Notes from an Editor

Recently, someone asked for help editing something. It was a small thing, so I gave my feedback and suggested changes and left it at that. But then the small thing returned with additional changes. Yet many of my suggestions had been rejected.

That’s fine. As an editor, I know not everyone is going to agree with my revisions. Some of it is a matter of personal taste. Sometimes the author sees the need for changes but doesn’t like my particular rewording, so they go make different changes on their own, something more in their own voice. Some authors are simply too married to their own works to truly want an editor; they want the editor to simply say, “Yes, this is perfect.” (I won’t do that, so if that’s what you really want, please hire someone else, or better yet, save your money and ask friends and family to cheerlead for you.)

Edits, after all, come in two flavors: necessary and recommended. Necessary changes are, say, problems with grammar or big flaws that can’t be ignored. Massive plot holes, for example. I’ve read drafts where some characters completely disappear halfway through the book for no clear reason. Or even appear and disappear mid-scene! Those are necessary fixes. And then some edits are recommended for things like clarity or flow. Notes might say something like, “This seems out of character for So-and-So.” At which point the author can change it, or add more motivation for the character to behave that way, or whatever. (If I have an idea for that, I’ll usually note it with my feedback.)

This small thing, though. It returned with mostly the same verbiage as the original. The author had added a couple lines is all and hadn’t seemed to take many of my suggested rewordings for the rest. So I had to wonder… Why? Why would you continue to send something to an editor if you don’t intend to take any of the advice? I’m not offended that this author didn’t make those changes; that’s up to him. But it feels like a waste of time on both sides to keep doing this. He seems to already have decided he has it written the way he wants. What good is my input then?

As an editor, I won’t keep suggesting the same changes. But I also refuse to go over the same ground multiple times if the author keeps going back to their original choice of words, or plot point, or whatever. In other words, DON’T send me the same thing over and over again. Please. If I try to help you once, and it turns out I can’t (either because I don’t have the expertise or you don’t like my style), there’s nothing to gain from continuing to go rounds with it. Find someone whose suggestions resonate more with you, someone whose experience you trust more than mine, or someone who will tell you it’s all good if that’s what you really want to hear. And if you are an author looking for an editor, be clear and honest with yourself about what you do and don’t want, what you do and don’t consider acceptable, before ever hiring someone. Because you’ll need to be clear with the editor, too, about what you’re looking for in terms of feedback. Don’t waste time and/or money on advice you’re not willing to take.

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