Monday, July 9, 2012

Five Ways to Get Your Editor to Kill You

If there’s one thing writers do well apart from writing, it’s killing themselves. I mean that literally, as in suicide. Although it seems as if writers are more prone than people in other professions to write their own endings to their life stories (and an astonishing number of writers have done just that), at least one source says that doctors have the highest suicide rate.

That may be because some writers just don’t have the gumption to take their own lives. But have no fear, clinically depressed and suicidal wordsmiths, you can get your editor to do the deed for you. Just do the following things and your editor will be more than willing to metaphorically cut your story short.

Send your editor your first draft

Think of your work as a car. Your first draft amounts to little more than a pile of parts and some assembly instructions written in Japanese. Don’t expect your editor to build your car for you. Your job is to make a car that’s road-worthy, your editor tunes the engine, your copy editor cleans it inside and out and makes it sparkle, and your proofreader does the detailing. Then, and only then, is your baby ready for the car show.

Remember: Everybody writes crappy first drafts, and no one, including your editor, likes getting your crap.

And if you believe that a writer’s job is to write and an editor’s job is to edit, please find a new vocation. If you don’t value your work enough to give it a second look, no one else will either.

How your editor will kill you: She will stop by your place on a Saturday evening. She won’t be prepared for murder, but will hack, slash, and beat you into a carpet stain with whatever she can find in your kitchen. Like your first draft, it will be very sloppy.
Edit Ruthlessly
Edit Ruthlessly (Photo credit: Dan Patterson)

Push back your submission date but not your editor’s deadline

“This took me two weeks longer to write than I expected, but I still need it edited by tomorrow morning.”

Simply unacceptable. Good editing, like good writing, takes time. Less time means lower quality. Your editor knows how much time it will take to edit your work well, and if you want your work to be well-edited, you must give him that time.

How your editor will kill you: He will redefine deadline for you. You’ll get an e-mail stating quite simply that he will be over on Wednesday night to kill you. He will show up on Monday instead.

Insist that the grammatical rules you learned in middle school are the only way to write

You aren't writing for middle school, so don't expect a middle school education to be the end-all and be-all of good literature. Many of those so-called “rules” weren’t really legitimate in the first place. And besides, language changes. Your editor knows this and will not steer you wrong.

No one likes to be told how to do their job, and that’s exactly what you’re doing when you insist on adhering to those antiquated and illegitimate grammatical axioms. Not to mention that you’re probably wrong. It’s fine to argue with your editor on matters of style and voice, but when it comes to grammar, leave it to the pros.

How your editor will kill you: You like those old-school ways? Your editor can accommodate that. She’ll call a couple of hard, pipe-hittin’ editors to go to work on you with a pair of pliers and a blowtorch. She’ll get medieval on your ass. And your manuscript.

Assume that grammatical is synonymous with well-written

Don’t assume that a sentence that is grammatically correct cannot be improved. Good word choice and placement can make an accurate, grammatical sentence just zing. And a good editor is a Zing Master.

And on the flip side, don’t get all uppity about sentence fragments that your editor allows into your manuscript. No, a sentence fragment is not a complete sentence, but so what? If it improves the flow and punch of a statement, that’s all that’s important: the improvement.

How your editor will kill you: They say there’s more than one way skin a cat. If you receive an unexpected cat costume in the mail, be very afraid.

Delay or deny payment

You have a business agreement: Your editor does the work, and you pay her for it. If you don’t like the work, that doesn’t give you the right to deny payment. There’s not a whole lot you can do legally about shoddy editorial work, but you can avoid hiring her again, and you can discourage others from hiring her (as long as you remain truthful and don’t slip into defamation).

If she has a boss (if she works for a professional editorial service), you can complain up the ladder. If the boss agrees that the work is bad, you might get a new edit, and your old editor might have to get a new job.

And next time, do your research before hiring an editor.

If the editing was good and you just aren’t paying, though, you don’t have a foot to stand on. Freelance editors make a living working on stuff like yours. If they do the work and don’t get paid, they can’t pay their bills.

And remember: Editors talk to each other. If you make a habit of putting off payment, finding an editor who will work with you can quickly become impossible.

How your editor will kill you: If an editor can’t pay her bills because you didn’t pay yours, don’t be surprised if you come home one day to find that she has moved into your place. From then on, you’d better sleep with one eye open.

Editors are not sociopaths

All this is not to say that editors are always right, or that your text no longer belongs to you. A good editor isn’t out to put his own stamp on your text; he’s there to make your text more interesting, memorable, and readable. Good editing is an art, so individual taste comes into play. If you disagree with an edit, you have every right to change it back to your original or to try to talk your editor out of the change. It is in your editor’s professional interest to be easy to work with and open to compromise.

But if you find that you’re arguing every edit, you might be the problem. Pick your battles, and trust your editor. You’re on the same team, after all.
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