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Avoiding an Editor's Most UN-Wanted List
by Tina Morgan

It only takes a minimal amount of success to make some writers think their writing is perfection. A few short stories here, a couple of articles there, a novel in-between, and suddenly their writing is beyond reproach...or so they think.

The more I work as an editor, the more I encounter this attitude and I admit, I don't like it. One of the quickest ways to get your name on an editor's "Most UNWANTED" list is to refuse to listen to the editor's suggestions.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that I never make a mistake as an editor, I do. When a writer politely points it out to me, I have no problem admitting they're right. But when a writer adopts the attitude that their writing does not need any editing, or they inform me that they've had "professional writers" tell them that everything they're doing is correct, I begin to wonder why I'm bothering with them.  Like many of you, my writing time is limited. I work a day job and have an active family; writing or editing time is precious.

From a writer's standpoint, I have disagreed with a few editors in the past. On one recent project, I disagreed with some of the changes to my style. However, the two editors on the project had valid reasons for the changes they were requesting. As it was a collaborative project and not just "my" story, I had to agree. The project had to flow and the individual voices and styles had to be melded into a cohesive whole...not an easy task for the editors or the writers involved. Working within a group requires even more compromise than publishing your own story, article or novel.

What if it is solely your work? When do you compromise on what you feel is your "style" or "voice"? How do you diplomatically respond to changes you feel are wrong?

The first thing you do is wait several hours or at least a few days after you've read the proposed changes before you respond. The rules for responding to an edit are similar to those for responding to a critique. You should be polite. You should read the edits with an open mind and with all thoughts and emotions about this piece being your "baby" firmly shelved. Diplomacy always works better than superior attitude.

Remember: Your writing is NOT perfect. You are human; you will make mistakes. The professional writer will admit this and desire positive criticism, so they might improve their work.

Your style shouldn't have to change for anyone or anything unless you choose to change it. I firmly believe that the 'factory' rule should come into play here. If an editor (or mentor/book-doctor/anyone) tells you to change something about your story, then this is basically telling you that the original words you used didn't convey your real meaning. Don't change the story and don't change your style - but change your choice of words. I guess this is equivalent to a factory changing pink widgets over to blue widgets because they sell better - same widget, same product, different coating.

It's simply a business decision. It's not a critisicm of you or your style personally, so don't take it that way.

Another mistake some writers make is in assuming that because an editor isn't published in NY that they're not qualified to edit their work. I'm not sure why the editor's writing credentials are even part of the equation. What matters is the editor's command of the language, grammar, spelling and story structure. Even then, one of my best personal readers is an East German gentleman who doesn't speak English. Why do I trust someone who doesn't speak the same language to edit my work? Because we've worked together for several years and I know I can trust his opinion - and he catches more grammar mistakes than many of my English speaking readers.

When you start working with a new editor, you may not feel that they have your best interests at heart, but consider how editors are paid and what they're expected to do. An editor can only keep his job if he helps a writer turn a good story into a great one. If the books, magazines, or anthologies she edits don't sell, then the publisher will take a look at her performance and consider replacing her. If the editor works for a small press, he is often paid a royalty fee for editing instead of an up front amount. Again, if the work he's edited doesn't sell, he doesn't get paid or he won't be asked to continue working for that publisher. No editor wants to destroy your work. It's simply not in their best interests.

There are occasions when you will find yourself working with an editor whose creative style is vastly different than your own. This can be a very frustrating, however, take a look at the situation. Is there a possibility of working with a different editor with the same publisher? If you really feel you need to work with someone else, then VERY diplomatically ask the publisher, the editor in chief, your agent or whomever is in charge. It's rare that I haven't been able to work with a writer, but it has happened. When it does, I would prefer the writer let me know. If a writer doesn't feel my suggestions are going to improve his/her story and that I'm not capturing his/her voice with the edits, then there is little reason for me to continue editing. 

The writing industry can be a very small world. You may intensely disagree with your editor and feel they're not qualified, but behaving unprofessionally is a poor reflection on you. You can't control the editor: you can control yourself. Remember to handle the situation in a manner that will allow you to send out that next query letter with pride and confidence.

Copyright Tina Morgan. All Rights Reserved.

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