From a Washington Post interview with John Scalzi about his new 13-book, $3.4 million contract with Tor. I like this section not only because Scalzi shows a real understanding of the importance of editing, but because he uses one of my primary maxims about editing: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
Do you think that outside observers and advocates of self-publishing tend to undervalue editing?
“I do think they undervalue editing. And I think it’s because to some extent, it’s invisible to the end user. Really good editing is not something that you will notice because you’re not sitting there admiring the edit. If the edit is good, what you’re doing is enjoying the story or admiring the prose. The editor’s job is to make the author look good. And it’s really hard to quantify that in a way to people who don’t actually work with editors in any sort of significant capacity.
But the simple fact of the matter is ones who get the first look at the text. They’re the ones who point out to you the things you’re not going to see because you’re too close to it. They are the people you can bounce ideas off of. They’re the people who are going to advocate for the story even when that means advocating for the story to you, to get you out of whatever little particular rut you’re in, or to keep you from overvaluing one aspect that doesn’t really work for the story at all. They are the advocate of the book. They are the advocate of the story. They are the advocate of the tale you want to tell.
Believe me, I am an author with an ego like any of the rest of them. I really am a believer that my vision of the story is always the correct one. But a good editor shows you that your vision can be clouded, and what your story needs is sometimes just a little tweak, sometimes a significant overhaul. But the end result of it is you look at the book that is completed and you go, “Actually that is truer to what I wanted to have in the first place.” But again, it’s difficult to say that to people who are not used to working with an editor, or who feel that any sort of interference is meddling. For me, Patrick Nielsen Hayden, who is my editor at Tor, one of the nice things about him for me is that we kind of operate on the same wavelength. He really is a person who believes if it’s not broke don’t fix it, so when he points out something in the text or something in the story that really is jarring for him, that means to me that I should be paying attention to it. And it’s a good and congenial relationship.
And then there are the other things, not just editors, but like, copy editors. Oh my God, if I had to be the person finally responsible for the copy editing of my books before they go out, I would never hear the end of it, right? I am not the right person. When I worked in journalism, I once had a copy editor come over and start to strangle me because my own copy editing was so bad.”