Editing Credo

Credo = creed = a system of beliefs, principles or opinions

I’ve been editing a long time — first technical and business documents, then fiction. Through all that, and especially the twelve years I’ve been at my current employer in the publishing industry, I have developed my guidelines or philosophy for the job of a book editor, what I view as my responsibilities as editor in working with an author. This is what an author can expect from me. And it’s how I judge the quality and competence of other editors.

~ Represent the reader. Reader comprehension and enjoyment is the goal. Is it clear to the reader? Does it interrupt the flow or jerk the reader out of the story? Does the reader go “Huh?” and need to stop to figure out what was meant or what is happening? Is the reader unengaged and bored?

~ The editor is not the writer. Don’t rewrite. Explain why it isn’t working; let the author decide how to revise.

~ If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Don’t change the author’s style or voice. Don’t alter the author’s words if they are clear (and of course grammatical and spelled correctly 😉 ). Provide advice and explanation suggesting a change if you really feel it would be an improvement, but don’t impose your own style or personal tastes.

When it comes to plot, characters, relationship development–yes, an editor should when necessary provide lots of guidance on revisions, let an author know what needs beefing up or what is slow and unnecessary and should be cut; what needs rearranging; what is just implausible or illogical (“represent the reader”). But I’ve heard authors talk about heavy-handed editors who rewrite their words, make changes they don’t understand, possibly alter the meaning or emotions. Even do things like cut scenes or change characters without consulting the author! The editor may claim to be making the story better. To me, that contradicts the editor’s responsibility to help the author–which is to explain and guide, letting the author write and revise. Good editors are good teachers. I could not write a novel myself, but I’m damn good at teaching others how to polish what they write.

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