Warning: this is a no-edit zone…
Writing themes cycle. So do questions I receive about writing, and from all those coming in to me via Aids4Writers@yahoo.com and from my web site right now, we’re in the cycle of editorial styles and the writer recognizing the right editorial style for him or her.
Some writers are just eager to find an editor–any editor–who likes their work enough to contract it. While I’m sympathetic to that feeling (in a way only one who struggled for many years to be published can be), I am also aware of the shortfalls in that kind of thinking (in a way only one who has worked with many different editors can be).
All editors, like all writers, have assets that they bring to the professional table. Across the board, they love books; that’s why they’ve become editors. But beyond that, their gifts can vary significantly. And never doubt it, editing well is a gift.
Some editors are terrific with technical aspects, like novel structure and character development.
Some editors are whizzes at mechanics, like grammar and scene specificity.
Some editors are wonders at critical analysis. They can spot a flaw in a book in nothing flat–and might, or might not, be able to suggest how the writer fix that flaw, depending on the range of their gift.
Some editors are blessed with inspiring creative insight. They can mentally capture the writer’s vision for a book and then help them translate that vision clearly and effectively onto the page.
Some editors are frustrated writers. They either have or want to write, but there’s a disconnect in the process and so they elect to edit the work of other writers. Unless the editor is extremely disciplined and restrained, this can be a frustrating experience both for the writer and the editor because the editor develops his/her own vision of the writer’s book and then requires that the writer revise until s/he captures that vision. And so not in essence but in fact, the author and editor become co-creators of the novel–and that can be an agreeable relationship with the right editor and author, or a disagreeable one, if they’re not in sync.
Over the years, I’ve heard all the “jokes” and cliches about there being a special hell just for editors and that their sole reason for their professional existence is to make writers miserable. That’s ridiculous, of course (and for the record, I’ve heard the same about writers from editors, which is equally ridiculous).
But the thing about cliches is that they got to be cliches because in some way they formed around a speck or a seed of truth. The above cliches are absurd taken literally. But I expect that speck or seed of truth formed in the relationships of mismatched editors and authors.
Think about this for a second. If both the editor and the author bring the same assets to the professional table, then their strengths are certainly well-covered. But what of their weaknesses? Following that logic, don’t they then bring the same weaknesses to the table?
Not necessarily, but they could. Much would depend on them, the individual persons. Their knowledge and experience and attitudes and insights. Who they are as a three-dimensional human beings. When you factor that in, no two human beings are going to have the exact same weaknesses because no two human beings are exactly the same in all those aspects. So the editor and writer could have fewer weaknesses or many, many more.
That’s significant when you consider that it isn’t our strengths that cause most relationship challenges, but our weaknesses. Each one carries the potential for conflict. And let’s face it, conflict with an author is no more fun for an editor than conflict with an editor is for an author.
So it behooves both the editor and the author to be selective and work only with those they sincerely believe will be good matches. That makes recognizing a good match extremely important. So how do you do it?
Well, as trite as this sounds, a large portion of the work is done for both the editor and the writer. The writer writes. The editor reads. And then in a good match magic happens.
I’m speaking of the editor’s reaction to the work, of course. I’m reminded of the Seascape series here. Five editors considered that project and four were interested in it. I met with those four editors over a period of two days. All were gracious–terrific people really, and I’m speaking sincerely. I was beginning to wonder how in the world to judge which would be hand’s down the best editor for the project. And then I had the meeting with the fourth editor.
She was excited–literally bobbing in her chair, and when she spoke of the project, her eyes lit up. She was enthused. Excited. She loved the project and it showed. Bingo. The right editor.
Now her offer wasn’t for the most books. It wasn’t for the most money. And it didn’t come with the strongest marketing plan. But it was the right choice because of her level of enthusiasm. She was invested and committed to the project. And in hindsight, I can share that basing the decision on those criteria worked out very well.
The bottom line was that it was a good match. Editor and authors loved the project, shared the same vision for it, and had similar work ethics. Their strengths and weaknesses were similar and different, which when combined, made for balance. That knocked out conflict. There just was none.
And therein lies the strength of a good editor/author match.
As a writer, if you’re weak in technical aspects, then as a professional, you need to study and grow stronger. But you also need to recognize the benefits of working with an editor who is gifted in the technical.
Mutual respect is critical for any relationship, but there is an added dimension when you’re dealing with intellectual properties and creative pursuits. A connection, if you will.
In this pursuit, two people share a common responsibility to create the best possible book. Two different people, who understand that they are different and that their methods of achieving their common goal are different. That’s not a liability, it’s an asset. Editor and author carry different responsibilities as well as shared ones, so diversity is beneficial for its broader coverage. And not just beneficial to the editor or the author. What benefits one benefits the other because, remember, both are working to create the best possible book. Both have reputations on the line.
When all is said and done, the relationship between editor and author will largely determine whether or not the experience is positive or negative–on both sides.
I’ve seen authors ready to tear out their hair over frustrations of working with a bad match. I’ve seen authors get so fed up or disheartened that they fell into depression, went through confidence crises, and quit writing.
I’ve also seen editors ready to tear out their hair because they can’t get through to an author. Good people who were treated with mistrust because the author had previously had a bad experience with a different editor. I’ve seen editors get so fed up or disheartened that they left their jobs and started alternate careers.
A bad match serves no one well. And it isn’t any more or less frustrating for anyone involved. So, regardless of which side of the desk you sit on, there is wisdom in being selective–and in remembering at all times your shared goal of creating the best book possible.
Sure, you’re going to have differences of opinions on what that best book is, but if you’re well-matched, you’ll resolve them from a place of mutual respect.
A frequent occurrence has not yet been discussed, and that is the case of the inherited author/editorial reassignment.
This is a challenging time for the author and the editor. The author is apprehensive. Will it be a good match? Will the editor be on the same page? The editor is apprehensive, too, though less apt to express it, of course, for obvious reasons. But you can bet s/he is hoping for excellent matches, and odds are good that whomever assigned specific authors and editors took pains to assure strong matches. They too want minimum conflict and maximum benefit and that only comes from strong matches.
The truth is that sometimes these reassignments work and sometimes they don’t and no one can unfailingly predict which a specific reassignment will be until the match is tested. Writers approach writing differently. They work with editors in different ways. Editors approach editing differently and work with authors in different ways.
Some differences require changes from both parties. Some of those changes can prove to be blessings and actually make for better relationships and stronger works. Some can also just not work–for the author or the editor. And those, naturally, are the ones most others hear about because, being human, we all tend to rock along when things are going great and to grumble and groan when they’re not.
It’s important, however, not to confuse an adjustment period with a bad match. And many do. We’re resistant to change as a matter of course, so it’s imperative that we give the reassignment time to settle in, so to speak. The editor has to have time to get familiar with the writer’s work, to get a grip on his/her personality and the way s/he works and to determine what is important to the writer. The writer has to learn those things about the editor, too, and let’s face it, neither can figure all this out overnight. Both need time and exposure.
This adjustment period is tough on everyone and it requires patience, frank communication, and giving the other person the benefit of doubt. Making the effort when anxiety-ridden is hard on everyone, but often things work out and work out well.
On occasion, the reassignment proves to be a bad match. In short, one or both of the parties realize it doesn’t work and it isn’t going to work. No matter how much time is invested, the two are just not going to create magic in books.
For the writer, acceptance of this can be crippling. Especially if s/he works with one editor at one publisher. And too often, the writer will rationalize and/or move heaven and earth to avoid acceptance. But sooner or later, whether s/he does accept that s/he’s in a bad match on his/her own, or the editor makes that difficult call, the writer must accept it and move on.
Often s/he does move on, filled with bitterness. But that’s counter-productive. It’s impossible to be objective in these situations, but an outsider would certainly see that bad matches and moving on is hard as hell on the editor, too. Losing authors doesn’t appeal to them any more than losing editors appeals to authors.
Yet realists all, they recognize that bad matches are just plain bad matches and they aren’t in anyone’s best interest. So when one is recognized and acted on, it’s a blessing to both the author and the editor. The editor sees this more quickly because s/he works with other authors. The author sees it too, but not typically before s/he settles in with a new editor who is a good match.
Authors and editors. Different styles, different methodology, different people; strengths and weaknesses, priorities and attitudes; visions and dreams and restrictions by house and market and personal preferences as well as an abundance of all that and more in industry others and even more nebulous and never quite identified influences. It’s a wonder any writer or any editor ever makes a good match!
But they do. Often. They combine their efforts and make magic happen.
Then we find ourselves in a new cycle.
And that’s what’s on my mind this morning. That and the book-in-progress. It’s that damn emerald ring. Why is it there? Still have no idea, but maybe today…