What It Means to Be an Editor
Can you guess the single most important resource of an editor? It’s not the dictionary, the computer, or the red pen. It’s not their language skills or their knowledge of the subject or genre.
It’s the author’s trust.
If you’re editing a book, paper, or even just a blog post for an author who doesn’t trust you, you’re wasting your time. There is no point in doing the work, as the author will not implement any of the changes you suggest.
If you’ve ever written anything other than a diary entry or an e-mail, you know writers are protective of their work. They get attached to certain words, phrases, or pieces of content. If they’re going to take someone’s advice on what to change (and especially on what to cut out), it better come from a person they trust.
But how do you show an author you‘re serious about their work?
For an author to trust you, they must first believe that you, too, want the best for them and their work. Therefore, my first rule of editing is:
I have heard so many authors talk about traumatic editing experiences. They see their editors as dictators who come in and delete everything they don’t like. Some authors are scared their editors might butcher their work.
But editors who dictate rather than advise have forgotten one crucial thing: They are not the author.
This is why I have made respect my number 1 editing rule: Whatever it is I’m editing — no matter if it’s a full-on novel or a tiny online article — I am always aware of how much work the author has put into it. I treat every word with respect.
I don’t just write a comment saying “This is rubbish. Delete.” Instead, I would try to explain why a certain scene or thought might not be in the right place and make a suggestion on where else to put it. The keyword here is suggestion. I never, ever command.
I find out what the author is trying to do, and then I respect that.
This has nothing to do with being too nice. An editor who treats the author with velvet gloves and isn’t honest about problems is, of course, a waste of money. But that doesn’t mean editors have to be mean. It’s all about being constructive and showing respect for the author’s work.
As an editor, always remember that you are not the author. And that brings me to my second rule of editing:
It is not the editor’s place to change the author’s voice or style. On the contrary: It’s their job to identify and then reinforce the author’s style. The last thing you want to do as an editor is imposing your own style upon someone else’s work.
And that requires you to be humble.
If you want to use your own voice and style, you should be wearing the author’s rather than the editor’s shoes. A good editor puts their personal preferences in a drawer somewhere deep within their mind and looks at the text objectively.
In the end, an author and their editor form a team with a common goal. So if you’re an editor and want your clients to trust you, always remember these two things:
- The author has put a lot of work into it. Therefore, respect it.
- You are not the author. Therefore, be humble.
These two qualities will show your client that you are just as serious about their work as they are. It will show them you care about their work and that your sole intention is to help make it the best it can be.
This is how you get authors to trust you with their work.
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