Wednesday, June 18, 2014

My Profound Thoughts On Editing by Jannine Gallant


Sorry, folks, I'm ditching the monthly topic. Giving it the boot. It's gone with the wind...

I've been thinking a lot about editing lately and decided to share my profoundness. I've had quite a few editors, most of whom have been a complete joy. I've also been an editor, though not officially working for a publisher. Doesn't make the process any different. These erudite thoughts of mine have revolved around why some editors are a joy to work with and others--not so much. I came up with a few consistent points.

1) Basic Human Kindness: Let's face it, when we ask for an editor, we give someone permission to criticize us. It's for our own good (like medicine), but it's still tough to hear our plots and characters aren't perfect. So, mixed in with all the points about where we went wrong, it's heartening to hear we did something right. A "Great line!" or "This made me laugh." or "I love this conversation." in the comments area goes a long way. Nope, we don't learn from constant praise (that's why we have mothers not editors), but a few words of encouragement does keep us motivated to make all those changes when we realize everything we wrote doesn't completely suck. I know I get into an editing zone, looking for problems, making corrections and suggestions, but it doesn't take much to add a positive comment when I catch myself smiling. I'll try to do more of that in the future.

2) Don't Beat A Dead Horse: When I find a problem with a character or a plot point, I'm tempted to keep pointing it out--over and over and over. STOP! From now on, no more nagging about the problem issue. Authors aren't stupid. We all get the idea. All repeat criticism does is create resentment. There are a few exceptions. Dialogue tags. Sometimes we don't notice them in our own writing. They need to be pointed out. Same with telling words. I miss them all the time--though not as often as I used to. Makes me crazy. When editing, I like to simply highlight the phrase--she watched, he felt, etc.--then put in comments (telling). Same with tags. Easy-peasy. My smart author friends get the picture, and so do I.

3) Don't Try To Change An Author's Voice: This hasn't been a big problem for me, but I know it has given others fits. Constant rewording can make sentences unrecognizable as belonging to the writer. Noting grammar issues is an editor's job--no question about that. But just because you wouldn't say it exactly the same way doesn't mean the author's way is wrong.

4) No Preaching: I don't want to hear the scene is unbelievable because YOU wouldn't do that. Everyone is different. The world would be pretty boring if we all reacted the same to a given situation. I'm 100% fine hearing that my editor doesn't understand my character's motivation. A request to make it clearer or explain the character's actions more thoroughly is A-OK with me. A lecture on why the character is wrong isn't going to make for a positive working environment.

Being an editor is tough. It isn't pleasant to dish out criticism. It isn't pleasant to be on the receiving end of it, either. I can only say thank you so much to the editors who were so kind and considerate in their critiques and made me love them. Ally, Kathy, Stacy, Margo--you guys rock. I appreciate you more than I can say. I hope the authors I've edited for feel the same way about me. If not--I'll try harder.

What about you? What makes you happy to work with an editor--or want to take out a contract on her? Dish the dirt! Did I miss any major points?

You can find all my well-edited books on my Website. I hope you'll check them out.

24 comments:

michellezieglerauthor.com said...

Well, I can tell you that my first editor is a great example of what not to do. Although I needed someone help, okay maybe a lot, she seemed to hate everything about my story. My voice gone, in fact there were pages where she rewrote the entire thing. The editors I've had since seem to actually like my voice. Because they like my characters and say so I am very pen to any and nearly all changes. The difference is they don't seem to want to kill my story. I agree that a well placed, "great paragraph" can change and authors acceptance of other issues.

Leah St. James said...

I'm with you, Jannine. I thinkk pointing out the good is just as important because it DOES reinforce. I have to admit, I'm a tough critic in terms of not settling for mediocre, but whenever possible, I use something the author has done well to illustrate a particular issue. And knowing how to suggest without rewriting (and wiping out the author's voice) is one of the strengths of a great editor. (I too am lucky to have worked with one of the best...Ally!) :-)

RT Wolfe said...

The only thing I won't tolerate is sarcasm. I don't care how good an editor is, if they are condescendingly sarcastic, I'm done. I just can't seem to bring myself to pay someone to be unprofessionally rude. :) Great post!
-R.T. Wolfe

Liz Flaherty said...

I've been blessed with great editor. I think all of them understand and agree with the points you made, including how important the pieces of praise are!

Alicia Dean said...

Great post, Jannine, but I'll admit, I read it with a little trepidation. :) Thank you for the kind mention. I try to follow these very good tips, however, I don't think I do enough of the kudos. When I'm in the editing zone, I am focusing on the story and watching for things that aren't quite right, and even though I do smile, or get emotional, or my heart beats a little faster with anticipation or fear, I don't usually think to let the author know in my comments. From now on, I'll be better about it. I appreciate the reminder. :)(And, thank you, Leah, for the nice comment! You are both a joy to work with)

Jannine Gallant said...

Michelle, rewriting whole pages seems way over the top! I'd think she should tell you she has problems with the area but not rewrite it for you. Wow! Thanks for sharing.

Jannine Gallant said...

Leah, you nailed it! I just tried to do this yesterday. I was pointing out motivation problems in a section then came across a part where the motivation was expressed very well. It was easy (and hopefully helpful) to say, "See what you did here? Do it further back as well to clarify." Thanks for making that point for us.

Jannine Gallant said...

R.T., It's all about the tone! Sarcastic will only generate resentment. I have a REALLY bad habit of picking a phrase and overusing it to death in each book. It's always different, so I have no clue what it will be until my CP/editor points it out. After about the 5th time, she just highlights it and puts "Uh-hum!" or something like that in notes. Cracks me up. The tone is funny but still makes the point when she could so easily say, "OMG, Jannine, GET OVER IT!"

Susan Coryell said...

Jannine: I, too, have been in both camps--editor and edited. Though I do appreciate a smiley face now and then, I groove on how to make something awkward better, whether I am editing or being edited. My best editors point out my writing flaws (nicely, of course) that I would never see myself. My undying gratitude to two super editors: Cindy and Ally. You have made my writing so much better! Thanks, Jannine for a thoughtful blog about something dear to every writer.

Jannine Gallant said...

Liz and Allie,

I've only recently come to truly appreciate the occasional supportive comment after getting back a manuscript with not one single positive note. How do you know you're doing anything right if no one tells you? I disagree, Ally. You're actually very good at dropping encouragement. I've never walked away from a book you edited not feeling confident you actually liked it! :)

Jannine Gallant said...

Susan, love those smiley faces!I actually generally enjoy the editing process. The initial "WHAT, THIS ISN'T PERFECT!" reaction is quickly followed by, "Oh God, how did I not see that." Love knowing my book is stronger for it.

Alicia Dean said...

Ah, so glad, Jannine. Thank you for making me feel better. I forgot to speak from the author side of it. :) I have had some fabulous editors, and I too, appreciate their constructive criticism and their encouragement. I am working with a fabulous editor at Wild Rose Press right now, Nicole D'Arienzo. I was given a different editor since my recent story is Vintage Historical. I love that Nic gives me little smileys in addition to her revisions. :) Lori Graham was my editor for the suspense and she's amazing too! (Thank you, Susan!)

Margo Hoornstra said...

Well said, as usual. IMO the purpose of editing/critiquing is to make the book better, not make the author feel bad they wrote it. Unfortunately, some people can't seem to see beyond their own noses. I have to say, I've critiqued manuscripts for others a few times then worried I'd offended them, or worse, hurt their feelings. Positive comments help us accept the not so positive ones. Thanks for the shout out, BTW, and among such nice company.

Jannine Gallant said...

Glad you've been on the positive end as a writer, Ally!

Margo, I worry about that all the time. I want to be helpful and strengthen the book, make it the best it can be, but I don't want to be hurtful. I think that's where an upbeat attitude can help. Maybe it isn't just authors who need thick skins!

Diane Burton said...

What a great post, Jannine. I've been on the receiving end of constructive criticism and sarcasm. I love the smiley faces that say I nailed it as well as the you-missed-the-boat comments. As a CP, I try to be constructive, though I need to add more smileys. Ally's enthusiasm for my work far outweighed the constructive comments. I don't always agree (initially) with my CP's critiques even when I know she's probably right.

Jannine Gallant said...

I think we all have that initial gut reaction to criticism, Diane. We have to take a step back and weigh the pros and cons. I usually agree with the criticism at that point, but not always. Sometimes, our reasoning just needs to be explained better.

Alison Henderson said...

I've never worked with a "bad" editor, but my first three books were edited with such a light touch I barely felt it. YOU, on the other hand, actually helped me! I still struggle with the whole "telling" thing. It may take several books, or I may never get it completely, so I really need those little words of encouragement when I do something right. You should take pride in the fact that so many people have loved Unwritten Rules!

Linda Carroll-Bradd said...

Good post that reminded me to include more positives in the works I freelance edit. I usually include those in an accompanying memo but from experience as an author, I know how important they are within the text.

Jannine Gallant said...

Thank you, Alison. Those smiles and pats on the back won't do much good if they aren't mixed in with actual helpful advice! I try to do both as well as I can.

Jannine Gallant said...

Linda, I hesitated to write this post, but now I'm so glad I did. I've tried to see editing from both sides of the picture, and I hope it's been helpful.

MJ Schiller said...

So glad you wrote about this, Jannine! I have had good and bad, too. A couple sarcastic editors, who I didn't rehire, and a few that were nice, but really didn't improve the story that much. I know a friend whose editor put in the comments, "I already told you not to do this on page 4!" Uhh... I've also had a few that edited incorrectly, (like wanting me to put quotation marks around thoughts). But now I am blessed to have two fabulous editors, award-winning author Laurie Larsen, and Katherine Tate, who helps me fix the errors I added when "fixing" things! I totally agree with adding compliments, even if you have to go back and find them. Thanks for letting us all talk about our experiences!

Jannine Gallant said...

I'm happy to give everyone a place to vent, MJ. Love the page 4 comment. OMG, too funny! Glad you've found editors who work well with you.

Barbara Edwards said...

I've been lucky. My editors have all been following your suggestions and do a terrific job.

Jannine Gallant said...

I like hearing that, Barb. Guess my suggestions are reasonable then!