Cinnabar Bridge

September 10, 2008

The author editor relationship

Filed under: books,publishing — phwebnet @ 1:04 am
Tags: , , , , , ,

Another article for the BAIPA News [September 2008]

The relationship between author and editor is probably the most highly charged relationship in the publishing process. As an author you are giving your editor permission to change your story. You are turning your baby over to another person who can change the meaning, the voice, even the essential nature of your manuscript.

In many cases, this is a very good thing. In business books in particular re-structuring the manuscript can make it stronger. And often your editor has a better handle on the marketplace and can help you tap into that marketplace more directly.

For others of you, your manuscript is part of you. It is personal and intimate and you may feel vulnerable when reading it, showing it to others, pitching it, or asking for advice.

What this means is that, when you have an emotional attachment to your book, you need to understand how to manage the process when you may be feeling vulnerable. You are critical to the editing process and need to maintain some semblance of control. You need to know what is essential to you about your book (i.e. the main message, your voice, the plot, the characters, the hero’s journey, your point of view on politics or business). What will you do if your editor wants to change these critical elements in ways that you do not buy into?

Before you hire an editor, find out as much as you can about his or her prejudices and see where your book falls into that spectrum. Remember that your editor is only one person with one opinion.

I am currently reading a colleague’s novel and I find myself saying over and over “Are you sure I am the right one to read this novel?” It’s not that I don’t want to be helpful because I do. It’s not that I don’t want the job or the money, because I do. I have confidence in my ability to help and offer valuable insights and direction, but with this particular book and because I know my own prejudices I wasn’t sure I was the right choice. He had said “The novel is experimental (always a clue that it might be too out there for me) it is dense and shifts time frames, it is sort of science fiction and might be confusing until the end. You might have to read it really slowly to understand all the layers.” Yikes!

So, I started, and I saw that working in phases would be good. After reading about 85 pages we met and again I indicated I might not be the right person because I am not the target reader who would buy this book. I am a woman, not a young man. While the time shifting wasn’t a problem, the fact that I couldn’t identify the hero’s journey or quest was a huge problem. And none of the characters connected with each other emotionally. One of my prejudices is that I like books with a character I can relate to; I want the protagonist to be on a heroic journey; and I want the hero or heroine to face challenges and somehow deal with demons or change over the course of the novel. And I want some level of emotional awareness and connection. I expressed these feelings to the author. He still wanted my input, and he now knows where I am coming from, so he can evaluate my suggestions within that context.

So, what does this mean to you? Be aware of your own feelings as you move through the process. Be aware that your editor is just one person with one opinion and there are other opinions out there. Recognize that the editorial process is important and take the time to do it right. If you feel vulnerable ask someone to be your sounding board, a neutral third party as you feel your way along. Be willing to stop and find someone else if your first selection for an editor does not work. Recognize that this is a highly charged situation and proceed thoughtfully. Keep asking yourself the question: Has my editor improved my work or just changed it? If your editor has strengthened your work, be happy. This is the job you hired her to do.


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