Monday, September 22, 2014

Editor's Notes #18 : Does Your Editor Go the Extra Mile?


I'm sure each of us has been the recipient of the phrase, "It's not what you said, it's how you said it!" when we've inadvertently offended someone. I would be willing to bet there's not a person on this earth who hasn't said the right thing in the wrong way at least once. Heck, I do it all the time, so I probably skew the statistics a bit for everyone else. 

Is tact really an art form, or can any ol' schmo learn it? I do think some people are naturally more tactful than others, but I think a small helping of tact can smooth over a plethora of situations. In our family, we have the two ends of the scale, right under one roof. Lucky us, right? Hmm. Well, on one hand there's me:
PERSON: Would you like to come over on Saturday? We're having a picnic with a bunch of people you don't know and probably won't ever see again, but you're always good for a fun time.
ME: [I'm tired and do NOT want to go but can't lie about it, either.] Well, I have a lot going on this week, and Saturday's the only day I can catch up with my family, so I'll have to bow out this time. But thanks for inviting me! That was really sweet of you.

And there's my husband:
PERSON: Would you like to come over on Saturday? We're having—
HUBBY: No.
The man does have it in him to be tactful when necessary, like when I say, "How does this look?" and he replies, "Well . . . I know you really like that outfit and it doesn't look bad, but it's not the most flattering thing you own." More often than not, he prefers to be blunt. Because he never does it with the intention of being hurtful, people who know him appreciate that they'll always get an honest answer.

I associate honesty with caring. If I care about you, I'll tell you if you've hurt my feelings. I may wait a bit so as not to react in knee-jerk fashion, but I need to the relationship to be healthy and therefore won't let it fester. It may not always be the comfortable thing to say, but I'll put it out there and if the other person also cares, the issue will get fixed.

How does this relate to editing, you may ask? Let's put it into the proper context. I get paid to do the job of a copy editor. I can correct typos, fix those tricky semicolons, and correct your homophone use. I can do the bare minimum required. I sends da bill, I gets da money. Fair and square.

But what if the manuscript needs more than what my job description entails? Furthermore, what if I know what needs fixed and have suggestions on how things can be made better? Am I obligated to tell the author these things? No.

But . . .

My personal standards don't allow me to skip that step. If I care, then I am, indeed, obligated to say something. Sometimes the improvements are light, easy fixes, and other times, a whole lot of work is involved.

Perhaps this word might work more effectively here than the one you've used sounds a whole lot nicer than Do you even know what this word means? The first suggestion implies there's a better option out there and it may improve the book to use that option. The second implies that the writer is a moron who deserves to be charged double.

This is not to say it's kinder to only say easy things. There are times that hard truths need to be said, and saying them kindly doesn't mask the fact that they may still be hard to hear. If someone truly wants to improve his work, he'll at least ponder those truths and confirm them with others. If ego takes over, the truths will be stubbornly ignored, and the work may never improve. 


It's my hope that those I work with will always see my comments and suggestions as stemming from a desire to see the book at its best. I would rather tell the truth than stroke the ego any day of the week.

17 comments:

  1. But... what if the writer IS a moron that deserves to be charged double?

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    1. Those get referred to my "special pricing" page. Oh sure, it's not actually on my blog, but it's in my head and that's what counts. I say things like, "Yes! I would love to be your ghostwriter!" and "Oh, it's not you, it's that crazy Chicago Manual." And then I add an extra zero to the right end of the price each time they disagree with me.

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  2. I think its great that you are open and have integrity when you know something needs a different kind of help. I would want that as a writer if an editor was looking over my work.

    Sarah Allen
    (Writing Blog)

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    1. Thanks, Sarah! I've read books before that caused me to wonder why the editor didn't notice certain things, and the only answer I can come up with was that those particular things were not in the copy editor's job description and therefore not mentioned.

      Just because I'm hired to paint lines on the side of the road doesn't mean I won't call whoever's in charge to report if I see there's a missing guardrail.

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  3. Unless you want to suck your whole writing life, you have to take some criticism.
    I think I'd be somewhere in between you and your husband with my answer. Tactful but very short.
    And I really want to know the answer to Brandon and Bryan's question!

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    1. That's as direct as it needs to be: Do you want your writing to suck forever? Yes? Oh well, then, carry on. Don't mind me.

      Criticism is part of any job. If you have a boss, you'll hear it. If you're your own boss, your customers will be sure to fill in that spot and give you more criticism that you could have ever hoped for.

      As far as Brandon and Bryan go, I revealed my secret technique above. And I did tell someone once that I couldn't do her editing because she stubbornly refused to take any of the REALLY necessary suggestions. I decided I didn't want my name associated with it, because readers would assume I didn't notice all the things she refused to change.

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  4. Being a Federal inspector, I know something about the thankless job of bringing bad news. My method is to be professional and impersonal, citing references when necessary, and answering questions directly and honestly. It has the benefits of imparting the necessary information, and maintaining my integrity in the eyes of everyone involved. The downside; I don't get many picnic invitations. It sounds like you've found a delicate balance that works for you. Of course, if I was invited to the picnic you describe above, I think your husband could relate to my answer.

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    1. Jack, a friend of mine is a postal inspector, and he has talked about the same pitfalls you've mentioned.

      I mentioned (in my answer to Alex) a job I turned down because the author wouldn't listen. I tried to back up my thoughts with numerous articles on the changes that were needed, so she could see it wasn't just my opinion. In the end, I referred her to a handful of editors from GR who sounded legit, and hoped they told her the same. I did see the book on Amazon eventually, but it has no editor listed and there are no reviews.

      If I ever decide to have a picnic with all kinds of people who don't know each other, I'll be sure to add you to the invitation list.

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  5. I think I've always been pretty good at being tactful, and anyone who doesn't agree is just a stupid jerk.

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    1. That's what I try to tell them! Why don't they listen? I don't always say "jerk," though; sometimes I say "moron" or "idiot" just to change things up, and yet I get a negative response each time. Pfft.

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  6. Since I don't have a husband and I don't see much of my kids, I don't go the extra mile. I go the extra ten miles. That's why I'm always tired.

    Love,
    Janie

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    1. You must be part of the "Couch to 10k Words" program. Proper warmup with short stories and poems is necessary so you don't get eye cramps.

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  7. Honest feedback is (at least should be) first and foremost with an author. Anyone that don't listed needs to be forced to write in an underground freak-room writing manuals for the CIA or NSA (we know how accurate their policies and procedures are) I personally think constructive feedback is important. As a Case Manager I have to go to physicians and tell them that their pt doesn't meet medical necessity and find out why they haven't discharged the patient. That usually goes over like a lead balloon, but they understand why. Like Jack said, professional and accurate is the key. They don't have to like you but they will usually respect you and that means the most in the long run.

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    1. I know people say you can't always have both, but I would enjoy being liked AND respected. But that's the musician side of me needing people to like me because that apparently means I'm doing my job well.

      The respect, though . . . being honest and thorough takes time. I sometimes put hours into a write-up because I'm trying so hard to get my point across without offending or discouraging, It's worth it if the person takes the advice to heart, though.

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    2. Ah, but Lynda, that's both sides of a dichotomy you can only claim one side of. At some point in our lives, we all make a choice, not consciously, but through our actions: Do I want to be liked, or do I want to be respected? In an occasional rare instance, you can have both, but you choose one as a lifestyle. You can usually tell which a person has chosen by watching them for a few minutes; politicians more quickly than others, methinks...

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  8. The key message here (IMHO) is the reason behind the comment. If it is to help and be supportive, I believe that comes through, even when the comment (I'm thinking critique here) isn't what the writer would like to hear. I'd much rather someone tell me that what I've written needs X, Y, or Z, than to tell me it's great when it isn't.

    Good point about how not what being key.

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  9. This is what makes you an invaluable editor. Well, this and your loose screws. I love knowing I can trust you to be honest when it comes to my work, on any and all levels. But I'm with Bryan and Brandon as well, what if the writer is a moron . . . and and and . . . ? lol

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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!)