I thought I’d do a post on a topic that I hadn’t really covered in a while: writing.
Well, editing, to be more specific.
As you may know, I do freelance editing work, and am currently contracted to a small press publisher. After Acquisitions gets the manuscript, it gets sent to me, and I go over it for story stuff, grammar stuff, spelling stuff, etc., etc.
Doesn’t that sound horribly professional? If you’re a writer, then you know it is.
Any-who, after I do at least two passes over a manuscript, it is normally ready to go to the proof-reader, who finds all the remaining grammatical and spelling detritus that inevitably makes it through the cracks.
I know what you’re thinking: shouldn’t you, the editor, have caught all that?
Nobody is perfect. Nobody. Not even the biggest publishing houses. I know you’ve all read a best-seller and found things wrong with it.
We’re human. That’s why a manuscript is gone over multiple times, by multiple people.
As an editor, I have hierarchy of things I look for. First, I look at the story; does it make sense? Are there any pieces missing or extra pieces that need to be excised? Second, I look at the point-of-view (POV); is it consistent? Does it hop around? If it does, does it make sense for it to do so? Third, I look at language; how does the author use the language.
This one gets me in trouble, because once you start talking about language, you inevitably find yourself embroiled in a discussion of the S-word: “style.”
Passive voice, so disdained I’m not sure how it even exists any longer, actually has a place in the language. It is a legitimate construction. Yes, I find myself guilty of it as much as the next guy, and, depending on the prose, it is possible to read and never even realize it unless you are specifically looking for it. But, it is a non-starter in the editorial world.
So many things about the language fall under that umbrella of “style.” Some authors like to use the English, rather than the American, spellings for certain words. I have no problem with that, as my own lexical catalog is filled with words and spellings from so many regions that sometimes even I have trouble keeping up with what I’m trying say.
But that’s what is so great about writing: as the creator, you get to decide on all of those things, every detail, down to the smallest verbal idiosyncrasy of the most minor of characters; those belongs to you.
As an editor, it’s my job to help you craft that creativity in a way that keeps a work yours while ensuring your genius isn’t lost on the reader.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is a challenge. To try to “fix” an author’s work without detracting from their style, their voice, or imposing your own sense of rightness or wrongness, your own artistic touches, is a fine line to walk, and one which I continually guard against crossing.
As an editor, my first loyalty is to the author’s vision, followed closely by the reader’s ability to accept and embrace that vision.
Does that make me a bad editor? I don’t know.
I will, in a vacuum, give my authors the benefit of the doubt; unless I can find a concrete reason to say “no” to something, I must concede to their vision for what they’re putting down on paper. As a writer myself, I would expect no less from any editor I worked with. That doesn’t mean that I won’t try to persuade an author on a point, nor would I be unreceptive to such input were it me on the other end, but, in the end, I have no real power to impose, to demand, to unilaterally change something.
I am the editor, not the creator.
The not-quite-forgotten cog in the great publishing machine.
But I do love doing it.