Thursday, August 30, 2007

The Editor's Creed

A fragment from Women at the Races,
Edouard Manet,
oil on canvas, 1865,
Cincinnati Art Museum.

This is the best essay on the mutual responsibilities between editor and writer that I have read.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

The Editor's Creed
1. I’m not here to be your fan, but I will be your first fan the day your story is published. I am here to see the flaws in your submitted work. It’s my job. Author, try to understand this when you get back your first revision, your second, or any of them. Flaws hurt and create upset, but it’s not about hurting and upsetting you. It’s about fixing a story. If I’m honest, if I’m any good at my job, you’re going to hear about the flaws in your story. There’s no getting around this.I’ll try saying things as politely as I can, but I must say the truth. Author, try to remember blunt does not mean I want to hurt your feelings. Blunt merely means I’m working as hard as I can while being honest about what I see. I will not waste time writing advice full of apologies for doing so. Expect honesty from me. Expect directness. I do not go out of my way to attack you, the human being, when I make a request, say a character isn’t sympathetic, give you a suggestion, tell you more than once to fix the same flaw. This is about getting a story edited and that is all.

2. My tools of the trade are words and grammar. Definitions, usage, punctuation, POV. I require knowledge of all these things and a skill for seeing the difference between a style choice and bad writing. Author: I will do my best to explain why something is bad writing. Please listen. I’m not here to change your style, but if I point something out, calmly look at your manuscript again and check for what I discussed. What if I’m right? You’re the one who must live with the end results of your revisions. The editing process, a real editing process, can result in growth for an author. Try to welcome it.

3. Author, your tools of the trade are words and grammar. Definitions, usage, punctuation, POV. I expect you to use these properly. If I discover you require relearning the rules for any of them, I’m going to say so. I will insist that you learn to use them properly. Only when you truly understand the rules can you work the tools of your trade in a manner that defies the rules. When you reach that point, I will smile as I read your work, because I will admire that you arrived at that pinnacle.

4. Revision work is not my work. It’s the author’s. My work is looking for flaws. Flaws are misuse of the tools of the trade, misleading or unclear writing, mistakes in the plot, characters that aren’t believable, poor story flow. Once I find these and point them out to the author, the author is the one that must do the work of patching, covering up, weeding, replacing. If I do the revisions for the author, it’s unfair to me. It’s unfair to the author. It’s unfair to every other author waiting for me to spend time on their story.It’s not my story. Author, the story belongs to you. Take pride in being professional and do your revisions. Don’t expect me to fix the story for you.

5. Editing isn’t about my vision of a story. It’s about the author’s. Author, remember that when I make suggestions, they are suggestions. The story is yours. The characters are yours. Tell me how you see your characters and your story, and I’ll do my best to help you meet your vision.

6. Editing is about teamwork. I am a human being. I am like you. I make mistakes. I don’t know everything. I miss things. I sometimes need things pointed out. Author, I won’t take offence if you teach me something new, offer me a different way to view an idea, send me a link that shows you did your homework, or highlight a paragraph I may have missed that backs up the plot twist a few pages later in your story. Teamwork is about listening to each other. I listen.

7. I have a standard to live by as well. So does my publishing house. Author, remember that when you decide you disagree with my advice. People will know who edited your story, and if it leaves my hands in bad shape, shame on me. And that’s why I’ll insist on logic when we discuss fixes. Logic trumps opinion. I’ll insist you explain your reasons so I can understand them, but if those reasons don’t make sense, I’m going to say so.Author, if you have a good reason, I’ll see it and agree. Author, if you don’t have a good reason, I’ll keep showing you why it isn’t good. If we come to an impasse, I can consult other editors belonging to my publishing house. If they agree with you, I don’t mind.Remember: I’m a human being. I don’t expect to be perfect, but I do expect you to treat me fairly and to remember we are discussing a point about a story, not arguing to hurt each other personally.Author, I will do my utmost to be fair to your perspective. I promise. But I won’t lower my standards. Expect to work and work hard. I want to see a story published that we can both be proud of.

Copyright K.M. Frontain, 28 August 2007. Permission to reprint granted to all.
The original may be found here.


Anonymous said...

The creed is very positive. It would be gift to work with an editor who approaches the relationship like that.

I don't envy the job of editors. To maintain compassion in the face of so much defensiveness and hurt feelings must be very draining. I would hope most seasoned writers are professional, however. Unless they sell a ton of books. Then, I could see ego coming back. The danger is believing you got those sales all by yourself.

Robyn said...

But, but...that's my baby that I slaved over for years! You obviously just don't get it! You hate me!


It is hard to have the flaws pointed out. It is harder to accept that your critter/editor/whatever was right. But you have a better product in the end.

Charles Gramlich said...

A lot less "crap" would be getting published if more editors took this kind of care and concern in their work.

Sam said...

Wonderful article. And so kind of her to give permission to reprint, because I'm sending it right off to my editors!!!

Sam said...

I just have to add that ALL my editors have been like this person - great to work with.
I think, to answer Mr. Gramlich's comment - that when a writer writes crap it's very, very hard to edit it into roses. And when crap gets published it's not fair to blame the editor. The publisher, maybe - the author, certainly, but hardly ever the editor. That said, I know one author who's editor, out of spite, added typos to her book. Now that was just plain nasty.
Plus, books are awfully subjective - one person's crap may well be another person's roses.

Bernita said...

"It would be gift to work with an editor who approaches the relationship like that."
Yes, indeed, Jason!

Writers may sometimes fail to realize editorial criticism in the proper context, Robyn. If the story is accepted, it is already considered "good" and editorial comment is about making it better and better.
You'd think, on the whole, writers would welcome such comments and suggestions.

Editors with Karen's philosophy are pure gold, Charles.

Josephine Damian said...

Beautiful. If only more writers got the message, there'd be a lot less writerly suffering in the world.

Sam, I'm going to forward it to my writer's group newsletter editor so that it will be shared with those who need the advice the most.

Bernita said...

"Plus, books are awfully subjective - one person's crap may well be another person's roses."
That is a good point to keep in mind, Sam.
And editors, presumeably, have a broader perspective over readers' tastes. It is a commercial industry after all.

Bernita said...

Thank you, Josephine, I think it's an essay that should be spread far and wide.

Church Lady said...

This is beautifully written.
I agree with Jason--I don't envy the job of editors.

I think/hope that if the editor/author relationship is a long-term one, then it must surely get easier (though never easy!)


raine said...

Well spoken.
The words of a very competent editor.

Bernita said...

Chris, if a writer learns and improves, presumeably it will get much easier.

Bernita said...

And one always ready and willing to explain the logic and reasoning of why something needs improvement, Raine.

sex scenes at starbucks said...

I fortunately have not had the experience of a spoiled author, or one who will not listen to editing suggestions. Our authors have been professional and courteous. My experience is that if someone writes well enough to be published, they oftentimes have learned to deal with crits and editing. It's part of honing skill.

sex scenes at starbucks said...

I don't envy the job of editors.

Actually, it's a fabulous job.

The Anti-Wife said...

Thanks, Bernita. This is very informative.

Bernita said...

From what I've read around town, SS, you are indeed fortunate not to have run into the "Don't touch my bangy" crowd.
Have noticed a number of publishers have seen fit/found it necessary to advise on their sites that accepted works will be edited - when one would have thought that fact would go without saying.

Rather, thank Karen for her care and clarity, AW!

spyscribbler said...

See, I just don't get it. To me, an editor has my back. She's saving me from making a fool of myself. I'd be terrified without one.

Bernita said...

"To me, an editor has my back. She's saving me from making a fool of myself."

Exactly, Natasha.

kmfrontain said...

Thank you for posting the creed, Bernita. It's a culmination of beliefs I've discussed with authors and editors. It was months in the making. It was in the making, really, since I began working as an editor for FB/WCP. The creed is up on my advice website now, a permanent page. Page one actually, the index. :-)

M.E Ellis said...

I love this creed. I sent it out to an author for the first time yesterday, told him a fellow author/friend wrote it. It saved me writing much the same in my introductory email.

I love being an editor, but some days I am minus strands of hair.


Jon M said...

Sounds firm but fair, Bernita. What's the point of asking what someone thinks if you can't take the criticism? And if someone is skilled and experienced in editing they should be listened to. I liked the bit about it being the writer's work, I've just left a blog where someone is at the'Will you finish this for me' stage!

Bernita said...

One word, Karen.
I hope your Creed is re-printed all over.

And both you and Karen walk the talk, Michelle.

Bernita said...

"... where someone is at the'Will you finish this for me' stage!"
Huh,Jon! That attitude is not that far removed from the "I've-got-this-great-idea" type who wants to split 50-50 but not bother doing the work.

moonrat said...

Thank you--this is so correct.

Bernita said...

And Moonrat speaks from experience.

Anthology Authors said...

We are very lucky to have Karen as an editor at WCP/FB. All of our editors have this attitude. We consider ourselves fortunate. :)


Bernita said...

Indeed you are, Marci. Truly.

IM Cupnjava said...

When editors tell me that authors get upset with them, it blows my mind. Have I made a mistake in my manuscript? Please, show me my mistake, because I must not see it. Do I have a flawed understanding of POV or some grammar rule? Please, teach me so that I may not make that mistake again. Have a written something poorly? Please point it out so that next year when I'm a stronger writer, I don't cringe at it being in the public eye.

Maybe I've been really lucky with editors or something, but I've enjoyed every moment I've had with them. They've been polite, but honest. There have been times where I've disagreed and I've explained why I disagree. We've always come to an understanding.

Yes, there've been times where the editor says something and I pointed to a different place in the manuscript that covers it, but do you know what that tells me in reality? If my editor missed it, then my reader will miss it.

Editors are human. I know this. Editors can be mistaken. I know this too. However, I am human, prone to mistakes AND I realize that I'm too close to my MS to see the errors. I'm THANKFUL that my editors want to help me write the best story I can write and I'm sorry that some of these talented women and men get a bunch of gruff from other authors.

This is a wonderful creed!

Jon M said...

Hi Bernita,
My last comment caused a bit of kerfuffle which it was not meant to do. The writer I mentioned didn't REALLY want someone to take over her work, she was just at 'that stage' and musing about the different emotions you go through in writing.

Jeff said...

Absolutely 100% correct. Thanks for sharing this, Bernita.

Bernita said...

Well said, IM!
Your experience mirrors mine.

Thank you, Jon, for providing context.

Jeff, I agree( obviously)...but
I'm just the FedEx guy here.