Sunday, September 23, 2007

When an Editor has to be Hands-Off

I do believe that every writer can benefit from a good editor. I really do think that writers should accept criticism and consider how it can help them improve their work. I do not, however, think that a writer must act on every suggestion made by an editor.
In Starmag today, columnist and children's author Daphne Lee shares her experience about working with an editor who saw things rather differently from her:
I think it’s so important that an editor understands what the author wants to say and how he wants to say it. If your story is about baking an apple pie, it won’t do if your editor thinks it’s about how people get fat by eating too much dessert. ... An editor, a good one anyway, should help bring out the best in an author and help him make the most of his story. It’s the author’s story, not the editor’s.
My (albeit) limited experience of editing has shown me that there is indeed a back-off point. You cannot push too strongly against the author's will, although you must of course make your feelings about the text known and there should exist an atmosphere of mutual respect.

At the end of the day it is the author's name on the cover and he/she must stand by their book long after your role in its production is forgotten.

(I had to self-indulgently sneak in this lovely picture of meself with Daphne (looking tiny!) which I nicked from her blog!)


starlight said...

i read daphne's column today and i completely agree with her. alas, it's rather difficult to find good editors in kl who can resist playing the role of co-author. there's a fine line between constructive criticism and attempted hijacking. a good editor not only recognises that line, but actually stays well away from it. good for daphne, for sticking to her gut and guns!

Erna said...

Yes, it's horrid when an editor leaves the writer out of the equation when it comes to a work's polishing.

But I find myself peeved with authors who obviously need a lot of editing but delude themselves into thinking they don't need it at all.

On a side note, Gaiman and Nix are going to be pep-talkers for NaNoWriMo this year!

Daphne Lee said...

I have to add here that the person I wrote about in the column wasn't an editor but an illustrator. However, the way she responded to the story was similar to some editors' approach to editing.

The last bit of the column was left out, but I've reproduced it in my blog ( and here it is as well:

"Minnie, if you're reading this, I know you're not and never claimed to be an editor, but I hope you understand that the same principles apply and that I couldn't tell the story you wanted me to because it's not my story. It's yours and perhaps it's waiting for you to write it."