Join Prism Book Alliance® as Edmond Manning goes Outside the Margins today.
The editor a writer wants is someone who recognizes genius and says things like, “I wouldn’t change a single word.” Or, “You’re amazing,” or perhaps, “I’m going to start recycling after reading your magnum opus. It’s that inspirational.”
This is not the editor a writer needs.
Let me backtrack a little bit.
It’s fantastic to work with an editor who appreciates you as a writer. Who sees you have talent in some odd, small measure and believes in you enough to want you to be better. That’s actually remarkable and lovely. I just experienced that.
I started working with a new editor, Jonathan, new in two senses. He’s been a behind-the-scenes editor for a long time but recently hung out his shingle for business. And this is our first time collaborating on a novel, and so it’s a new relationship.
Six months ago, he wrote glowing reviews of my previous books, and we became email correspondents and discussed a possible editing relationship. I was already in a relationship with a powerful editor, though I was a relatively low priority for her as she had more regular clients. (When you produce one book a year, you can’t be a hungry editor’s main client. She is fantastic and deservedly overbooked.) She had already informed me she probably couldn’t meet my timeline for King John.
Jonathan was specific in what he admired about my stories and the craft behind them, which made me feel as though, if we worked together, I would be trusting my baby to a man who understood what it meant to me.
As a test run, I asked him to edit the most recent three chapters of King Daniel, which I was preparing to post on my blog.
I liked what I saw.
Insightful pull-no-punches comments, amazing pattern recognition, duplicate duplicate word annihilation, and attention to a million other details that a writer can easily miss. Like, for, instance, overuse, of, commas.
See, what the writer needs is an editor who collaborates. Despite what the writer wants, what the writer needs is someone to lovingly say, “No. Think this through.”
I’d like to present some of Jonathan’s recent edits to show what I love about our collaborative relationship.
My original: …a three-quarter semicircle…
Jonathan’s edit: “A semicircle is, by definition, exactly one half of a circle, so, a “three-quarter half” would be confusing.”
Why did I use the phrase three-quarter semicircle? I don’t know. Seemed like a good idea at the time. Yes, it makes no sense. I’m glad Jonathan didn’t say to himself, “There must be some powerful reason—something important to the mythology of the Lost and Founds—for him to say that dumb-ass thing.”
Nope. Say it aloud. Ask. Bring it up. You’re helping me look less like an idiot (except to the people reading this blog post).
Jonathan’s comment when inserting a comma: coordinating conjunction to independent clause.
I don’t know what the fuck this means!
Look, buddy, I like telling stories. I’m not smarts with the words and the constructions of sentence. Clauses. With the words.
I want to be. I want to be a better writer next year than I am today. This is important to me. Edits like the one above help immensely. Okay, not that one. But in a previous comment he had explained the use of coordinating conjunctions in various situations, so he really did explain himself well. This comment was to remind me of that conversation.
Throughout the novel he would write the word ”cumulative” when referencing cumulative adjectives, a concept he explained thoroughly in a Chapter One edit.
Writers, you want editors who try to make you a better writer. I suppose it’s a trait you negotiate in every writing relationship with editors. You let them know what you want in terms of detailed feedback, and they let you know how long it will take them to give you that. There’s no real right or wrong to this, I guess. Just fit.
Test the fit.
Jonathan’s edit: I believe you intend cactus as plural, here. If you’re reluctant to use “cacti,” I’m completely with you. LOL Merriam-Webster’s says that “cactuses” is equally acceptable.
I love an editor who gives me options. This short edit has “the right way,” his opinion, and another option sanctioned by a reputable source.
Holy crap is it nice to have options!
Jonathan’s edit: I think the word you want here is trident, not Triton. Those three-pointed spear thingies? Triton is a sea god.
Damn it, I know what a trident is. I know who Triton is. He had a magic conch. But I forgot temporarily or AutoCorrect changed it, or whatever. (Let’s blame AutoCorrect.) But look closely at the edit. What do you see? What do you hear?
That’s the sound of not being judged.
Writers need an editor who points out the obvious and doesn’t make you feel like an ass. We make mistakes. Lots of them. Some of us give the editor one-hundred and thirty-two things to fix in the very first chapter. Heh. Sorry ‘bout that.
If I were an editor, by Chapter Seven, my edits would read, “YOU NIMROD, YOU DID THAT IN CHAPTERS TWO AND FOUR. QUIT DOING IT. YOU’RE PISSING ME OFF.”
Sometimes a writer can’t help but make the same mistake over and over, because the rule or guideline is misunderstood. Of course you’re going to see those same mistakes chapter after chapter. The author can’t magically learn while the editor edits.
(Another helpful thing I learned this time: you don’t need a comma after a word beginning a sentence like ‘however,’ or ‘sometimes,’ as in ‘Sometimes a writer….’ Not when it’s three words or less in that clause. You can put it in, to draw extra emphasis. It all depends. I did not know this.)
An editor must be patient, seeing the same mistakes over and over.
Especially with me.
I don’t know why, but I’m just not good with the rules around commas. I use too many, and simultaneously, too few. This is a growth area for me despite having read rules online and even taking a grammar class. I know, I know. It’s not that hard. It is for me. Patience for my blunders is a gift. An even greater gift is asking, “Is this what you meant?”
Jonathan’s edit: Twice earlier you said there were thirty-three thousand people attending Burning Man in 2002. Now, you’re saying there are thirty-thousand.
Attention to conflicting details.
What else needs be praised about this type of find?
Jonathan’s edit: In King Perry and King Mai, the term “eastern gates” appears five times in each book. In all ten cases, it’s eastern gates. It’s in Butterfly King six times, and each of those is capitalized. So, either let The Butterfly King be the one outlier, or capitalize Eastern Gates and one day go back and fix it in your other books.
Did I mention the valuable quality of pattern recognition?
It’s fantastic to have someone who recognizes the patterns in the current manuscript but to research previous books’ conventions and report back. That’s just cray cray. Way above and beyond.
Oh, and speaking of cray, cray, check out this one (skim it—I’ll summarize after his words). The entire discussion relates to a sentence that looks like this: X?
Jonathan’s edit: In a previous example where you wrote “x?”, the lowercase x has no problem, because it is shorter than the loop of the question mark. But the uppercase X is tall enough that it collides with the question mark unless the question mark is also cocked to the side by being italic. I recommend you break the rule here and have an italic question mark to improve appearance on the page.
This edit discusses the intentional breaking of an italics rule to accommodate the visual distraction of a big fat X that collides with the question mark. Now, THAT is some serious, character-by-character editing. Major league.
I would like to write my editor a thank you note. I would like to tell him how it feels to collaborate with someone who is patient with me, fixes my obvious mistakes, educates me on the less obvious ones, and tells me of the options when they exist. I want to thank him for his occasional content notes where he laughed aloud, when he cried, what he felt as he read some critical plot development.
If I attempt to describe my gratitude, I’m only going to create more work for him to do, giving him long sentences to evaluate, demanding they be stretched into reasonable shape, reducing meaningless clauses which do nothing but add to the readers’ confusion the longer they go on, but like a runaway train, seemingly cannot be stopped until they come crashing into the end of the sentence, screeching into a metal-crunching conclusion on a period.
See? More work.
I want him to know how I feel without giving him more work. So here goes:
P.S. I showed Jonathan this article. He liked it and was embarrassed by the praise. Also, regarding a sentence early in this blog, he said: “odd” and “small” both equally and independently modify “measure.” You could reverse their order, and you could replace my proposed comma with the word “and.” Passage of these two tests makes these adjectives equal, or “of an equal order” or (the technical term) “coordinate,” and coordinate adjectives are separated by commas.
P.P.S. He also figured out that I capitalized “To,” in the title just to tweak him.
About Edmond Manning
Edmond Manning is the author of King Perry, King Mai, The Butterfly King andFilthy Acquisitions. He spends a great deal of time standing in front of the fridge with the door open, wondering why it’s not stocked with more luncheon meats and cheese.
I have a number of paperbacks, most of which are signed, to giveaway. Over the between now (11 Mar 2017) and 31 Mar 2017, every comment on the blog (this post and all other new posts), will be entered to win 1 of these paperbacks. There are also some misc swag items, so there will be a few packs of these to give away as well.
Thank you so much for your support over the last 4 years. Prism will be closing its doors on 1 April 2017. All content will remain available, but no new content will appear after 31 Mar 2017. As such all request forms have been turned off. Again Thank you,
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