An editor can be your best friend or your worst enemy. In truth, I don’t think that you want him or her to be either.
Here is what I mean by that. I once had a line editor who loved my work so much, he wanted to edit every book that I wrote. But I didn’t feel that he did a very good job. Why? Because he loved my work. He would get so involved with the story that he would soon forget to edit, and would sometimes go for many pages without making a correction. As a writer, it made my job that much harder, because I would spend hours then re-editing the piece later on, and believe me, if you’ve written something, you’re often the last one to spot your own typos or your own dropped words.
Of course, if an editor loves you, she’s going to give you a pass on things. She might not notice weaknesses in your manuscript in such things as plotting, characterization, or voice. You really can’t have that. A great editor is like a wise counselor, peering over your shoulder, offering advice on how to bring your story to life.
Unfortunately, many editors are so busy, they can’t afford to offer counsel at all. In the real world of publishing, some editors never even read manuscripts. I recently spoke to one professional writer who mentioned that with his last five novels, his editor had not even read the manuscripts. The writer is now considered an old hat, and gets no editing at all from his publisher. I think that’s sad. I certainly don’t want to be unread even by my editor. Also, a busy editor may miss out on noticing that a book should be pushed for awards, or is in serious needs of repair.
But what about interfering editors? Some editors are noted for trying to impress their own artistic style on a piece. That has happened to me. Years ago I had one book where I sent it in to my foreign editors and got love letters in return, along with bottles of champagne. One of them called crying at the end of the novel for more than an hour. Yet a third editor wrote back that he thought that one of my characters was acting “stupidly” and insisted that I rewrite the novel, changing her course of action and killing off other characters. The problem was that the character was consistent, logical, and acted the way that she thought was right, and if I had followed his advice, it would have weakened the tone of the piece. The incident led to some real problems, with the editor going so far as to make personal attacks on me, which of course hurt my reputation with that publisher and with other authors—and the problem persisted for many years.
Rarely do I see such incidents, but they do happen. We’re in a business where personalities clash. I’ve seen editors go so far as to try to sabotage an author’s career, or attack the author in public forums.
So what do you do if your editor makes snide comments about people of your ethnicity or religion? What do you do if an editor attacks people of your political persuasion? What if an editor goes around telling unflattering anecdotes about you, or ridicules your manuscript? You need to prepare yourself, because such things can happen to you.
As an author, do you suck it up? Do you go on a rampage? Every course of action may have its own consequences, depending upon what has happened and the editor’s own personality.
It seems to me that each of us as authors should develop a code of conduct for editor/author relations. We are, after all, working together to create the best manuscripts that we can. Unfortunately, there may not be much that you can do if an editor snubs you or stabs you in the back.
Your options are limited. You can only do your part. When responding to editing requests, always try to make rational decisions about your work, be willing to take suggestions, and do your best to write the finest novel that you can. Yet ultimately you have to remember that it’s your work, and will have your name on it, not the editor’s. So you may sometimes have to hold your ground.
If you have to call an editor’s boss, do it. If you have to leave a publisher, do it.
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