A stunner (with me the last to know, as usual) on editors

It has come to my attention that I have a bizarre notion of my work. I am still processing this.

While I’ve done a fair bit of compensated writing and proofreading, my current main line of work is substantive editing. It works like this. The author finds me, by referral or however, and is evaluating editors. I ask to see the ms, and typically do a sample edit while assessing how ready the ms is for publication. Ideally, it should be sent to me when the author has no idea how to improve it further.

Some like the sample edit; some do not. There is an interesting correlation between writing ability and receptivity to input. The better the writing, the happier the author is to receive guidance. In most cases, when the book is just not very good, the author doesn’t like the sample edit. S/he prefers his/her prose as it is, and does not hire me. That’s fine. Every author should work with an editor who feels right, and no editor is right for everyone.

Often this means I send the author some guidance on improving the ms before I start editing. This is not because I don’t want to work. It is because I prefer the book to be the author’s, inasmuch as possible, in concepts and creativity. It’s not that I couldn’t fix it; it’s that I don’t want to take the book so far from its flagpole. It is also because I feel that my work is to guide authors, help them succeed, and that my effectiveness is measured by the quality of the end result.

That means that my author clients are welcome to contact me at any time, about current work or future work, for any reason. Want to resolve a plot dilemma? Let’s do this. Not sure if this voice works? Let’s see it and we’ll go from there. Can’t figure out Word’s change tracking? I’ll help if I can. Got a future story idea, want to run it by me? What’s on your mind?

As I see it, if I make myself a helpful resource for authors with a passion to bring their work to market, the money solves itself in due course. If I do not make myself that helpful resource, I don’t deserve any money, and it won’t matter. I thought this was the norm and majority and standard practice, because nothing else makes sense. Why be a brake mechanic when you can be an auto repairperson ready to address whatever comes your way?

I learn that it is not the norm or the majority. I learn, to my shock, that many freelance editors work like brake mechanics. Want it edited? Give me the specs. When I’m done, I’m done. Good luck.

I am not saying that this is not suitable at times. The public has little idea of the breadth of the editing profession. There are many different types of editing: copy, substantive and so on. I know editors who focus strictly on copy editing to spec, are great at their work, and offer a needed service. I’m talking about my own niche: the developmental and substantive editing that happens when an author (or a writer who would like to auth) comes to one for editing on a ms. I am talking about when a novice author shows up with his or her brainchild, needing all the guidance in the world and quite ready to absorb it, and an editor puts him or her on the clock for every discussion, or doesn’t step up to say: “If you want this to do well, you should address X and Y.” I am talking about a mentality that goes no further than: “Okay, I’ll edit it, you pay me, we done now.” I still have a hard time believing that any professionally trained editor (which, for the record, I ain’t) would do that. But I am told that many of those not professionally trained are doing just that, and that they do not see what’s wrong with it.

How can they think this will lead to success?

It’s not even fun. What could be fun or satisfying about being less helpful, or promoting less success by one’s client? How can one possibly gain? How can you benefit from putting up barriers to having your client contact you? What would you do, open a shop and then randomly lock the door during business hours? The client in front of you is the most important one you have right now.

No wonder this is so easy. A portion of the competition seems not to know its work.

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