Anyone who has ever been edited has had that moment of panic when they see the corrections their editor has made. Sometimes the many, many corrections. It can be daunting, but even a simple thing like an author not having a good grasp of comma usage or how to capitalize and punctuate in and around dialogue can make a manuscript look like a literary bloodbath.
But there is much more to a good edit than wielding the metaphorical Red Pen of Shame. If you’ve ever raised a puppy or a child or taught a class, you understand if all you ever do is correct or punish when someone does something wrong, you don’t have a very good outcome, and they never truly learn. They will absolutely never be confident or reach their full potential.
As an editor, besides making corrections and explaining to an author what they’re doing wrong so they might improve in their next manuscript, I also like to tell them what they’re doing right.
Margin comments are great for communicating things you want an author to focus on, but they can also be fun. In a current edit, my author wrote “Branches reach out to me, their fingers nipping at my skin the way the chill in the air nips at my hope of spring.” I loved the way that line felt, so I left a margin comment to tell her so.
What does the author do well? Where do they excel? One of my authors writes the best dialogue I’ve ever edited…and I make sure she knows it. I even had her help me with writing up some tips to share with other authors.
Another author writes emotional angst and conflict exceptionally well. She doesn’t resort to cliches, and conveys the battle going on inside a character’s head in a way the reader can relate to so completely that they truly understand how that character feels. I make sure the author knows when I feel this way.
I have worked with one author who writes a lot of science fiction and dystopian books, and he can take complex scientific and technological concepts and explain them so even a non-tech reader can understand them, but you never feel he’s dumbing down his narrative or “writing down” to you as a reader.
The current edit I mentioned earlier, the one with the line I particularly liked, is also an incredible world-builder. I was a fan of her work for several years before I became her editor. I edited a dystopian series for her earlier this year, and I thought it was one of the best post-apocalyptic world scenarios I’d ever read, and I told her so. In the current edit, though, she’s done what I didn’t expect…and built an even more complex, vibrant, plausible, compelling world. When I return this edit, she’ll see my note congratulating her on this accomplishment.
How does your editor make you feel as an author? Nobody likes to have their mistakes pointed out, of course, but overall, does your editor make you feel like you’re learning something new? Do they point out your strengths and not only your shortcomings? Do you ever smile or even laugh out loud at their comments?
I left this cartoon by The Oatmeal as a comment when an author wrote “sneak peak” instead of “sneak peek.”
It’s like with anything else. If you go to a class or a meeting or a religious service, you should leave feeling more positive, hopeful for the future, and ready to go out there and become even better. If you leave (or finish an edit) feeling defeated, overwhelmed, and less hopeful, something is wrong. You need a new teacher, boss, minister…or editor.
(For more information about my professional editing services, please click HERE, and let’s discuss your next project!)