Whether you’re working with a publisher or getting your book edited before submitting or self publishing, at some point you are going to have to work with an editor. Depending on your attitude, editing can be a painful, brutal, adversarial process, or it can be a stimulating, challenging, and enlightening process. Either way, the end result is the same: a book that is better than it was before the process. At least, you hope so.
The author-editor relationship is a tricky one. An author has invested many hours, cups of coffee (or perhaps bourbon) (or both), blood, sweat, and tears in their work, and chances are they love it just the way it is. Editors come at it fresh, usually with a perspective of what will fly in the marketplace. At the very least, they are readers themselves and have some idea how a reader would view the book. They are not as close to the book as the author is, and therefore it’s easier for them to do what needs to be done.
So, here’s the thing. The author wants to furiously defend their book against any change (except grammatical ones, I hope), but the editor, presumably, has some really good changes to make that will likely make the book better. As the author, you have to decide when to listen to the editor, and when to pack up your baby and run.
Editors, of course, are people. Some are good at their jobs, and some are not. Some are more experienced than others. Some have no business being an editor, at all, anywhere, while others are outstanding. I’ve run across a couple of bad ones. In one case, on Bubba Goes National, the editor was unwilling to discuss certain changes she wanted me to make, was not interested in what the typical reader might think or know, and sicked the publisher on me to threaten me when I wanted to discuss said changes. I ended up walking away from that contract for several reasons, and that was just one of them. In the end, I made some of the changes she suggested, although not in the exact way she wanted me to. So far, so good on the response to the book, so I think I made the right decision. Plus, authors are fleeing that publisher left and right, which further emphasizes that I made the right decision.
I have an online friend with a similar story, and I hope she won’t mind that I share it here. I’ll keep the details vague to protect her identity, but after getting accepted by a small press, the editor there suggested changes to her that were very, very bad. He wrote sentences that were not only grammatically incorrect, but horribly structured and just didn’t make sense. That was the end of that relationship, thank goodness.
Having related those two tales, that is not to say you should not listen to your editor, it just means that you have to be discerning. If the editor is not willing or able to explain why they want you to make a change, you might have a problem. However, if they have a good explanation, you really need to consider it. Step away from your own work and view it the way a reader would. Is the story/character/dialogue really as believable and understandable as you think? Does the reader really need those pages and pages of back story and description? They might have been good for you to write as an author for the sake of the story, but that doesn’t mean the typical reader wants to slog through them. Loosen your hold on what you think your story needs, and you just might find that it will blossom with a little pruning and fertilizer.
Finally, don’t look at the editing process as a painful one, even though it might seem like it. Your editor wants to help you make the story better. Look at all that red ink as an opportunity to improve, not commentary on how your work is lacking. Where I used to work, we said, “Red is the color of love!” If your editor fills your work with red ink, it means they care enough about you and the story to make it better. Every change you make is a step toward a better story. I know, easier said than done, but who said writing was easy?