Editors need love too!

October 30, 2010 in Novel, On Writing, Study by pacejmiller

Last week, we had an award-winning author come speak to our editing class about the relationship between writers and editors.  She’s worked with editors from around the word, but she has also been on the other side, for she once worked as an editor for a collection of short stories.

It was fascinating to find out just how closely some authors worked with their editors, and how little credit editors seem to get despite how much they put into the published product.

First-time authors like to think that once their manuscript is accepted by a publisher, there is nothing left to do except wait for the advance and royalties to roll in.  But of course, there will probably have to be rewrites and rewrites and rewrites, even when the author is probably exhausted and never wants to touch the manuscipt again after working on it for god knows how many years.

One of the first times that the publisher does is to get an editor to review the manuscript and write a structural report to the author with a list of high level suggestions on how to improve the manuscript.  So not typos or grammar — these are crucial or fundamental things the author has to go back and try and fix or improve, things that may take weeks or even months.  Like point of view, voice, structure, character, dialogue, the beginning, the end — things that could change everything!

Anyway, this author that came to speak to us raised some interesting issues.  She said that authors (especially first-timers) are usually hyper-sensitive about their manuscripts because they are anxious about whether it works and whether it will sell, so any criticism can depress them and reinforce their anxieties.  Accordingly, mass overreactions are not uncommon.

But on the other hand, authors need editors to make them feel comfortable, to tell them what works and what doesn’t work in the manuscript in the nicest, most soothing way possible.  It needs to be a relationship of trust, not power.  Therefore, the structural letter always starts off with praise.  The constructive criticism will come eventually, but first the author needs to feel good about him or herself.

The author told us about a devastating structural letter she received once from an overseas editor that she has never gotten over.  I won’t repeat what was said but it was enough to kill any writer’s confidence, even one that has received critical acclaim and won literary awards.

Okay, so I understand the author’s ego is fragile, and some editors can be dicks.  And yes, the author does write the book.  But don’t editors deserve more credit for helping authors get there?  How many books have gone from flop to international success because of suggestions an editor made?  Don’t they deserve more than just a regular paycheck and a thanks in the acknowledgments section?