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7 Ways to Sabotage Your Relationship with Your Editor

andrew mackay

I wrote this post after a round of email interviews with some of our editors back in 2010. The tips are as true now as they were then.

by Andrew Mackay

Ah, the editorial process. Depending on where you are in the editorial process, it is either the most wonderful thing to ever happen to you or the worst idea your publisher has ever had. Writers have long had mixed feelings about editors. For example, Bill Nye once said “There are just two people entitled to refer to themselves as 'we'; one is the editor and the other is the fellow with a tapeworm.” T.S. Eliot once said “Some editors are failed writers, but so are most writers.” And, Mark Twain said "I am not the editor of a newspaper and shall always try to do right and be good so that God will not make me one.” Here are 7 surefire ways to make the editorial process miserable:

1. Get offended

I know, I know, it’s your writing. You get it back with all that red lining from Word’s track changes feature (or, worse, printed out with changes written on in red pen), and where else would your mind go but to “My masterpiece! It’s ruined.” Don’t… most editors are genuine in their desire to work with you to make your book better. They’re not suggesting changes to upset you, they’re suggesting changes to help you communicate better.

There is the ever-so-slight chance that you could be among the minority that either hired the wrong editor or got a poor effort. If you feel like that’s the case, sit on the edits for a while and come back to them. If it still seems that way, bring it up with the editor. If you can’t get any resolution, break up.

2. Don't be curious

Red ink all over the place? Track changes shows more changed material than not? Might as well just accept all, right? Wrong! This is a great opportunity to learn about grammar, sentence structure, and flow. Editorial changes should be hard work – pull apart every recommendation, every change. Figure out what the problem was. Learn so that your next book is tighter, better, and easier to edit.

3. The "Fine, whatever" Approach

It should be clear by now that I believe in the power of a good editor, but now I’m going to give you a little out: every once in a while, editors make recommendations that aren’t the right decision for the book. You at least want to take the opportunity to think the changes through. Opening the word document and clicking “accept all changes” keeps you from taking that opportunity.

4. Expect perfection.

Oh, right there, on page 155, a huge error that the editor missed. If they can't spell antidisestablishmentarianism, all these other changes must be wrong too.

You know, you may find a couple that they missed. One person will never catch every error in a book. Expecting them to is pretty naïve. The editorial process at a commercial publisher usually involves many sets of eyes (9 editors / proofers is not uncommon) to look at each book. There’s a reason for that.

5. Explain away changes

This is almost a contradiction to #3… but, as you work through changes, you may find yourself explaining them away out of inertia rather than in the interests of serving the work. Take the time to work through why you’re really resisting a change. Serve the work! You took months or years to write it, and now you’re going to be lazy about the editorial process? I don’t think so!

6. Check with My friend Ella's Sister's cousin...

Getting a second opinion from a friend is usually a tactic used by someone trying to protect their work from changes they don’t want to make. Again, work through the changes. Ask the editor questions where necessary, but don’t pit your editor against the opinions of the whole world. It’s not fair to them, you, or your work. Work through the edits, get them completed, then you can ask for opinions on the revised work.

7. Get in a hurry

I've had this conversation numerous times:

Author: I need my book out within 45 days

Me: well, you may be able to achieve that, but the schedule would be incredibly tight. You'd have next to no time for the editorial process, when you combine the time needed for it and design.

Author: Oh, we'll just have the editor rush.

Don’t hurry the editor and don’t hurry yourself. You get sloppy when you hurry. You likely spent a long time writing your book. Rushing it now, well, that's just silly. You want to put in the time needed to make the final product the best it can possibly be.