Editing Your Book: What if Your Editor Tells You Your Baby is Ugly?

by Julie Ricks.  So you’ve sweated over your manuscript for 9 weeks, 9 months, or 9 years, and finally, finally, you are ready, with trepidation, to hand over your baby to an editor.

You’re sure they’ll find a couple of typos, I mean, after all, no one is perfect. Perhaps you used a colon when you needed a semi-colon, or you put an “e” at the end of potato. You understand; these things happen. After all, that’s why you hired an editor. Right?

And then you get your manuscript back and it’s…well, it’s…all…marked up. There are typos–lots and lots of typos–you had used spell check, what happened?

Then there’s the suggestions or question marks or even whole paragraphs or *gasp* chapters deleted.

Your editor has just told you your baby is ugly.

What do you do at this point? Do you fire your editor? Do you throw the manuscript behind that treadmill in your bedroom, the one that you never use, and let the cobwebs grow over it? Do you give it to your best friend who will tell you they thought it was fabulous, perfect as is?

Well, you could, but as an editor, that’s not what I suggest.

First, take into consideration that your editor is trying to help you produce the very best book possible (or other written document/webpage); it’s not personal. That is our primary goal. We care about the words as much as you do. That’s why we became editors. We want what you want.

Next, understand that we try very hard to enter into the reading and editing of a new manuscript with no opinion, no bias, and to be as objective as we can be. Every manuscript is a fresh page, as it were.  But, we are human beings, however, and no matter how badly we say we’ve left our baggage at the door, we still manage to have a small carry-on with us. We’re human–imperfect and fallible.

Also, as much as we would like to, we cannot see into your head and therefore are not able to know exactly what you mean in your writing unless you make it clear with your words. If your editor does not understand what you are saying, then the average reader will not. If the average reader gets too frustrated, they’re going to put your book down, possibly never to return to it, or recommend it to a friend, or leave a review for it online. The most important thing you as an author need to convey to a reader is clarity. I would even go so far as to suggest that, even more than mechanics,  clarity is primary. Your editor will help you sharpen that rough gem until it sparkles.

Something else to keep in mind:  You may be really hurt / angry / upset or even astonished by suggestions or comments by your editor, but, keep in mind, that although the idea the editor is suggesting is not where you intended your narrative to go, the comments may spark something in your imagination that inspires you to take that section in a whole new direction, and it might be something even better than either of you thought of before.

Don’t look at the comments or suggestions as the enemy–look at them as a tool to polish the unfinished diamond that is your manuscript.

Let me give you an example of an expert opinion outside of the publishing world. You own a car. Every three months, you take it in for regular oil changes and other servicing. On one of these trips, the mechanic tells you “your brakes really need to be replaced.”  Do you heed the advice of the mechanic?  If you know or trust them, or they have a good rating, or you’ve been going to them for years? You’ll probably get your brakes fixed. It would be foolish to drive around with bad brakes if you can help it.

An editor is like your mechanic: Yes, we’re going to look under the hood and change the oil, but if we see that you need brakes? or your transmission is shot? It is our duty to point it out to you. A duty we take very seriously.

So please, if your editor tells you, no matter how gently, that your baby is ugly? Please realize that it is neither personal nor a permanent position–it can be fixed, and those big ears, crossed eyes, and bad diaper rash can be healed, fixed, repaired, and polished.

We understand that it’s your baby, and in your eyes, it’s beautiful, perfect, and except for that “e” at the end of potato, complete. So after you cool off and calm down, take a moment to take a look at the suggestions and/or corrections–you might nod your head and say, “of course, I didn’t see it that way before.” Or even, “no, that’s not what I had in mind, but I did have this in mind…”  And that’s why we’re here. We don’t want you driving around without any brakes. We want you safe, secure, and proud to drive that car around town.

Also, potato has no “e” on the end unless it’s plural:  potatoes.

You’re welcome.

Also, I highly recommend this essay, and its embedded links, over at the LA Times.


2 thoughts on “Editing Your Book: What if Your Editor Tells You Your Baby is Ugly?”

  1. I rarely have trouble with explicit comments and suggestions. The vague ones drive me up the wall. Not as bad, now, as when I was learning, but it’s still frustrating to try and guess what is bothering them and needs to be clearer.

    1. That is another article altogether: Finding the right editor for you and your words and the level of editing services you expect. But yes, I know exactly what you mean!

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