Lesson 11: Your editor is wise and you are foolish
Don’t believe the nonsense you read about books not being edited any more. I’ve worked with more than a dozen editors over the years, with many different publishers. All my editors have been experienced and diligent, and they all put many, many hours into editing each of my books. One of the best things about being published is having the opportunity to craft and polish your work with the aid of an experienced, sensitive professional.
Editors are overworked and underpaid, but they know a lot more about writing than you do, and they’re usually right. Consider carefully every point your editor makes. Where you reject an editorial suggestion, make sure there’s a good reason for it. I would agree with 9 out of 10 suggestions my editor makes. If you’re rejecting most of them, you’ve got a problem. In rare cases an editor may be wrong for your book, but more likely the problem is that you can’t accept criticism. In that case, kiss your writing career goodbye.
Beginning writers have less leeway than established ones. An established writer can ignore most of her editor’s suggestions and still be published (though few would be so unprofessional). A novice who does so may never be published. If your editor tells you to cut your 1000 page manuscript to 500 pages, do it. Cutting a long book almost invariably makes it tighter, clearer and pacier. Also, big books cost a lot more to edit, print and distribute, but a publisher can’t charge much more for them. That’s OK if they’re by a bestselling author, but it’s a recipe for losing money if they’re the work of a novice.
Once you’ve had a few books published, your editor’s comments will fall into a familiar pattern – an introductory paragraph of praise followed by many pages of detailed comments and suggestions. Don’t let the praise go to your head – she’s not going to rubbish a book the publisher has already paid good money for. Neither get too downcast about the cumulative effect of all those critical comments (one of my eco-thrillers, The Life Lottery, had 28 pages of them). They’re intended to make the book better and, after all, the publisher has paid good money for it, and must think it’s a goer.
Your manuscript will generally go through two stages of editing. The structural edit looks at the big picture: ‘content, structure, flow, style, clarity and consistency’ http://writeanything.wordpress.com/2010/03/15/what-is-structural-editing/, after which you do your major revisions. Then there’s the copy edit (or line edit), which is done to improve the formatting, style and accuracy of the text. Some publishers frown on the author making significant changes at the line edit stage. Make sure you get the book right during editing, though, because major changes at the proof stage (i.e., after it’s been typeset) are very expensive. If you insist on rewriting your proofs, you may have to pay for the changes and they won’t be cheap.
If you’re published in more than one country, you may have to deal with a number of editors. British publishers are often happy with Australian editing; American publishers will want to change the spelling, at least, but depending on the genre they may also re-edit the story to suit the sensitivities of the US market, or their own editorial concerns. This isn’t all that common with SF and fantasy but it happens all the time with children’s and YA books, for instance. This can cause problems if your US editor is undoing changes you’ve made to suit your original editor’s concerns.
A bigger problem occurs when you’re published in several countries at the same time, e.g. Australia, US and UK, you have an editor in each of these countries and they disagree. These disagreements have to be sorted out by the publisher, otherwise they can be impossible for the author to reconcile.