If there’s one thing writers could be most afraid of is letting someone edit our work. It’s like getting a shot we know will help us, but it doesn’t make the process any more comfortable. However, if you have good communication with the editor, and they return the favor, this process goes a lot smoother.
One aspect of editing is determining what is correct and what isn’t. Writers, did you know that edits can be wrong sometimes? At the end of the day, the manuscript belongs to the writer, and you can decide which edits you want to keep and which ones you’ll ignore. I’ll talk briefly about which edits you should always consider right, and which ones you don’t have to accept.
When Is the Editor Always Right?
The following items are what editors are trained to find and correct. These edits are probably why you hired an editor in the first place, and you’ll be glad that they found them for you. The major pattern here is that most of these items are based off of rules that can’t be disputed, so it would be an uphill battle trying to argue your reasoning for most of these items. Here’s a start of a list of things that you can just accept and move on with:
Spelling—This is easy, right? Editors will catch the almost-embarrassing mix-up, correcting “whore” into “wore,” as in, “She wore blue jeans with a tank top.” There’s no need to dispute, because the editor knew what you meant and corrected the mistake. Crisis averted.
Grammar—Again, if you used the wrong tense, if your lists should be parallel, or if you’re using quotation marks wrong, they’ll fix it and you can move on with your life.
Citations—Personally, I am super glad when editors check my citations for me. This includes the endnotes or even how the quote is referred to in the text. I mean really, editors are saving you from being accused of plagiarism—isn’t that nice?
When Is the Writer Right?
This next section is where all the exceptions come in. You may have an editor who is working too hard on your manuscript and getting a little edit-happy all over your brainchild. However, here are some things you can arm wrestle over (if it truly must come to it):
Colloquial language—If your book features a teenager as one of the characters, do you really think that character will speak perfect English? Consider Hagrid from Harry Potter. Could you imagine how Hagrid’s voice in the books would be if Rowling had to completely spell the words out? Blasphemy! Uproar! Madness to the enth degree.
In fiction manuscripts, writers have more freedom in order to stay true to their characters. Your characters can say “Can I?” instead of “May I?” all they friggin want.
Forms of Punctuation—If you didn’t know, your writing style can be different from someone else’s by how you punctuate. Some writers love using exclamation points, while others (like me) like to use em dashes instead of semi colons, commas, or using a period and starting a new sentence.
If an editor takes out your punctuation and replaces them, this could be a sign of personal preference. However, brush up on rules for punctuation before you change them all back. Editors usually refer to a source like the Chicago Manual of Style when deciding on which punctuation is correct, so they may be onto something. Unless you’re mildly offended, you could probably keep the edits and move on to bigger battles.
When Is the Editor Dead Wrong?
The following list could be considered an excuse for war if you need one. Remember, you the writer are the mastermind behind your manuscript, so you have a say on bigger issues. These usually have no hard-and-fast rules attached to them, and could be tied more to actual book marketing tactics. If that doesn’t make sense, keep on reading:
Plot—Editors can only make suggestions on the plot, and only that. Sometimes they have great “reader eyes” and can tell you how readers might react. You can accept that. However, if they tell you to add more violence, nudity, or even a sex scene to boost sales, you can flat out refuse.
If they feel that violence and sex sells (which unfortunately they do) but you don’t want to write those scenes, you do not have to. Or hey, if that’s what you want to include, then go with that, too. If it comes to it, you can find another publisher who respects your wishes. You always have self-publishing to fall back on if necessary.
Character—Editors can really get into your manuscript (a good sign of a good story, right?) and start having opinions about how your characters should be. Again, they might be dead on and notice something you didn’t, or they could be wrong. These characters are your people from your mind; you can write them how you see them, even if the editor disagrees.
Work with Your Editor
So hopefully these items make sense. If your book is being edited by a publishing house, they’ll edit your manuscript and rub it raw until it’s polished. It might mean swallowing your pride and making some changes and rewrites. We know this process is only meant to make our manuscripts look good and tell a great story. But if you feel like they went too far, you can always write them back and ask for an explanation.
If they’re good editors, they’ll try to provide comments on the side to signal to you what they consider as their opinion and not law. A comment could look like, “This is just a suggestion, but wouldn’t it make more sense if she didn’t tell her backstory at this moment in time? Maybe around chapter 16?” These are suggestions, and you have the power to agree or disagree.
Keep in mind, that communication is always, always, always everything. Don’t stew in silence; speak up if you’re confused about an edit, and don’t take every blow sitting down. This is your manuscript, and at the end of the day, your name is going to be on the cover.
2 comments on “Editing: What’s Right & What’s Personal Preference?”
Interesting points. Sounds like the editors being discussed are mostly copy editors–I haven’t had a developmental editor focus on spelling or grammar. But definitely agree with the “decide for yourself” portion of this.
Great perspective. I think editors are severely misunderstood creatures. I’m sure there are some editors out there who are a pain to work with, but most are sincerely trying to help. It just takes some communication and an understanding that you don’t have to do absolutely everything the editor suggests.