Myths About Editors
Psst! Draw a little closer to your computer screens. I’m about to share the secret of the universe with you. Well—just a smidgen of the universe—that unexplored island known as Editorville.
It’s said the citizens of Editorville rub their hands together with glee when a boat launches from Seekerville.
Unfortunately, some writers have turned their boats around and skedaddled back to Unpubbed Island at the first roar of an editor beastie. I’ve heard the stories—stories of lions and tigers and bears. Oh my!
Other people say editors have been known to swallow up both new and experienced writers in one big bite and spit them out after chewing on them awhile. I’ve also heard about writers who have scaled the cold concrete walls of the inner sanctum of publishing rarely returning to civilization unscathed. Are you shaking in your slippers yet? Take a deep breath. I’m just joshin’ ya!
Editors Are Human
The truth is, editors are human and come in every shape, size, and gender. We’re all flawed and have personalities that range from funny and quirky, to gentle and encouraging, to stone-faced and no-nonsense. If you give the same manuscript to five different editors, it will come back with five different sets of opinions and suggestions for change. Some editors stand head and shoulders above others. What one editor thinks is important to include, another eschews.
But all editors should respect your voice, respect you as the author, and strive to make your manuscript shine like a finely cut diamond. Verbal or written abuse is never acceptable. That’s true no matter who you are. If an editor ever says your writing stinks and you should go back to waiting on tables for a living, that person should be drummed out of the editor corps. I have little tolerance for mean, nasty, egotistical, so-called editors. Maybe it’s because I’m also an author and can empathize.
I know one multi-published author who received that kind of abuse for months before she finally told her agent and he intervened with the publisher. That editor didn’t last long in the industry. The editor’s advice may have had some merit, but the delivery almost crushed the spirit of the author. You can deliver hard-to-hear criticism in a way that encourages an author. As my mama used to say, “You can attract more bees with honey than vinegar.”
Are There Different Kinds of Editors?
There are many different types of editors: acquisitions editors, junior and senior editors, development editors, line editors, copyeditors, and proofreaders. To confuse the issue even more, a line editor is sometimes called a substantive editor, and a development editor can also be the acquisitions editor who performs a macro or developmental edit. Huh? Every publishing house has its own structure. And these days, most use freelancers for all sorts of editing tasks.
Oftentimes, when people ask me what I do and I tell them I’m a freelance acquisitions and development book editor, their eyes light up. “I would be a great editor!” they say. “I can spot every typo in a published book.” I cringe but answer graciously and then give them a primer on the various types of editors and edits. Before I finish, their eyes have glazed over, and they normally change the subject or wander off.
It's kind of like telling a doctor that you got good grades in high school biology and would make a great brain surgeon.
Meet the Editors
• Acquisitions Editor: Your agent will pitch your project to an acquisitions editor—AE—either in person or by email. If you don’t have an agent, I suggest you attend the best writers’ conference in your area, find out what genres editors are looking for, and schedule a 15-minute appointment with an AE or an agent. The acquisitions editor may decline your project right away, or if they like your proposal, they may ask for the full manuscript. If an AE loves your idea, they will present your proposal to the Pub Board, which may consist of the Publisher, a V.P., other editors, marketing and promotional people, and sales reps. The sales reps decide whether they can sell enough books to make your project viable.
Remember, publishers need to make a profit to stay in business. If the Pub Board gives the green light, all the other legal “stuff” is put in motion. The AE drafts a deal-point memo—an offer to publish—and sends it to the agent. Sometimes the AE will call the agent right away. The agent then presents the offer to you, and after discussion, the agent may go back to the AE and negotiate better terms or accept the offer as is. The AE then requests the drafting of a contract. Voila! You’re on your way to publication.
• Development Editor: In most publishing houses, the AE reads your final manuscript first to make sure it meets expectations and is acceptable before passing it on to a DE—development editor. Sometimes, the AE may choose to perform the first development edit, giving you comments and suggestions, using the track changes feature in Word. They also write a letter/email, detailing their thoughts about your project, and send the manuscript back to you for revisions. In some houses, however, you will deal with a different editor—a DE—from the beginning. The DE may be a staff member, or your manuscript may be sent to an experienced freelance editor. DEs can be expected to give you suggestions on how to improve your plot, structure, characters, dialogue, narrative, and setting. Did you notice I haven’t mentioned a word about spelling, typos, or grammar yet?
• Substantive/Line Editor: Sometimes these editors are on staff, but usually they are freelance editors. A line editor will rearrange/delete/add paragraphs or sections, and rephrase, reorganize, tighten, and recast sentences or dialogue to make it as authentic as possible. They try to catch most spelling errors and grammatical mistakes, but it’s not their focus.
• Copyeditor: After you and the various editors are satisfied with your manuscript, it will then pass into the hands of a copyeditor. Copyeditors are persnickety. They pay attention to every word and punctuation mark, applying The Chicago Manual of Style standards. If you don’t own a copy of the 15th or 16th edition, you might want to invest in one, as well as Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 11th edition. Not all dictionaries or style manuals spell words the same or place a comma in the same place.
• Proofreader: After your text is “flowed” into a “page template,” the proofreader will look for typos or other types of errors in your galley proofs. Look up proofreaders’ marks in the dictionary, and it will usually show a chart of the types of issues they address.
Writing a novel may be a solitary act, but before your book hits the shelves, it will have passed through numerous edits. No author’s words are sacrosanct or written in stone. If an editor is successful, even you won’t be able to tell whether you wrote that scintillating sentence…or if it was the editor’s contribution.
Has anyone ever edited your writing? How did it make you feel?
Tell us about your experience—the good, the bad, and the ugly.
Leave a comment for an opportunity to win a copy of the contemporary Christmas novella collection Sleigh Bells Ring, which includes Barbara Scott’s “I’ll Be Home for Christmas.” Romantic Times named it a Top Pick and gave the book a 4-1/2-star review. Winner announced in the Weekend Edition.
Santa Claus is coming to town, and so are the Tucker sisters. Never mind a pony. The Tucker girls have inherited their father’s horse farm for Christmas. Make that . . . a run-down horse farm. It needs some serious TLC in order to make it sell-ready. Joanna knows that by recruiting her sisters and one handsome ranch hand they can fix up the place and even celebrate one last Christmas while they’re at it. However, to Isabella, returning to their home in Kentucky bluegrass country for Christmas seems like an impossible hurdle. Can her Chicago boyfriend make life merry and bright again?
One thing’s for sure—nothing is peace on earth for Sophia as a new beau brings up old wounds. And when the fate of the horse farm is put in jeopardy because Amy accidentally fraternizes with the enemy, tensions rise. But it’s not like the land developer stole Christmas . . . just her heart.
Can the Tucker sisters have themselves a merry little Christmas?
An inspirational book editor for more than eighteen years, Barbara has recently returned to her first love—writing! Gilead Publishing has just released her novella “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” in an inspirational collection titled Sleigh Bells Ring. Currently, she is working on a contemporary romance series. In the mid-1990s, she published two bestselling novels, and followed those with numerous gift books, before her stint as a senior acquisitions editor for several Christian publishers. Barbara lives and breathes words, whether she’s reading the latest novel, editing a new book manuscript for other authors, or writing her next novel. Married for 40 years, she and her husband Mike have two children and four grandchildren they adore. They live in the Nashville area where sweet tea is a food staple.
For more information, visit her at her websites: www.BarbaraJScott.com and www.InspyEditor.com or on social media…Facebook, Twitter.