Monday, July 14, 2014

Editor's Notes #14: Do I Have to Listen to Every Suggestion?


Editors are paid to fix things.

Whether it's a misplaced comma, a misspelled word, or a complete overhaul on sentence structure, if we see a wrong, we need to right it or we can't sleep at night. My blog's tagline sums it up nicely:
I read books. I correct books. I read more books.
One of the beautiful things about self-publishing is that the author has creative control over every aspect of his work. Overall, this is a wonderful thing. He won't have a publishing house hacking his book to pieces or changing the story line because they think it would sell better if his hero was a twenty-something woman living in the city rather than a grizzled sixty-something man who lives a reclusive life in the wilderness of Washington state. He won't have a cover designed for him that has no real connection to the book's contents or his own vision—though a quick look at lousybookcovers.com will show you why an expert is still needed, regardless of how you choose to publish. He won't lose the rights to his own work (or in some cases, his own profits) for a period of time.

The flip side of this is that some self-published authors don't see the value in constructive comments when it comes to their work. When designing a cover, an author may have an idea of what is desired, and the cover artist can present choices based on the author's vision, with tweaks here and there. Ultimately, though, if the cover artist says (just pulling a random example from nowhere), "No. Zebra stripes would NOT look good on this cover," then the author should trust that his cover artist has the eye and experience to know what he's talking about.

It's no different with an editor. The type of editing I do most often, copy editing, is pretty cut and dried when it comes to what gets changed and what doesn't. The punctuation is either correct or not. The subject and verb either agree or they do not. If something might be questioned, I make good use of margin notes to explain myself. The bottom line is this: I either know the rules or I look them up when in doubt. I'm paid to know.

I often dip my toes into the other end of the editing spectrum, though, and here's where the lines blur. I can't see something that needs changed and ignore it. I don't have the attitude that says, "They're not paying me to make the ideas flow; this job is a punctuation-only gig." I want the book to be seen favorably by the readers, and I would like to think it's a help to the author as well. If a character isn't staying true to himself and it's not part of the plot, I'll point it out and perhaps suggest an alternative. There have been times when I've said, "I know what you mean here, but I don't think this passage is conveying it very clearly. Maybe you could rephrase it this way . . ." or "This person is reacting pretty calmly, considering x and y just happened."

I'm happy to report that the authors I've worked with actually listen to me. Imagine that! They don't take every suggestion and run with it, and I try to only give ideas that are necessary, rather than changing things because that's how I would have told the story. But I've read an awful lot of books, and I can usually spot a cliché or overused plot device a mile away. If I tell a writer he may not wish to go a certain direction because too many people have done that same thing lately, I've done my part and he can choose to accept or reject that bit of advice.

That's the terrific thing about self-publishing: you can take or leave those suggestions and still come away with a product you're happy with. Rules are rules, and there aren't many ways of getting around them. Advice, though . . . if you trust the person offering it, you just might end up with something even better than you started with.



28 comments:

  1. I make most of the changes suggested by my critique partners and my publisher's editor. They are, after all, just trying to make the book better. And I certainly want it to be better!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That's the goal, isn't it? Better is . . . better!

      Delete
  2. You do realize we listen to you because we have even less screws left than you, right? Either way, thankfully it all works out. :D

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The important thing is that you listen. Screws are a dime a dozen.

      Delete
  3. I always listen to those who give me constructive criticism, but only if I trust them to edit my work in the first place. Example: I once had an editor tell me that she thought my extremely R-rated novel should be completely rewritten into a children's story. I don't think I've ever laughed so hard in my life. I shared that with my then-agent, and he said, "Well, that's a great sign that you don't ever want to have her as your editor. She's bat-s### crazy."

    With that said, to go along with Alex, if I DO trust someone to look over my stuff, I always take their advice, because I know it comes from a good place.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It really does boil down to trust, doesn't it? Either you have it or you don't, and if you don't, then everything else that person says is viewed in the "don't trust" light.

      Still laughing at the transition from R-rated to children's. I can only imagine. But you guys DO draw cartoons, right? And cartoons are for kids . . . right?

      Delete
  4. I think advice should always be considered (if you trust the source) because that person truly wants to make your story better. Since you read so much, makes sense to me that your advice should be given its due.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Considering it is all I ask. Unless I'm familiar with the author, and then I pretty much demand they obey me, lol.

      Delete
  5. You are so right, the only word that really matters in these issues is trust. If you bring in a professional to do something you can't do, if you don't trust them, it doesn't matter how cheap, quick, or compliant they may be. All the second guessing and fretting over product you're going to do is not going to do a thing for your peace of mind.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Second-guessing yourself when you've hired someone to do a job is just about one of the worst feelings in the world. You're torn between being "rude" and backing out of it, or being forever unsatisfied.

      Delete
  6. When I'm edited for things that aren't black and white decisions, like commas, I take everything under consideration. Even if I dismiss the suggested change, I mull it over and try to "see" where that suggestion came from. I've found there's always a reason, and while I may not make the change exactly the way the editor did, I most generally make some kind of change. In the end, I'm pleased with the results.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It's always a good idea to think it over, whether you act on it or not, simply to understand why the suggestion was made. That's why I love leaving margin notes. They explain the things that aren't hard-and-fast rules. Also because I'm Italian and I always have something to say.

      Delete
  7. Replies
    1. Wonderful! Now let me edit that out.

      Delete
  8. I generally don't like unsolicited advice, but if I've hired someone to edit my WIP, that means I want his or her advice, and trust his or her opinion... so I'm prone to take it.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Good man, Silver Fox! Unsolicited advice tends to be unwelcome unless it's really spectacular . . . and it typically isn't.

      Delete
    2. My unsolicited advice is spectacular. (Shhh -- I had to say that because I know The Silver Fox's feelings about advice. He goes ballistic.)

      Delete
    3. What do you mean, I go ballistic? What do you you mean? Me? ME??? WHAT DO YOU MEAN???

      Delete
  9. Advice from an expert like yourself or anyone else you have chosen to Professionally evaluate your work should be taken into consideration. IF you didn't value their advice why did you chose them in the first place?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Indeed, why? I had one person ask me for an eval and then tell me all the reasons why she wouldn't change a thing. I asked her how many books she'd sold from her first novel, and if any of her five reviews were from non-family. She didn't answer.

      Delete
  10. First, zebra stripes are totally underrated...

    Just kidding. You're right as always, Lynda. Good to see your "Notes" appearing again with regularity! What would I do without them?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Ze-BRA! Ze-BRA! *cheering*

      I'm glad to get back in the swing again with the Notes. Every couple weeks seems to be all I can manage lately, but I'm trying to be regular. I'm pretty sure your writing would stay top-notch whether I posted or not, though, Elle.

      Delete
  11. It's always good to get another perspective on one's writing. And your name will be attached to the book since you edited it, and therefore your reputation too. :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. YES! I had someone who didn't want me to change any of the VERY essential things needed, and I basically told her I couldn't do the job because my name would be on that book forever, and my reputation as well.

      Delete
  12. Yet some people -a lot of people- publish without having their book edited by anyone. It's crazy. Sometimes their books could've been winners, too, if edited.

    I just looked at those lousy book covers. They're horrible and pretty funny.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. "Could've been"—how sad is that? I've read books with killer plot ideas but bad or nonexistent editing, and I mourn the loss of success for that author, because he or she may never know the book's full potential.

      Those covers! I laugh every time.

      Delete
  13. I can see both sides. On one hand it is the work you are proud of but on the other hand, it is a great way to improve.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That's the tricky part: recognizing good work but knowing a professional suggestion can improve it, as long as pride doesn't get in the way. And that works both ways, too: I can't be offended if someone doesn't take my advice, because in the end, it's their book. I have my list of non-negotiables, but suggestions are offered in good faith.

      Delete

I love comments, and will always answer them, partly because I like having the last word and partly because I just like getting to know the people who read my blog. (Note: if the post is more than a couple weeks old, your comment will automatically go into the "needs approval" folder, but I will still publish it and reply!)