What Not To Say To An Editor, Part 2

Last week, I wrote Part 1 of this series. This is Part 2.

For the people just coming on board now, I’m an editor. (It’s not my only job, but it’s a good one) And what I’m detailing here are things you shouldn’t say, write or mention in your correspondence with me (or other editors, but I’m speaking mostly from personal experience). The following statements are BIG HUGE RED FLAGS that will often lead you to rejection, suspicion of being creepy, uncomfortable work situations and becoming an example of what not to do.

Take note, good readers.

I’m not sure you’re worth it.” This has only been said to me four times, and each time was a new experience in uncomfortable and bad times. If you (prospective client) and I are talking, and you heave a sigh (which is totally visible when you type, if you’re curious) and then drop that bomb on me, I used to freak out and then spend inordinate amounts of time justifying why we should be working together.

When I was struggling for work and was way too busy helping other people without actually succeeding, I was always working uphill for paychecks, wondering when I’d be able to have some money in my pocket. And that absence of cash (which admittedly is a good thing to have on hand, say when you want to go out on a date or buy a burrito or purchase a video game), really turned me into a doubt factory. I doubted whether or not I was good enough to do this job, if I should get a “real” job, if I should just give all my time and energy to this relationship so that someone will love me, etc etc. Basically, being poor and thinking that having money equaled success (newsflash: it doesn’t, sorry Gordon Gekko) made me think I wasn’t worth much of anything — so I’d always have to prove that I was good “enough” to a person / place / relationship / job / client / ice cream sundae so that I didn’t have to walk away in shame and hide myself in a cave or something.

The point is — that’s a shitty attitude to have. And if you or I spend our time forever justifying whether or not we’re worth it to other people, we’re not going to have the time or the energy to actually do the things we wanted to do in the first place. (Side note – sometimes those people you’re trying to be good enough for just aren’t worth it. For realsies.)

So, if you say “I’m not sure you’re worth it.” what you’re really saying is “I’m not sure I’m/the work/your potential to change my work is worth the commitment to improving, since I’m really scared about doing this because it might succeed or it might fail and discovering that really makes me uncomfortable since it is not what I am used to.”

You’re worth it.
Your work is worth it.

I’ve been editing on my own for years, what good is your help?” I’ve been doing a lot of things myself for years. I built the desk I’m writing this on. I just ate some food I made the other night. But you know what’s nice? Not having to do that. Letting someone else take care of a task for you is nice, and gives you more time to other things (like bathe and knit and golf). Also, if you come look at this desk I’m writing on, it’s not a bad desk, but doesn’t even come close to the super-desk in the other part of the office that dates back from Ellis Island and the 1880s. That thing weighs in the hundreds of pounds and was built with more skill than I thought a man could have. I trust that construction and that work far more than I trust my own, and likewise, you should trust people do the job they’re good at. Anyone can screw together an IKEA desk and it’ll be serviceable, but for really awesome work, go to a professional.

If you edit my work, it won’t be the same. I’ll lose the voice/tone/feel/structure/vibe/sound I want.” Let me just clear up a misconception about editing. What I do is make YOUR work clearer and stronger. Editing is not me coming into your work and changing it the way I want it, editing is refining your work so that it can be enjoyed by others the way you intended.

What happens when you hand me work is that you and I talk. And we figure out what you’re trying to do in the story or the chapter or across several pieces of story or whatever, but basically we map out what’s going on, and how you want it to be seen/experienced by the audience. Then I go back to my lair and educe that desired experience from the text. Yes, that means I might chop up sentences, delete whole paragraphs and suggest that entire characters get the boot. So, you’re right, it won’t be the same. Things will have changed, but that’s on purpose – the changes are there to help you get your point across, get your ideas out there and get that voice/tone/feel/etc etc broadcast.

Can I pay you a little up front and then more when I sign my book deal?” Now if this were fifteen years ago, and book deals still had large sums of cash attached, I’d say yes. But, in today’s industry, and with traditional book publishing not being the cashcow it used to be, my answer is NO.You can pay me over time if you absolutely have to, or you can pay me when the job’s done like everyone else. I don’t want to wait for your ship to come in weeks/months/years from now and you just happen to get around and write me a check. Pay your editors, support us, and help us help you.

[INSERT TITLE OF BOOK OR NAME OF WEBSITE HERE] says that I should get an agent and then let them handle the editing, so I like, don’t need you.” Ahh, the agent quandary. Here’s where things get a little murky. Not because I don’t know an answer to this, but because there are several answers and people don’t always like them. Here we go:

a) Not every book needs an agent, it depends on what the author wants to do with it (if you’re self-publishing and only need like 40 copies for example, then no, you don’t need an agent).
b) Not every agent is (gasp!) a good editor (likewise not every editor is a good agent).
c)Not every book and/or website is going to be useful for you. (Be discriminating. Educate yourself with a variety of sources then make your decisions.)

There’s also a fourth element here: That in order for an agent to pick up your manuscript, it should be in the best shape of its life. That means free of glaring errors, formatted correctly, and engaging with the best story and characters possible. Getting an editor to help you make that happen goes a long way to securing the agent and all those other steps down the line.

My work is perfect, and I don’t ever need an editor. I don’t change a thing, and I just send it straight to Amazon. You can buy my things here, here and here – (and the rest of the email is basically a sales letter).” I’m very happy for you. Honestly, I’m glad you’ve distilled down the formerly scary publishing process to a few mouse clicks after you spend a few afternoons writing.

(I should point out that the above quote came paraphrased from an email that also included a sentence “I don’t know what’s so hard about being prolific, I already have several books published in under XYZ years.” – and yes I got permission to tell you this.)

Publishing your work shouldn’t be so scary that you’re discouraged from doing it, but it shouldn’t also be so simple that there’s no talent or craft required to do it. And if you do as much reading/trawling/searching through Amazon as I do, you may encounter a lot of self-published authors with a dearth of books….and a matching stack of 1-star reviews, that often include comments about poor story structure, weak writing, bad grammar and being a general waste of money. Hiring an editor can prevent a great deal of this before it happens, the caveat being that in order to avoid ignominy as the one-star-Amazon-author, you have to exercise your brain and talent muscles to produce work and get it edited so that it’s in a better than first-draft-shape.

And for the record, no one’s work is ever 100% perfect on the first draft. It’s just not. Expect it to grow, change and evolve as your tastes, skills and other factors (like a reader or time) influence it.

I hope you’ve found this helpful.

Happy writing.

What Not To Say To An Editor, Part 1

One of the more popular series of posts on this blog is the What Not To Send An Editor.

What I want to start today is a new series, What Not To Say To An Editor. Previously, we talked about stuff I get in the mail, now let’s talk about the things I hear, get told and read in emails.

Now before some of you cry foul that a guy who has problems with his tone shouldn’t be talking about sounding professional, I’m not chastising you specifically, I’m just pointing out red flags that I see in emails.

Thanks but I’m not interested in having my work edited.” This comes after I get an email asking what I do, and possibly after the email where I say how much what I do will cost. What this tells me is that you don’t want other people to see what you’re creating for any number of reasons (some discussed below), and that possibly you think your work doesn’t need to be edited. Generally, if you think you don’t need an editor, you do, often badly.

I don’t want to give you a copy of my work, you’ll steal it.” No, I won’t. Here’s why – I’ve got my own work to deal with, and don’t really have the time to go around shopping your work as my own. This is particularly true if your work is fraught with errors and problems and things that need fixing — why would I put my name on something that isn’t the best? (And if you think I’m going to spend the time fixing your material, not get paid for it and then turn around and claim it’s mine, you should probably consider how much effort that is without any sort of paycheck.)

I don’t need an editor, I’ve had my friends look this over a few times.” I’m glad you have friends. Are any of those friends trained in writing theory and craft? Do they have experience in helping improve your writing, word by word if you need it? Are they unbiased? It’s great to have your friends read your work, but to help the work develop, you need someone critical and unbiased. Like an editor.

I’ve already given the story out to beta readers, and they’re totally helping.” Okay, I’m going to repeat what I just said about friends and add to it that if you’re giving a reader a story in fragments or a story incomplete, you’re robbing them of the total experience of the story and hurting yourself by not working hard at your craft. This is magnified if you’re letting the reader dictate how the story should proceed or end, since the story is yours, not theirs. If they want to tell a story, they should be writing.

I don’t need you to tell me what I’m doing wrong.” When I hear this sentence, I usually have to walk away for a second, because what immediately follows is the person saying that editing is basically what your high school English teacher did, and she was a real bitch, so you don’t need that again in your life. The problem is that I AM NOT AN (YOUR) ENGLISH TEACHER, and it’s my job to help you write better, and that means we’ll be talking about what you’re not doing well and what you can do better. If this was a gym, would you not want the trainer to tell you you’re lifting the weight incorrectly?

Don’t you just press F7 in Word? I can do that.” Sure, you can do that. I think I could train my dog to do that. But that’s not all editing is. Editing is the process of evolving the story through technique and construction. Editing is part of the story telling process because it helps clarify and strengthen the material on the page. Pressing one key might take care of typos and some (it’s not perfect) generic grammar, but you can do a lot more to help a story stand up and be noticed than just spell all the words correctly.

I edit my own work.” Yes, that’s what every author should do. We should go through our work and look for the parts we need to tweak and look for the big glaring errors that jump out at us. But, we also have blindspots – scenes and ideas that we’re attached to, or feel bias towards, so even if they don’t help the story, we keep them in, because we like the work we’ve done. (I should point out, we like ALL the work we do, but like Animal Farm, some work is cooler than others). The best way to correct the blindspots is to hand the work over to someone else.

I heard from XYZ person that you didn’t edit their stuff, I think that makes you a jerk.” The reason(s) I didn’t take XYZ on as a client are none of your business or your concern (in much the same way you can’t really comment as to how I spent my Wednesday evening – you weren’t involved, you weren’t there.) If my decision not to work with someone leads you to think I’m a jerk, that’s a you-thing. Your mind, your thought, your decision. If that decision you made means you also decide not to work with me, that’s fine too, I understand – there are other editors in the sea.

You’re so expensive.” If you look at the pricing guide put out by the Writer’s Market and then look at my prices, I’m just a little north of the middle of the road given the type of work I do. Why? Because I’ve been doing this half my life. Because I’ve built myself on delivering good results quickly. Because I’m good at this. Because it’s a job and this is how much it costs. Just like when the sink clogs, the washing machine goes kaput or the car starts making that weird sound, you can try and fix it yourself.

(This one time my dad tried to fix the dishwasher when I was growing up. We ended up re-doing the whole kitchen (new appliances AND floor AND cabinets) that year).

Don’t skimp on what’s important to you. If you care about this story, make sure it gets the care and help and support it needs to be the story you meant to tell.

And yes, this will be a series of posts. Stay tuned for part 2 which gets a little more technical.

Happy writing.