Thursday, November 30, 2017
Editor's Notes #39: When the Red Ink Flows
With the love/hate relationship so many authors have with the editorial process, it's tough to do a good job without having someone's feelings hurt on occasion.
When I edit, I tend to leave a lot of margin notes, because it's often the only way I get to converse with the author, other than email. Margin notes allow me to talk where I want to, when the situation arises that I need to.
My margin notes can be for grammar rules, suggestions for a change, and explanations of why I removed something over there and kept it over here. I also use the margin to tell the author if a passage made me laugh or cry, because I think authors need to know their humor actually hits the spot they're aiming for, or if I felt them bleed their emotions onto the page.
After one of my authors told me he'd rather see less red, I changed my settings in Word so that anything I delete is in a nice, soothing blue, a.k.a. "Perhaps you may wish to rethink this." Anything I add is in red, a.k.a. "Do what I say because I know better in this instance."
Hmm. Maybe it's not exactly that way, but at least there is less red on the page, right? Goal achieved.
However, what happens when there's so much red on the page that every new comment feels like "the" comment? This is the one that's going to break him. This is the one that will put her over the edge. It's just too much.
I've had this happen on occasion, and I always feel terrible about it. But when all is said and done, I can't do less than the job I was hired to do, and if that means a lot of red, then that's what the manuscript needs. I try to be concise in my explanations, but I'm never sure how that goes over, since every time I think I'm being factual and neutral, my kids tell me I sound mean.
Not nearly as mean as some, apparently. I saw a Twitter post the other day, asking for authors to share the meanest thing someone ever told them about their writing. The "ouch"-worthy one that stood out to me was someone who said his editor asked him if he purposely wrote that way to make people think he was stupid.
Believe me, the goal is never to sound mean. In fact, if I've gone through a frustrating edit, I tend to wait a day or two before sending them off (barring any deadline issues), reread all my margin notes, "nice" them up a bit if needed, and then proceed with returning the MS.
What's the best way to deal with a lot of red ink? I have to admit that I still don't really know. All I can do is keep doing the job, explaining as I go, and hope the writer accepts that the changes are necessary if the book is to become its best.
So, authors, tell me about your experiences with editors. Have you had someone treat your manuscript as if it's their own, rewriting things the way they'd say them? Have you had an editor that made you feel inept? Or have your red-ink moments been a positive thing for you?