Why you should listen to your editor

Grumpy Cat Image source: AP Images

Grumpy Cat
Image source: AP Images

“In the end, what makes a book valuable is not the paper it’s printed on, but the thousands of hours of work by dozens of people who are dedicated to creating the best possible reading experience for you.”
― John Green

At the publishing house where I used to work, we had one author who simply would not listen to the advice of his editors.

Ultimately, the final say in how a book is edited is up to the author. It’s their copyright; it’s their book. But the publishing house always has the option of terminating the contract if the author refuses to make required changes.

Our editors recommended very strongly that this author edit out his “purple prose”. This guy was in love with adjectives. It was a common problem in all of his previous books, too.

When this author’s book was finally published, it got reviewed in the Courier-Mail (one of Australia’s larger newspapers). Guess what. The reviewer picked up on the purple prose, too. They nailed the book, and it didn’t sell well – big surprise.

We talked to the author about it but he was convinced that it was a coincidence that everyone had picked up on the same issue and made such a big deal about it.

This is why listening to your editor is so important.

You have the book. We have the experience and the skills to make the book better.

Keep calm and don't fight. Image source: Marsha Tally’s Universal Manifestations blog

Image source: Marsha Tally’s Universal Manifestations blog

So there’s no need to fight us.

We want to help your book be read and enjoyed by as many people as possible. We’re not going to make you change anything that won’t improve the book and how you’ve told your story. We’re not going to change your voice, your writing personality; we’re just going to make sure the story makes sense.

What about people who say you just have to write your story honestly and fully and it will just be perfect as it is? After all, it is your story.

Well, let’s say I wanted to become a champion marathon runner. If I just get out there and run my hardest for as many kilometres as I can, guess what? I’m going to die. As much as I love to run, I’m not trained for it, and I’m really only used to running for a kilometre before I give up and walk it.

If I was going to become a marathon runner, I would start by running alongside a coach who is really, really good at training people to run marathons. I would ask them for as many tips as I could, and I would take all of their advice. It’ll still be me running the marathon, but my run will be a heck of a lot faster and easier than it would have been.

Image source: Getty Images via HLN TV article on the ‘Run Buddies’ program combating teen obesity

Image source: Getty Images
via HLN TV article on the ‘Run Buddies’ program combating teen obesity

What if you’ve had some bad experiences with editors in the past? Find a good one. Not all editors are at all the same.

“It has been our experience that American houses insist on very comprehensive editing; that English houses as a rule require little or none and are inclined to go along with the author’s script almost without query. The Canadian practice is just what you would expect–a middle-of-the-road course. We think the Americans edit too heavily and interfere with the author’s rights. We think that the English publishers don’t take enough editorial responsibility. Naturally, then, we consider our editing to be just about perfect. There’s no doubt about it, we Canadians are a superior breed!”
― Jack McClelland, in a letter to author Margaret Laurence, dated May, 1960. Extract featured in Imagining Canadian Literature: The Selected Letters.

If you’re looking for an editor with integrity, who’ll do the work that’s needed in a fast, accurate and thorough way, you know who to call.

Looking for an editor? Check out my freelance editing services here!

Coming up on TJ Withers-Ryan: Make it easier all round! I discuss common tips for self-editing before coming to an editor.


This post was written by TJ Withers-Ryan © 2014. Reblogging is always highly encouraged as long as you credit me as the author.

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