A little comment on editing

I was going to talk about politics. I’m going to delay that – though newer readers should realize it is an interest and as US elections get closer I will ramp up some discussions.

Instead, I got into a couple of conversations over my editing posts. Some professional editors (who still haven’t actually, you know, commented) say I got a lot right but have left some gaping holes.

I’m not going to fill them.

Instead I’m going to speak in extension of yesterday’s post about the future of publishing. Many of today’s editors are gatekeepers. They are a major part of the hurdle to cross to get the Big Thing, and maybe one or two midlisters, plus the occasional Hopefully Next Big Thing.

Most of these editors don’t think of themselves as such. They think of themselves as the next Campbell or Perkins. They don’t (like to) think of themselves as the ones who turned away Margaret Mitchell or the dozen who turned away J K Rowling. Whether they like to admit it or not, their biases come first.

Dear editor. After you finish the mechanicals, all you are doing is adjusting for taste. Dear writer, after the editor has caught the misspellings and the overlong passages and homophone errors, everything is adjusting to his taste. It is possible you are using too many, or too few, adjectives and adverbs. It is possible, however, that you are a McKillip or a Hemingway, respectively, and this is not only the way it is but the way it should be.

In the past, and today in traditional publishing, the editor wins. Do it, or risk the publisher deciding you’re not complying with the contract. Today in indie publishing, and probably the norm of the future, the editor works for you. You win the argument.

Dear writer, this increases your burden, of course. You will always have to wonder if you’d have sold more taking the changes, or not as the case may be. You do that today, of course, but today if it doesn’t sell well you can blame them. With authority comes responsibility.

I’ve got a little suggestion. Not a perfect solution, but a suggestion. Make two versions, one with the phrasings you think good (because you may think the editor has one or two good ideas regardless), and one that it is predominately the editor’s version. Then impose on a couple of friends, the first readers who encouraged you by saying it was good, and have them read a couple of chapters in each arrangement. “Which one do you like better?”

With experience you’ll develop some idea of what does and does not work for you. In the absence of experience use ‘small market testing’.

And then comes the hard part: decide whether to trust your testing or test your opinion.

Now that I’ve got you tied in knots with worry, let me give you some relief.

If it’s good – not great, but good enough – it will sell. Do not let the pursuit of perfection deny you the rewards of good enough. Remember you are in this for the long haul. You do not need the Next Big Thing to survive. You just need several tales well told.

Listen to your editor, but remember he (or she) is an advisor, not the arbiter of your fate. Consider their words, then take them as you will.

And glory in the results, small or large.


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