate line editing and copy editing, however, is that copy editing should take place when the manuscript is completed. Both line editors and content editors will send their work back to the author for a revision. That revision will move sentences and words around, so a copy edit at this stage is both costly and ineffective.

4. Copy Editor: The copy editor edits the finished copy. She will go over the copy for misspellings, missing words, grammar, and other nit-picky but oh so important details. Every writer needs a copy editor. Writers never ever ever see what they leave out. Nor do they realize that their spellings might be idiosyncratic or just plain wrong.

The copy edit will come back to the author for approval. The author’s word is final here. If you meant to use the British spelling for “color” (with its lovely and unnecessary “u”) in an American book, then  you reject the copy editor’s change. But make sure you do so consistently, because otherwise your book will have many colorful colours.

Copy editors are no longer an in-house position in any traditional publishing company that I’m familiar with. It’s all done by contract now.

Sometimes the copy editors are marvelous. I always note that when I’m sending the copy edit back and then I ask for that copy editor again. Sometimes the copy edit is atrocious. I had one copy editor who rewrote every single sentence in my 100K novel. The acquiring editor apologized and told me to do my best. I took one look at that mess, and realized the novel would be unreadable if we tried to keep anything this copy editor did, so I contacted the editor and asked if we could either have the manuscript copy edited again.

The editor said my work is so clean that he was happier going back to the original manuscript and letting the poor proofreader deal with the changes in the galleys. The editor made a note to production that I would not get charged for any excessive changes made in the galleys. (Writers often get charged if the changes are over 10% of the book). The book was a true mess. If I had been paid a bestseller’s advance, by the way, I would have received that second copy edit, but it wasn’t in the budget, so we did the best we could.

Good copy editors are worth their weight in gold. If  you get one at your traditional publishing company, make note of his name and then request him for future projects. If you move companies, suggest that he be the one to copy edit your books. Since copy editors are contract employees, they can work for more than one company at a time.

5. Proofreader: The proofreader is not an editor, but I’m putting them here because so many writers think the proofreader is an editor. The proofreader’s job is to compare your final manuscript to the finished product and to make sure that the manuscript and book match. It’s difficult, anal work, and not many people are good at it. But it has little to do with actual editing.

There are a dozen other different kinds of editors in traditional houses and a dozen different names for the jobs above. I’m just using the common ones.

But now, let’s return to Lynn Price’s essay. I suggest you read it, not just for the editor’s perspective, which this is, but also for the terrible awful unprofessional ways that writers have reacted to editing.

What Price describes in her essay is a typical content/line edit. Sometimes a writer will get a dozen comments in a 100K manuscript, and sometimes she’ll get hundreds. It all depends on the editor, the writer, and the manuscript.

It also depends on whether the manuscript sold as a full or a partial or on a proposal only. You’ll get a more in-depth editorial response on a proposal only because the editor has created her own vision of what the manuscript should be based on your description. She’ll try to mold your work in that direction, so that it’s closer to the book she imagined she bought before the book was written.

Even if you sold a full, you will get a line/content edit. Some of this is for budgetary reasons—almost all contracts call for payment on signing (when the contract is signed) and on acceptance (when the manuscript is approved). You’d think that a full manuscript is approved when it’s purchased, but the bean counters don’t want that to happen. So the editor must make a light pass over the manuscript, and you’ll have to approve it, just so that your payments can come in two separate chunks.

I’ve actually had acquiring editors who know that I’m an editor tell me that my manuscript is just fine and they don’t want to go through that crap with me. They would put in the approval three months after the signing, and tell me that’s what they were doing. I understood it. I’ve been there.

Does this mean that all editing is crap? Unimportant? Unnecessary?

No. As I said above, a good content editor will help your book and a great one will make you seem brilliant.

Here’s the problem.  Editing, like writing, is a subjective job. So an editor whom I consider great might be—in your opinion—a total idiot. That editor’s suggestions on your work might have missed the mark so badly that you wonder if you’re speaking the same language.

And here’s a clue: you probably aren’t speaking the same language. A romance to her might be a happily-ever-after story only; to you, a romance might include Romeo & Juliet (who die at the end, for those of you who’ve forgotten).  She might try to shoehorn your 1950s Romeo & Juliet story (wait! Isn’t that West Side Story?) into an HEA ending, and you’ll have none of it, claiming she doesn’t understand you.

She might not. She’s talking marketing categories. You’re talking art.

This happens all the time. Generally, you and your editor can come to some sort of understanding. As Price says in her piece:

Editing isn’t about give and take, or winning and losing; it’s about making your book fabulous. There are some edits that can be negotiated and others where there is zero wiggle room.

Exactly. Figure out which edits have zero wiggle room for you.  Because if the editor wants to take the death scene out of your 1950s Romeo & Juliet homage, you might not be willing to do so. If you explain why, she might say to you that she can’t market the book as a romance without an HEA ending.

And then you’ve come to an impasse.

Here’s where it gets dicey. In her blog, Price said:

[The editor’s] word is final, so if you have a compelling reason for keeping something in, you gotta make sense. If you can’t, then your editor will probably rule against you and toss it. If so, let it go.

Okay. She’s right and wrong. First, this paragraph tells you something about the contracts that Behler Publications has with its authors. Behler determines how the final manuscript looks, not the author. So, that makes Price right within the context of her company. If you have signed with Behler or with any company that gives them complete control over the final manuscript, then what you (the writer) wants doesn’t matter. You have already—contractually—given them the final say.

The only way out of such a contract is to avoid signing it in the first place. You’ll see all kinds of language in these contracts that should be a warning to you. The contract will state that you have given up your moral rights. It’ll state that you may look at edits, but the editor’s word is final. It won’t limit rewrites. It’ll state that they can hire someone else to rewrite you if need be.

Those terms are all becoming standard in nonfiction contracts these days, and I won’t sign any of those clauses. Not a one. The final word on my manuscript remains with me.

Still, even if you sign a contract that gives you (the writer) the final word, that doesn’t mean that your editor won’t give you an ultimatum if she hates the final manuscript. The ultimatum will be nicely put, but it’ll go something like this:

If we don’t have a happy ending on this book, we can’t publish it. I won’t accept the manuscript, and you’ll have to repay the advance.

Then, your decision to change your Romeo & Juliet story’s ending becomes a business decision. Do you want to break the contract? Can you afford to repay the advance? Can you make the revision work and still keep your novel’s integrity, while covering your financial ass?

The revision isn’t about winning or losing here. It’s about effectively publishing the book. It’s not about art any more. It’s about business and art.

The other thing you’ll need to ask yourself is this: Even if I make the changes, will the editor support my work within the publishing house to the best of her ability?

Let’s go with what Price says:

The one thing you want to avoid at all costs is arguing to the point where there’s no returning to the happy happy joy joy relationship. I guarantee that if you verbally abuse your editor (been there, done that), then you’re dead to her. Sure, she’ll edit your book to the very best of her abilities, but she will groan every time she sees your email address pop into her inbox. She won’t lift a finger to go above and beyond her regular duties…and you DON’T want that.

Editors are human too. And if you fight horribly about a book, then that book probably won’t get the support it deserves. Price only talks about writers being awful to her, but I’ve had editors be awful to me as well. Usually, these were editors who inherited me after the acquiring editor moved to a new publishing house. More than one of those editors tried actively to kill the projects their predecessor had purchased, to play assassin as only corporate employees can. Those editors didn’t care about the  manuscript. They cared only about showing they were smarter than their predecessor.

None of those editors works in book editing, any more, by the way. Not a one.

Only once did I have problems with an editor who actually bought the work, and she was so unprofessional (and verbally abusive) that I went straight to the company’s vice president in an attempt to get out of my contract.

He managed to talk me into staying, but we both had to concede a lot of points. At that point for both of us, we worked only on the business relationship and measured progress daily. I did my best to be an author who didn’t rock the boat, and he found me an editor I could work with, who was extremely professional—the opposite of the editor who nearly drove me out of that company.

The biggest conflicts between writer and editor usually happen with the content editor. The content editor has to approve your book before you get paid, and before the book goes into production. If you do revisions and the book does not get approved, then you’ll have to figure out how to proceed next.

Generally speaking, do your best to revise, let the editor know when the revisions just don’t work for you, and see if you can come to an agreement. Usually, when I get a content edit, I don’t report what I’ve done to the editor line by line. I do tell her what I’ve fixed and how I’ve improved it. If she wants my character to be happier, I’ll tell her that I added a lighter mood in chapter seven, even if she had initially asked for it in chapter eight. No editor complains about that sort of thing—especially if you’re professional about it all.

Most editors have no time and generally don’t read a revision. They might glance at one troublesome section, but usually they trust their authors.

A few editors are anal and will reread everything, demanding to know why things haven’t changed. I’ve known of editors who’ve asked for as many as ten revisions of a manuscript. I know of one poor writer who revised her textbook every year for ten years before a new editor just gave up on her and refused to accept the manuscript. (I was working for the textbook publishing company at the time.) The writer’s contract required her to repay her advance—after ten years of revisions.

The simplest solutions are always in your contract. Limit your revisions to no more than three. Make sure you get the final word on the manuscript. Add language, if you can, that allows you to keep the front part of the advance if you’ve revised more than once. Call it a kill fee if you want, but see if you can get it in there.

Remember, that in traditional publishing, Price is right about one thing: The editor does have a final word.  That word is whether or not that company publishes your manuscript. If the editor hates what you’ve done, if you can’t come to an agreement on how to make your manuscript publishable for that company, then one of you will back away from publication. You might do it first by withdrawing the manuscript, asking that the contract get canceled, and repaying your advance (plus incidental expenses, if your contract calls for that). Or the editor might say the manuscript is “unacceptable” and ask for the front part of the advance back. Make sure, in that instance, that the contract is cancelled at the same time, so you can resell the book.

Does this mean that your manuscript is awful? Hell, no. It just means you had the wrong editor/publishing company. You weren’t a good fit.

However, if this happens to you with every publishing company you’re with, the problem probably isn’t the publishing companies.  You might want to consider self-publishing, because it sounds like you might not get along well with others.

What always determines your relationship with your editor and publishing house is your contract. If you sign a contract that gives the publishing company complete control over the final product, then their word is final. Don’t ever sign one of those contracts.

Make sure you always control your own work. Make sure you have the final say.

The only way to do that is through the contract. The only way to make sure that your contractual control happens is to defend that control if you run into a big problem.

Revisions are not a big problem, generally speaking. Usually, they improve a manuscript. But if they want to change your tall, dark, handsome human hero into a weremouse because they have great cover art for that, then you need to defend your hero as is. If that doesn’t work, then pull the manuscript.

But remember that pulling the manuscript is a last resort. Take a deep breath before tackling those revisions and see if they’re going to improve your manuscript.

Very few content editors have the time to help you change a manuscript from a mystery into an HEA romance. Very few will try. They’re only out to improve what they already have.

Have the same attitude, and you’ll survive the revision process just fine.

Next week: How to handle revision suggestions from an editor you hire.

Every week, I write a blog on the business of publishing. Even though I’ve worked in various traditional publishing jobs and written in almost every genre known to humankind, I call myself a fiction writer. I make the bulk of my living on my fiction, not my nonfiction. So, when I take 2-4,000 words out of my writing week to write this blog, I’m reducing my income.

The only way I can counter that is to put up a donate button and hope you folks come through if you’ve gotten something valuable out of this week’s blog. If so, leave a tip on the way out.

I also appreciate comments and forwards, e-mail tips and general discussion. Thanks for participating, everyone.

Click Here to Go To PayPal.

 

“The Business Rusch: Editorial Revisions” copyright 2013 by Kristine Kathryn Rusch.




Send to Kindle

You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

67 Comments

  1. D.J. Gelner says:

    Thanks for this, Kris. I know editors help a lot; my own beta readers have helped tremendously with my indie published and to-be-published stuff. But I have to admit, reading about the uneven quality of editors and the panoply of issues associated with them isn’t exactly enticing me to run for the alleged “safety” of a NY trad-publisher!

    It’s all about balance in this new world. I think that there are plenty of editors out there worth every penny. I fear that the majority are little more than opportunists selling, as you and Dean might say, pick axes and supplies to gold miners. I wish there was some way to identify the greats, but there’s an inherent problem in doing so: those who have found great editors are reluctant to spread the word, seeing as the editor is likely already overworked and every new customer will detract from manuscript-to-finishing time.

    The solution? I think we’re headed toward more non-traditional education with regard to all things indie publishing, The workshops you and Dean run are great starts, but in an economy where manufacturing and other jobs are becoming obsolete due to advances in technology (like the recent 60 Minutes piece on advances in robotics) by the day, entertainment and leisure is destined to become one of the few true growth industries dominated by people going forward.

    I just hope I’m sharp enough to process new info as it arises and stay ahead of the curve!

    TL; DR: Good editors seem tough to find. Glad to be an indie publisher. We need to train better editors in light of the coming robot apocalypse!

    • BEta readers can act as content editors quite well if you understand what they’re saying and how to fix it. (“I didn’t like the older woman character. She seemed nasty.” Might mean you went over the top and didn’t humanize her enough, might mean you tipped your bad guy too soon, might be just what you wanted.)

      There are lots of good editors out there. The key is finding a good one for you. It might take some trial and error. I’ll discuss this part next week.

      Thanks for the comment!

    • J.A. Marlow says:

      Kris mentioned another problem with finding a good editor. Just like what each reader thinks is a good book is subjective, so is an author liking an editor. It’s so subjective. What is a good editor for one is a lousy one for another. It makes the hunt for an editor for *you* (generic you) so much harder, because while referrals can help, they will not guarantee a good editor ‘fit’ to you, your style, your storytelling, your preferred plot structures, or your genre.

      Thank goodness for first readers (plural).

  2. GaryM says:

    This is very useful to me. I was fortunate enough to get Kickstarter money to help me self-publish a book, and I’m trying to learn as much as I can about how to improve the product.

    Does “proofreading” really no longer include checking even spelling errors, but only whether the final copy matches?

    • Proofreaders will query spelling. But remember, they’re working off the copy edit, so technically, the spelling should be fine. What a proofer is supposed to do is make sure that more errors weren’t added in correcting the previous errors. :-)

      • Anne Moreau says:

        This idea that proofreading is strictly comparison is one I hear a lot, but I’ve never had a client who expected so little of me or my work. Thank goodness. I’ve been proofreading for around nine years now, for nonfiction book publishers, ad agencies, and sometimes magazines. Here’s what I’ve found in book publishing:

        Proofreading comes in several varieties depending on the stage of production, and only the very final stage is strict comparison, where the task is comparing what the print vendor supplied (proofs) with what the publisher sent. Comparison proofing is usually done in-house because there’s little time to contract it out.

        The stages of proofreading called first pages (aka galleys) and page proofs, in my experience, both involve three categories of tasks: checking that all the copy and the changes from the previous round made it into this current round and that no new errors were introduced; cold reading to catch what was missed in previous rounds (even a very good copyedit is not flawless, late-arriving copy is common, and sometimes, for a variety of reasons, cold reading amounts to a very light copyedit); marking formatting, pagination, layout and possible print production issues.

        Books with complex elements–tables, maps, complicated heading hierarchies, etc.–will have correspondingly greater need for attention at the proofreading stage to correlate these parts with the text. Visual elements like maps often get their first serious editorial review only at first pages because until that stage they haven’t been designed yet–the copyeditor had only the author’s rough draft sketches to review.

        I’m sure procedures at different publishing houses vary; the above is my experience. I’d be curious to hear from other proofreaders about theirs.

        • Anne, in this post, I’m only explaining what the author sees. Yes, a proofer looks for things like page layout and things like that which are irrelevant (and hard to explain) in this post. When I say that the proofreader compares to the final manuscript, I mean the final final, with the copy edits already interpolated in it. Of course, the proofreader is looking for mistakes (particularly mistakes added) but the primary job is different than that of copy editor.

          Every company I have worked for and with uses proofreaders differently. I currently work with only one company that uses proofers the way you describe. The rest have either forgone the process (which terrifies me), use the author as the final proofreader (also terrifying), and then require the managing editor to do the rest (equally terrifying).

          I no longer work in nonfiction publishing, which has a whole different set of problems, some of which you described. When I was doing nonfiction publishing, there was yet another step–the book went to legal before anyone else saw it. Now, most companies forgo that as well.

          Thank you for the clarification, though, because writers–especially nonfiction writers–need to know this step also exists.

  3. A few guidelines that have worked well for me in 20+ years of working with editors:

    I never act, react, or respond immediately to editorial revisions or requests, because I know that my first reaction is to reject the changes, etc. I need time to work through my initial, “Noooo! It’s exactly the way is SHOULD be!” tantrum, and that tantrum needs to be kept 100% private and 100% out of the work at hand.

    Once I’m ready, I assess the notes or the telephone call or the line edit–whatever needs assessing. I sort comments and requests and suggested changes and objections into 3 categories: Good, Harmless, Bad.

    Even a really, really good editor always makes some bad suggestions or notes. Even a really, really bad editor occasionally give you a good note. So you have to review, think over, and make decisions about every single thing in the content edit, the line edit, and also the copy edit.

    A good edit, in my process, is one where the notes were mostly good or harmless, and there were only a few bad notes. A bad edit is that opposite.

    A GOOD note, to me, is one where I slap my foreshead and wonder why -I- didn’t see that. A good note is one where my reaction is, oh, of COURSE I should do that–OBVIOUSLY that doesn’t work or this should be reversed, etc.

    “Harmless” edits are the suggestions and changes that I don’t think are bad, that don’t hurt the book, but I also don’t consider them improvements or think they help the book. Doing them leaves the book at par. I almost always do them, because they don’t make a difference in the quality or my vision, but doing them DOES show respect for the editor and a cooperative spirit on my part–at no cost to myself or the book.

    Moreover, there’s an additional reason to do them. When an editor is good, sometimes I mistake a good note for a harmless note, and only later realize–perhaps months after the book is published, that it was a GOOD note that improved the book. So when an editor is good, I give her the benefit of the doubt and do the harmless changes, knowing that some of them may be GOOD changes which I’m just failing to identify as such.

    A bad note (and, yes, this is often completely subjective) is one that strikes me as missing the point, illogical, off-kilter, lame, the wrong tone, something the character wouldn’t do or say, a personal twitch of the editor’s intruding on the work, etc.–and a bad note’s badness is usually easy for me to articulate or define.

    Thereare unreasonable editors who want to dictate what you do with your book and believe that every note of theirs MUST be implemented. Fortunately, I’ve never worked with an editor like that (though friends of mine have). There are editors who are much too intrusive in their editing. A typical example of this is a line edit with 10-20 changes on every single page of the MS, and 95% of the changes are things like changing “he closed the door” to “he shut the door.” This is a clear sign that you’ve got a problem editor on yours hands. I haven’t worked with that kind of editor, either, but some of my friends have, and it’s a time-consuming, migraine-inducing nightmare to try to protect the work from their compulsions and incompetence.

    Generally, though, as long as an editor is professiona, competent, and understands the nature of her job, and if the same is true of the author, disagreements about the material and the edits can be worked out reasonably. When they can’t, yes, you should ALWAYS retain contractual rights to artistic control of your work–recognizing that the editor’s rights include the right to say, “In that case, we’re not going to publish this.”

    • Excellent, Laura, thank you. You should take this and put it up on your writing blog. It’s wonderful. (And I agree with it all.)

      • Kris, I don’t have a blog. Only crazy people seeking to attract internet trolls blog. (Present company excepted, of course.)

        • Oh, I have my own collection of internet trolls who try to shut me down when I talk about agents and a few other things. I persevere.

          I think you should use that post somehow though. Very helpful.

          • Good advice. I do get asked to guest blog now-and-then about writing, and I often scramble to find something to say–I’ve always been a “write rather than talk about writing” purist, so I have very few craft pieces prepared or roughed out.

        • Mercy Loomis says:

          I could see you putting out an ebook: “Stuff Other People Said: the Best of Laura’s Comments.”

    • Mags says:

      This is everything I meant to say in my comment (I think it was in the moderation queue while I was writing it) but much, much better put. This is how a professional writer should interact with his or her editors.

    • D.J. Gelner says:

      Thank you, Laura–this is fantastic. I’m in the “soaking up info like a sponge” phase (though I might argue that we should all do that regardless of where we are in life) and your post and experience is much appreciated.

    • Laura,
      That may be some of the most important advice any author can ever get.
      I learned the hard way (with my 2nd book for Llewellyn) not to react right away. Thankfully, I have a very understanding editor :-)

      Also, I like the idea of labeling each edit note with one of your three categories. I know where each one falls in my head (for instance, when my agent recently asked me to take out a minor character whose role in the book I considered pivotal), but making formal notes to that effect is a great idea.

      Thanks for sharing this!

  4. Mike Zimmerman says:

    As a writer and editor, I’ve been on both sides of this desk. I think most professional writers know a great editorial suggestion when they see one. For me, it’s like a lightbulb going on. “Damn, that’s good.” The problem is writers who have no openness to outside authority, even if the suggestion is good. As an editor, I’ve worked with folks like that, and even if these people are smart and terrific writers, a stubbornness to make edit changes — while then DEMANDING changes to, say, cover design when the cover consultation is a courtesy, not contractual, …well like you say, Kris, it’s hard to respect these people no matter how talented they may be.

    My general editorial philosophy is, “My name ain’t on the cover.” If an author wants to be a pain in the ass, the outcome is on them — success or Titanic. This is why genuine pros last in the business. One of the best compliments I received as a writer from a well-known editor: “Thanks for excellence without attitude.”

    That crystallizes everything I want to be as a writer, and see as an editor. If you strive for that, you’ll have a long career, writer OR editor…or both.

    Mike Zimmerman

    • I love that, Mike. Exactly. “Excellence without attitude.” Although I would add that you need to have a professional attitude in times of trouble as well–and there will be trouble. Usually on your favorite book. :-) That means, be polite but firm.

  5. Great article, Kris!

    I’ve learned a lot from my nonfiction editors, and wanted to hire one for my forthcoming novel, but lacked the job description.

    I want a good content editor. (Really, I want a great one, but I’ll settle for good.) My nonfiction acquiring editor is also my content editor.

    Thanks again,
    ==ml

    • I would raise a general caution about non-fiction editors being good content editors for fiction. The expectations for writing are very different between non-fiction and fiction. Also, depending on the person, if they have no knowledge of the genre of your fiction they are not as good at structure, pacing, and understanding its tropes. My husband is a well-paid non-fiction editor and writer. I use him on my indie stuff as a copy-editor with a right to question content. However, even he admits that he can’t be a good content/structure editor because he doesn’t read the types of books I write (except for mine). :)

      • Great point, Maggie. It applies across genres. If someone doesn’t read a genre & know its tropes, that person can’t help with the content of a manuscript. A cozy mystery is very different from noir, and hiring a content editor who specializes in cozies but has never read noir won’t help you noir writers at all.

  6. Thanks, this was very helpful. You’ve cleared up my confusion about line vs. copy edits. I’ve paid for both, sort of… it’s such a mushy thing when you’re on your own hiring freelancers.

    Can’t wait to see next week’s post. I’ve got a manuscript marked up with line edits and I’m struggling with how much to change. Just quickly get it out there…or really tear it apart (based on the comments) and make it great? Or will it be any better? I have no idea. I’m having a friend do a read to see if there’s any consensus. Then just get it out there, I guess. (New pen name, here I come.)

    • Take a peek at what Laura says. It applies to editors you hire as well as editors who work for publishers. It’s a good analysis. Sometimes you have the wrong editor. Sometimes the editor is half right. Sometimes the book needs a new (and different) draft with new words. Only you can figure that out.

  7. Jessi Gage says:

    Super informative article. Looking forward to the next part. This is especially helpful as I’m a new author and working with editors for the first time. Thanks so much for the info.

  8. Good breakdown about editors, and how the various processes work. I’d forgotten some of the different kinds of editors/editing, so thanks for the refresher. :)

  9. Mags says:

    I’ve had mostly really good experiences with editors (writing both fiction and non-fiction) but I’ve always been careful to behave in a professional manner and to not take edits personally, because they are not meant that way! I tend to pick my battles–I let most things go, even if “I would have written it this other way” but then go to bat for things I feel strongly about, and it’s rare that I lose that battle.

    Of course, then there was the first short story I published, where the “editor” replaced all my semi-colons with commas. She didn’t tell me, either, and it was published that way. *facepalm* I know I use a lot of semi-colons, but that’s not cool.

    • Some copy editors remove all of my dashes. I may overuse them, but I do so on purpose. She clearly did a search & replace, so even when someone was interrupted, she would insert a colon. A lot of my dialogue ended like this. “But:” when it should have been “But–” Quite a difference. :-)

  10. Jak says:

    Excellent post, Kris!

    Just for my own take/story:

    I was a professional content editor / book doctor for over a decade (essentially a work-for-hire editor) and my philosophy was simple: To give the writer suggestions for improving her manuscript. The manuscript’s excellence (and marketability) was paramount and I had no ego in whether the writer implemented my recommendations or made any revisions whatsoever. I explained the reasons for them, but if a writer decided not to make changes, I had no skin in the game.

    Later as a editor for a small press for which I am part owner, I am more emphatic about some of my revision requests. My stake in the manuscript is much higher because the success of the published novel will determine how much money (and prestige if it wins awards) I will get for my work. I’m much happier as an editor working on a select few projects (because I now only choose books that I love to work on), but I must say that I view my role as a collaborator. Sometimes that role means my edit is very light, but when I do feel revisions will significantly improve a manuscript, I’m more adamant about them.

    I’ve never had an unsurmountable disagreement with an author. If I see a problem and the author doesn’t like my suggested fix for it, but has an alternative that works, I’m happy to let the author address it her way. I’m also a writer so am sensitive to concerns from both sides of this.

    • Exactly, Jak. Good points all about editors having skin in the game. In traditional publishing, the editor (publishing company) has a lot of up front money in the game as well, which adds a lot of pressure on “getting it right” whatever that means in something as subjective as writing.

    • Good point, Jak–a good editor never says, “You have to fix it MY way,” but leaves it at, “If you don’t like my suggestion for fixing, no problem, but you do need to fix it.” I -like- constructive suggestions from an editor (“maybe it could be fixed this way,” rather than just, “this doesn’t work”), because it comes across as -editing- rather than just criticizing. But about half the time, I don’t use the specific fix suggested and do something else instead, and I’ve never dealt with an editor who had any problem with that.

      (I’ve been fortunate in the sense that the 2-3 Really Bad editors I worked with over the years were bad because they were unprofessional and administrative nightmares to work with, but they also happened to be editors who either didn’t read or mostly didn’t edit my actual work. I have not had to deal with the kind of editor who’s really intrusive and control-freakish about the material itself.)

      • The “book doctor” I hired for one of my novels often made suggestions that I made me cringe or howl with pain.

        However, the problems he found were right on. His terrible suggestions for improvement forced me to discover the “real” solutions.

        Which greatly helped it.

        • We’ll discuss “book doctors” next week. (Or the week after.)

          As for editing, yeah, that happens. Editors find the problems, but often don’t know how to solve them. That’s why they’re editors and not writers. :-) If you can find a better solution for your work, then do so (as you clearly did!).

  11. Randy T. says:

    Just curious… how does one get contract work to be an editor? I’m really good at catching continuity errors, misspellings and grammar mistakes when I review manuscripts for friends. And since I have a lot of down time as a freelancer, it would be a nice fit.

    • I’ll let others answer in general here, Randy. I’ve never sought such work so only know secondhand.

    • Depends. Who do you want to work for?

      Do you want to work directly with authors? Do you want to work through a small press, if possible? Do you want to work with a group of editors who collectively can offer multiple types of editing?

      A few years ago, I decided that I wanted to proofread with a small press, so I brushed off my résumé, went digging for small presses that published what I was interested in reading, and cold e-mailed them, asking if they needed a proofreader. Several were duds—low pay or no pay—but not all. I’m still working with those companies today—though not always as a proofreader. ^_^

  12. We switched to doing content/line editing online in real time three years ago, and in addition to being a huge time saver it’s great being able to interact with authors during the process. Not to mention that those impasses you mention don’t happen nearly as often when everyone is there to hammer the issues out.

    I’ll also note there’s a very good reason for an editor not also looking at the revision. Just as authors can go error-blind when going over their work, an editor who’s read the manuscript has also likely developed blind spots. It’s less of a problem with a good, clean manuscript, but if extensive work needs done, a clear-eyed copyeditor is a must.

  13. Sally says:

    Back in the day, I wrote a story for a free-copy-only zine. The editor had several changes she wanted. Say, 5-10 of what Laura classifies as “harmless”, and one in particular I thought was bad. I dug my heels in. I finally agreed to let her make all the changes except that one, which was my very favorite part (it’s perfect!) and her least favorite (it makes no sense!). So we were both equally happy/unhappy.

    Of course, in the next issue all the letters of comment praised my favorite part as their favorite part as well. ALL of them.

    Needless to say, I didn’t have to change much stuff after that. ;)

  14. The editor of my first-ever book was young, mediocre, and on her way out the door (she quit the biz shortly after my book went into production). There was a heavy line edit, very little content edit (the book needed more), and I learned absolutely nothing.

    My second-book editor (who edited a number of my books thereafter, and with whom I’m still regularly in touch all these years later) was tremendous. She was the family breadwinner, this was her career (and she is now a high-placed editorial executive at another major house), and she had started her career by spending two years typing up the famously long editorial letters of another very good editor, during which time she learned a lot. This editor believed that if the content editing/revisions were done well, then the line edit should be easy and light. So she had me completely tear apart, replot, and rewrite about half of my second book–based on a 12-page, single-spaced revision letter for content. This was very hard work, and I did a lot of it without really seeing the point or agreeing it would make the book better… until I was finished and realized… Oh, it really WAS much better now. And the line-edit which followed was indeed very quick and light, precisely because the whole book was tight and worked well now.

    I think one reason people wind up with a too-heavy line-edit is that the editor doesn’t understand content editing and is therefore haphazardly, ineptly trying to squeeze content issues into the line edit. (Ex. A story conflict is raised in the early chapters (ex. a Naval Treaty is stolen), but then peters out around p. 100 and disappears as if it had never existed. Instead of this being addressed in content notes indicating that story revision is needed, you find a line-edit note on every page of the MS, from p. 101 onward, saying, “But what about the Naval Treaty?”)

    A line-edit DOESN’T WORK as a content edit, and is just a mess if the editor tries to use it that way. A line-edit is largely technical, it’s mostly about flow, consistency, clarity. A line edit catches places where you over-explain something, or use the same adjective four times in one paragraph, or slip out of point-of-view for a sentence, or have failed to make it clear which character is speaking, or have phrased something confusingly, or are dragging on a point too long, or a transition is too abrupt, bumpy, confusing, or vague, etc., etc.

    That good editor who worked so hard with me on my second book gave me still-extensive content edits for my 3rd and 4th book, but only about half a much as for the previous book. And, again, once the content worked well, the line edit was light and easy. I learned a lot from working with her and eventually got very light (or no) content notes in later books, followed by very light line edits. These days, I often don’t get line-edited at all, and I get story comments more often than story notes (i.e. “are you sure all the historical stuff in this book will work for your audience?” or “I’m worried this chapter may be a little info-dumpy”).

    But a good editor still see the big content problems in my work and goes to bat over them. I and my current editor were in HUGE disagreement over a key point in my urban fantasy series–this was a series content issue, not just an individual book content issue. This wasn’t a matter of “conflict” between us, because we respect each other and could just keep discussing it, trying to reach an agreement. We did, it was a met-halfway compromise that wasn’t what either of us had started out wanting… but after I implemented… I realized it made the series BETTER than my -or- her concept had been. So the happy result of an experienced writer and an experienced editor who work well together, and who were largely on the same page about the series except for this one point… led to something better than either of them was coming up with ALONE on this subject.

    That’s a really great editorial relationship. And one example (among many) of why I am very keen to keep working with this editor.

  15. Mark Pfeifer says:

    Kris,
    Thank you for this well-timed post. Let me preface by saying that I have little to offer in this comment except to define my position in anticipation that next week’s post on self-publishing will contain some of the answers to my dilemma. Perhaps my questions and situation will reflect that of other self-publishing readers.

    I am (will be) a first time self publisher who has had great feedback from first readers, has a cover design in the works, and has adopted a strategy of self publishing across all electronic platforms and POD via CreateSpace as a means of getting my butt out the door. I have ‘completed’ the first in a short series, but a series with an arc that will reach a conclusion. I am already writing number 2.

    Your description of the editing process and roles performed within traditional publishing, the give and take between writer and editor(s), and the importance of understanding contractual rights is very welcome.

    Professional cover, solid copy edit, good writing (gulp). Got it.

    So now I am tormenting myself with that amorphous question: should I go to the trouble (and expense) of finding and paying for a content edit as you describe it. My first reader feedback has been good and helpful, but my readers are not editors. Can my first novel be made better? Am I missing things (“Head slap! Why didn’t I think of that”)? Is there a chance to learn to be a better writer in number 2…3…4 if I get great feedback from a fiction writing professional content/development editor? It may be one thing for a successful published writer with 10 novels under her belt to forgo a content edit, but is it a worthwhile ‘investment’ for a new fiction writer who can learn a lot from a pro’s review of his first effort.

    Or do I just ‘write and release’ novel #1 hoping I get that feedback over time from reviews (good or bad)? Truth be told, this is my current gut instinct.

    I realize this may come across as another of those comments that is really asking ‘can’t you just tell me someone I can have edit my book!?’ between the lines, but it’s really a confession that I have been (bad metaphor alert) trapped in the soul-sucking mud of indecision for months and hesitating about pushing out the product.

    For the record, I am a business writer with experience both giving and receiving editorial criticism of work. I chuckled at Laura’s very helpful comments and her Good, Harmless, Bad reference. Bingo. Any kind of writing criticism can become an emotional minefield.

    I think Laura’s comment about the quantum difference between her first-book editor and second-book editor illustrate my fears/hopes well. (Many thanks, Laura.)

    Am I wrong in thinking this is a fairly common dilemma among new/aspiring/many/all writers? Or is this a Hamlet moment?

    As Michael commented about finding a content editor: I want great, but I’d settle for good.

    Eagerly awaiting next week’s posting on behalf of others who may feel the same way.

    Thanks, and continued success to you in 2013
    Mark

    • Make sure you have several first readers before you release the book, and listen to what they have to say. No matter what content editors will tell you, they weren’t trained for that job. They’re just good at it. (I am.) It’s like being a super reader. Most content editors have no idea how to fix the problem. They just know there is one. You can duplicate a good content editor with many first readers and take their comments in aggregate. (If they all thought the book ended too soon, well, then, it ended too soon.) That’s part of what I’ll discuss next week. Good luck with the project.

  16. Thomas K. Carpenter says:

    Good timing on this post! I recently had to fire my copy-editor since she was turning in manuscripts with too many errors left in it. I always do a proof copy pass and I found way too many problems that she hadn’t found.

    Thankfully, I’ve found a new one that is reasonably priced and seems to be doing a much better job. We’re still new to our working relationship, but already I like the quality of her work.

    There’s one question I have that you might be able to answer next week. What is the expected error rate for a copy-edit? For the copy-editor I fired, I found ~50 errors still in the manuscript after she’d gone over it (in a 90k word novel). I had the new one go over some of my previous novels and she found 20-25 errors in those (each novel around 60k), which to me was unacceptable. I’ve since fixed those novels.

    So I’m curious what the expected quality level of a copy-edit should be? I don’t expect a perfect manuscript, but if readers are mentioning the copy-edit in my reviews, then it’s a problem.

    Thanks again!
    –Tom

    • You’ll never get a perfect manuscript. All copy editors have blind spots. Plus correcting mistakes often introduces new mistakes. So there is no error-free manuscript. If you have a copy editor who is finding real errors–misspellings, etc–then that’s good. But most who find “grammar” errors have no idea what fiction truly is. Unless you’re misusing words or have comma splices or something. It’s tough. So the error rate question is a quantitative one, and I can only give you a qualitative response. I’ve had copy editors who rewrote me to death and never found the misspellings. I’d rather have the editors who find the missing comma and the badly spelled word than the ones who believe I should never start a sentence with a preposition.

      • Thomas K Carpenter says:

        These were all the “real” errors–the mispellings, missing or extra words, homonyms, etc.–not the subjective grammar or style ones.

        Tom

      • Kris wrote: “You’ll never get a perfect manuscript. All copy editors have blind spots. Plus correcting mistakes often introduces new mistakes. So there is no error-free manuscript.”

        That’s my experience, too. I worked with one copy editor who I thought was STUPENDOUS, and a few who were atrocious. Mostly, I’ve worked with copy editors who are pretty good or good enough, and I define that as: When the copy-edited MS is sent to me, we’re few steps closer than before to the book being ready for typesetting and printing.

        Competent, good-enough, or pretty-good copy editors always miss errors that I still need to catch in my final two passes (reviewing the copy edit and proofreading the final page proofs); they also always INTRODUCE some errors which I have to catch in my pass over the copy edit. This is how it is.

  17. Rémi BILLOIR says:

    I did a little editing on short stories for an amateur (but very enthusiastic) magazine (now on hiatus). I also had my texts edited.

    Back then, at the amateur level, the same person would do content, line and copy edits. Moreover, there often wasn’t much of content edit, because of the way the short stories were selected (if we expected too much content work, we generally wouldn’t take the story ; also, short stories might need less content editing per se, either they “work” or they don’t).

    I gradually developped a technique of sorts. I’d try and find definite, objective problems (“you use the word talk five times in that paragraph”, or “you were heavily involved in John’s PoV until then, but in the next six paragraphs he suddenly lapses into random infodump, no sensation, no opinion from him at all”) and then tell the writer to solve them any way they liked.

    I’d add suggestions (“cut that phrase entirely, replace walk there and there” or “why would John think of that particular infodump at this point ? could you find a reason to remind him of it, or perhaps find a better moment to introduce it ? How is it personal to him ?”) but I only asked that they solve the general problem. However, I would ask several times, politely, if needed.

    During one of my recent edits, my (content) editor found my ending rushed and required I add some length to a scene. I got to work, and somehow, I added another entirely different scene and it worked fine. Well, my editor agreed.

    What I’m getting at is that, IMHO, you can get results with creative revisions rather than with a list of specific instructions. At least, at the content and line editing stages.

    (And I am not using IMHO as a figure of speech : I have very little experience compared to most others commentators on this blog, to say nothing of Our Gracious Hostess)

    (Also, I’m French and while the content, line and copy edits division remains frome language to language, the very notion of style differs greatly. For a very basic example, you can use “to be” a lot less often in French before it drags your style down (which translators have to wrestle with, and I don’t envy them). In line terms, I noticed a lot of general differences ; english-speaking authors are, generally speaking, required to make every paragraph count towards pace, while french authors might be allowed to meander and digress a bit more, especially for literary/philosophical purposes… but this is highly subjective on my part. I read a lot in English, and I’ve coined the personal phrase “the english school” as something to be studied and, in some respects, emulated – definitely learned from. It’s a nebulous concept, close to professionalism, but not quite the same ; professionalism applied to writing itself, perhaps ? As opposed to literary indulgence. Anyway, that was a fine bit of digression for philosophical purpose)

    • Truly marvelous comment, Rémi. I particularly appreciate the differences in the types of style (and content) in different cultures. I think that observation is helpful for all of us.

      And yes, I agree. I always suggest when I’m asking for a rewrite and often (usually!) the writer finds a different and much better way to come to the same (or better!) result. I have found that editors who demand something their way are editors I don’t want to work with.

      • Rémi BILLOIR says:

        Thank you. I gave it more thought and something else occured to me.

        The fact that style does vary according to language seems to have little relevance to English-speaking writers. Except when an English book is translated, maybe to French, an excellent style might be quite ruined in the process. I’m not saying translators don’t do their jobs as well they can. But they can’t escape the fact that some english grammatical constructions don’t fare very well in translation, no matter how skilled the translator. Also, some english words just don’t translate, some don’t translate well because they rely on cultural background, and some translate just plain awkward. For instance : “She shrugged” becomes “Elle haussa les épaules” : not as concise.

        For the French (and French-speaking) writer though, I think the impact might be more significant than translation issues. A great many books read by the French are translated, and odd stylistics due to translation have been commonplace for some time now, common enough to exert influence. I remember a jibe directed at a French writer (Djian, I think) : “he read too many poor english translations and thought it was a new style, so he imitated it”.

        The influence of the english language is not limited to borrowed words. It’s felt in the idioms of other languages as well.

  18. Kris,

    I found this post very helpful for some analysis I’m doing about the business process of narrative publishing. I have a question for you that requires a bit of explanation because the conceptual framework I’m using makes some distinctions that are uncommon in publishing.

    In this framework, we identify what we call value adding activities, but this bit of jargon doesn’t mean what you probably think it means. In my view, the core product in the process you are describing is “the story”. The writer creates the story (lots of value added there). The content editor, assuming they do their job correctly, adds value by improving the story.

    On the other hand, in the framework I use, copyediting and proofreading aren’t value added activities. They are quality control. They don’t improve the story, they address unintentional defects in the story production process. Quality control is an absolutely essential process but it doesn’t directly impact the core product.

    Just to be clear, the “value” I’m talking about isn’t commercial value or artistic value (the two types of value most folks in publishing think about). You could write a story, the publisher could slap some celebrity’s name on it and that would increase the commercial value of the book. That’s not a value added activity in my framework. Nor am I talking about making a book more “literary”. If the story is a romance, you add value by making it a better romance. The reason I’m asking you this question is because you have a concern for the “craft of storytelling” which is the closest thing to what I’m trying to get at.

    With that in mind, is line editing, in your opinion and as practiced by the best line editors, what I would call a value adding activity?

    I think this is a tough question, which is why I’m asking an expert practitioner. If you think you understand the question, but you are unsure what the answer is, here are the types of indirect questions I ask myself (when I understand the work being done better). If you are a writer and a line editor, does becoming better at line editing make you a better storyteller? Becoming a better proofreader clearly doesn’t make you a better storyteller. Becoming a better content editor probably would help you become a better storyteller.

    Finally, here’s why this matters. When you try to improve a process, you treat value add activities very differently from non value add. For value add activities, you focus on doing them more effectively. For non-value add activities, you focus on doing them more efficiently. For non-value add activities, you care about the result, not how it is accomplished.

    • Let’s see if I can answer this, William.

      No editing job makes a writer a better storyteller. Not a one. In fact, editing jobs make the writer more critical, which destroys the creative process. So becoming a better content editor will not make a writer a better storyteller.

      What does work is understanding how stories exist, how they work, what makes them work, and seeing how they function. Even though I tell you this in an analytical way, the process is not analytical, but creative. If you approach any creative work analytically, you’re automatically approaching it wrong.

      Creative works exist to entertain–whatever that means. So a writer must approach them in a relaxed way, as a consumer, not as a critic. The critic will never see why a badly written sentence can occasionally further the action. A reader–a consumer–doesn’t even see that sentence, and moves on to the next.

      When I teach craft, I give my students exercises to make them aware of techniques that other writers use. These techniques show the writer what’s possible. But I do not then force the student to use the technique, only to know that it exists and is a valuable tool.

      Put differently, writers all work from a toolbox, like a carpenter. Most writers–because they ahve learned how to be critics, not writers–use only three or four tools. Master carpenters have toolboxes that have hundreds of different tools, some that don’t get used for years. Writers should have toolboxes like that, and the only way to learn about those is not through careful study, but through enjoyment of someone else’s work. Writers who say they’ve lost the ability to read for pleasure are only a heartbeat away from losing the ability to write well.

      This is hard to convey in a short few paragraphs. I generally teach these methods in an intense week or two–40-80 hours of work–so I might not be clear here.

      So let me state the short version. Learning editing or how to be a critic will never help a writer. Only reading for pleasure and writing a lot, with focussed practice (sometimes), will help a writer improve.

    • Coming in very late on this…

      IMHO copy editing and line editing are value adding processes. They do more than perform quality control – they improve the story itself by improving the poetry of the words it’s told in.

      Michelangelo said that he carved away everything that wasn’t needed. Good content/line edits are like that. You go through every page, paragraph, words, and syllable until you’ve carved out the best possible way to tell the story, and taken everything else away.

  19. Kris, another all-around fine, incisive post. Your example of the Romance and HEA expectation especially resonated… I REALLY like that you always keep Art in sight and don’t shy from the term. I don’t know why, but it seems to me that many, many, writers, especially younger ones, seem either unaware or uncomfortable with the term as it relates to writing. This is IMO a very sad consequence of current publishing world in the US; writers in Europe, especially Southern and Eastern Europe, totally get the term. But here I think there’s an unspoken assumption that commercial success rules out Art, as if it were one of those “foolish things” of childhood. Myself, I can only think of writing as Art. Otherwise it’s just copy.

  20. Great post. I do have one question. If assistant editors don’t edit, what do they do? Are they the readers, summary writers, and rejection notifiers?

    I guess I thought assistant editors were editors in training and given the “low-level” books to work on.

  21. Kristine,

    A great post (as always). I was pleased to see so much emphasis on it that ties back to the contract, as I think this is one of those things you need to understand and make sure it is how you want it before you sign.

    We are of the exact same mindset, in that we (you and I) are adamant about having final say with regards to content. Of course the publisher can say, “I won’t publish in that state,” which is fine, but I’ll never sign anything where they can make changes.

    One thing on the contractual side to note. I believe strongly in “What’s good for the goose is good for the gander” and when reviewing the contract you need to look at a clause in terms of “worse case scenarios.”

    I just got done negotiating my first contract where editing was an issue (past contracts had manuscripts already at the “acceptance” stage upon signing). Anyway during edits, the publisher was able to pull the book if the author and editor couldn’t agree on edits…but my ability to terminate the contract was based on not getting the book into print within x days of acceptance. This left a “loophole” – what if we never get to acceptance – I have no right to cancel the contract and reclaim my right. Basically I could see a possibility of the following:

    a) Editor wants changes
    b) I decide not to do the changes
    c) The publishers is not REQUIRED to cancel the contract in this case and neither can I because we never got to acceptance so the rights could be tied up forever.

    Some proposed changes to the contract included that the publisher had x days to accept or reject the manuscript and hence closing the loophole.

    Anyway just one of those things for authors to consider before they sign on that dotted line.

    Michael.

  22. Excellent. Publishing from the author’s standpoint has been very difficult to find. I am pleased that I could find an article that related this story from the POV of someone who has been both an author and an editor. I appreciate the effort you make to publish this blog.

  23. This was fabulous and I am looking forward to reading the next installment. It will definitely come in handy the next time an editor wants to turn my hero into a weremouse :-) (That bit cracked me up.)

    I am fortunate with my nonfiction books to have the world’s best acquiring editor (who also does content edits) and production editor (who says she loves it when one of my books lands on her desk, because she knows she’ll hardly have any work to do–SEE why I love her?).

    But I’m mostly writing fiction books now, which are getting editorial notes from my agent. (Who is also very good.) So people need to consider that there might be a layer of revisions (multiple revisions, even) that can come before the book even makes it to the “official” editors!

    Thanks again for taking the time to share this!

  24. John Brown says:

    Learning editing or how to be a critic will never help a writer. Only reading for pleasure and writing a lot, with focussed practice (sometimes), will help a writer improve.

    This deserves a full blog. In fact, your whole response to the question about value-add activities does. You just tossed a Stradavarius insight onto the heap with the rest of the comments and chatter (not that some of the comments haven’t shared great insights).

    One reason why I want to know more is because my wife teaches 7th and 8th grade language arts. Her number 1 goal is to help the kids become avid readers and writers because that love opens the doors to everything else literary. I know a writer needs to know grammar, spelling, and punctuation, but some feel these topics are the path to good writing, i.e. line and copy edit your way to brilliance. I couldn’t disagree more. And I’d like to hear more of your thoughts and evidence on this.