Jul 1, 2014

I Need Help

by Terri Wagner

Lucinda Whitney's blog post triggered this blog post (thanks Lucinda). I am that dreaded content editor. I am the one charged with polishing your manuscript. That is not a thankless job. Read any intro or preface to any book, and most usually, the author thanks their editor with a caveat that reads something like we both know how hard this was....I can testify to that!

Some time ago, I had an unpublished writer who had a pretty good story with intriguing characters. However, it needed major polishing; in some cases, total rewrites. This author was unwilling to budge an inch. No matter the suggestion, the feelings this person expressed over and over was you accepted my book as is. Make any grammatical changes you deem necessary, but don't expect or ask me to change things. We put her through our publishing process which is quite extensive. And laid out in the contract. It includes a lot of breaking down your story in to logic sequence, scene switching, toss outs, and critical timelines. We also have evals that we ask the author to read and prepare to address the issues listed. Most of our authors are on board. And sometimes the final polished draft is considerably different than the draft that was accepted. I worked with one author that was a dream author. He took every suggestion seriously. When he didn't agree with the change, he laid out his reasoned opposition. Sometimes we worked out a compromise. His finished product was awesome, and has led to a sequel.

Unfortunately, one author was so completely opposed to any changes, that the contract was actually rescinded. This is extremely kind. Usually in the publishing world, the editor/company will simply put your manuscript on permanent hold until the issues are resolved. The author went on to find another online publisher and had it printed. I had stayed in touch and was asked to read it and post a review on Amazon.com. The book was good, and the changes we suggested made. I had to tease the author a bit, and they took it in good stride. And admitted that maybe we had had a point.

New author who up to now has been open. Worked through our process, saw the issues that needed addressing, began addressing them. We ran into some difficulty so I suggested having someone with "fresh" eyes beta read the story. That person almost word for word brought up every item I had. Instead of taking on the cuff, the author bucked. We are now in a difficult place with the editing. The author's beta readers loved the story. I cannot really address the issue of what one beta reader saw and the others did not...I have my suspicions, but I cannot say for sure.

So here's my question. As an editor how do I convince an author I really know what I am doing. That the manuscript really needs this change. That the story would be more appealing if this were done. Why are authors so married to their story they simply fail to consider any changes other than small ones? Is the creation so important to the author that major changes are not possible?

I ask because I really want to connect with the authors I work with. I really do understand the market place. And I can assure you that a story written in passive voice for young adults is most likely going to be avoided. What do I say about beta readers that are not themselves authors, or editors, or publishers? How do I explain my job is to bring out your very best? That this scene needs to be changed, or discarded? Help me out. I want the author to know I really am on their side, and I am not trying to rewrite your story, just make it more market appealing.

What are the words that say I am on your side, but this has to be done!


  1. I will be watching for other responses, because I have the same questions. I work with writers on a website and have had similar experiences...writers who want to reach the target audience, and those who are so in love with what they wrote, they can't see that others won't understand or appreciate their work. Maybe ask, What is your goal? Why did you write this? Who do you want to reach? How is what you wrote going to get you closer to your goal? This is great if you want _________, but it won't get you __________. Thanks for making me think more about this Terri! I need to toughen up my Editor spine. hugs~

    1. I'm gonna try that Kari. I don't want to lose another author or have her publish the unpolished piece.

  2. I've been wondering this same thing. But I have to explain a little back story.

    When I attended BYUI, I worked at the Writing Center on campus and basically had the job of an editor in 20-40-minute time slots 20 hours a week. And it was effective. I sat down with the writer, the writer read me his/her piece, and we began discussing it. As per my job description, I was not allowed to tell the student what to change. My job was to ask questions to the student about motivation, intent, and audience perspective in order to guide the student to fix his/her own piece. And it almost always worked. The issue is that it takes time and it requires human contact.

    I've thought about working as an editor because I loved my experiences in college and as an online teacher, but editing just isn't received the same way when I have to comment in bubbles next to the person's written words, unless that person is a "dream author." But most just don't see what you see unless you can guide them to see it for themselves, which takes face-to-face questions. And that's the rub.

    1. Good point. Because her beta readers were face to face. My beta reader was online. And yes the bubble thing is more troubling than worth it. Thanks for your input. I'll try it.


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