I’m going to talk a bit about editing today. Even if you’re new to writing and submitting, I’m going to assume you’ve learned that editing your own story is a must before turning it over to someone else or submitting for publication, so we’re not going to go into that. But right now I’m talking about BEING edited – whether it’s before submission, after acceptance, prior to publication, whatever. You’re going to have to grow accustomed to having your work edited by someone else.
I’ve been fortunate to have had great editors for most of my writing career, though there have been a few clashes over the years. If you’re brand new at this writing and submitting thing, it’s important to put all ego aside and resist the urge to be defensive when someone suggests changes to your work, because I’ll tell ya, nine times out of ten you should listen to an editor’s advice. They are an outside force seeing your words for the first time since said words have left your head, so that perspective is fresh and objective. The editor is not your enemy. Their job is to make your story the best it can be. However, each magazine/publication will have their own rules and preferences, which you may have to suck up and adhere to if you want them to publish your story/article whatever. And each editor is different. Which brings me to that ’10’ in the ‘nine times out of ten you should listen to an editor’s advice.’
Yes, it happens. Once in a while you’re going to clash with an editor’s opinions, and clash hard. In my experience this is rare, but it does happen. I’m not talking about drawing your sword and going to battle over a few commas or a simple sentence rework because you think every letter you type is pure genius and the editor is trying to hinder your misunderstood specialness.
You are in fact going to have to eat a lot of crow and believe me, in most cases you’ll end up saying ‘Damn, you know what? He’s right about that phrasing/continuity error/plot point.’ But there may, and probably will come a time when you receive your marked up story from an editor and go…what the fudge?? Editors are people, and people are all different, and some will have VERY different ideas about writing. So how do you handle it if you, after careful consideration, feel in your burning soul that the editor is wrong about a change they propose to your work?
Rule number one, be tactful and polite. Always be polite, no matter how steamed up you are about the edits. I recall one of the few times I actually clashed full on with a magazine editor years ago. My story was accepted, then ultimately passed on to a staff editor, who had very different ideas about things. I use contractions in character dialogue, as it feels more natural to human speech, yet for each ‘I’ll’, as in ‘I’ll see you on Saturday’, this editor changed it to ‘I shall’ see you on Saturday. It was all through the manuscript, these changes. ‘I shall think about that.’ ‘I shall find you.’ ‘I shall kill you.’
It was like I’d been edited by Jeeves the Butler.
It’s okay to disagree with an edit. The key is to explain your position to the editor succinctly and without defensiveness. Calling an editor a moron, (yes, I have editor friends who’ve dealt with this from authors), telling the editor they don’t know what they’re doing, citing your body of published work as evidence that you know better than they do? Not the way to handle it. In the case of my story, I politely pleaded my case, explaining that use of the word ‘shall’ did not feel organic to the character, was not a phrasing said character would use, and that I felt strongly that the dialogue contractions needed to stay IN, unchanged. I was fortunate in this case, as my story was passed on to a second editor and it was agreed that my dialogue was fine the way I’d written it.
But be prepared, as things will not always be resolved in your favor. You will on occasion encounter a ‘my way or the highway’ publication and be told that you can either accept the editor’s changes or take your story elsewhere. This is a sucky situation to be in, but you only have two choices here. Either suck it up and agree to the changes, after weighing the pros and cons of how badly you want to be included in this publication, or politely thank them for their time and inform them you wish to pull the story from consideration. Politely. Never insult or storm off in a huff, because even if you think the staff of said publication are the biggest bunch of clowns on the planet, you don’t want to get a reputation as being difficult to work with.
You never know who you’ll run into again down the road in your writing career.
Skyla Dawn Cameron says
As an editor, I will say that editors should not fucking touch dialogue (and be flexible with first person narration) unless it’s to correct obvious errors or delete unnecessary stuff, etc. People don’t speak in perfect English. They commonly use incorrect turns of phrase. They use sentence fragments and slang. LEAVE DIALOGUE ALONE. /rant
if writers know why they make the choices they do and know what they’re trying to accomplish, they’ll find it much easier to navigate edits, I think. It’s easier to tell if the editor is completely off base or if your story isn’t coming across as you’d intended.