First four words about editors and mentors…They are not God…
Now a few more words…Working with editors and mentors (E/Ms) can be confusing and on occasion filled with frustration. I’ve worked with good and bad E/Ms, and – thankfully – one great E/M.
Good E/Ms are the most common of the genus éditorus rex. These, generally kind examples of the species, understand what you are trying to accomplish with your novel/story, but only work with you if your manuscript is – short of a copy edit – publication ready. They are pleasant enough, but harried and easily distracted by their own problems or workload. They are like parents who raise free-range children, allowing them to run wild, hoping they will eventually turn out okay.
Bad E/Ms are like weeds in the flower beds of your prose. They are noxious, prevalent, and can choke the life out of your manuscript. Sometimes, you can feel as if this species of E/M is reveling in picking your manuscript apart, insisting on changes from left field, and they can leave you having no idea what they are talking about (I did mention frustration above). In general, these sour individuals are simply not a good match for your particular manuscript.
Bad E/Ms may actually be good editors when working in their favorite genre or with important authors – as opposed to working writers. However, when faced with being assigned to edit a manuscript from a genre with which they are not familiar – or simply don’t like – they can become as difficult as a four-year-old having a meltdown in the middle of the cereal aisle.
They may even view your manuscript as beneath their own literary aspirations. They believe they should be editing Thomas Wolfe or F. Scott Fitzgerald – you know, authors worthy of their attention – instead of wasting their time with you.
Yikes. If this happens to you escape while you still can.
The problem is, beginning writers often confuse the above editorial species. You have to be objective when working with an E/M. Are they helping you make the manuscript better, or are they undermining the power of your words?
Some beginning writers have a hard time overcoming the blinkers of their own writer’s narcissism. They are like mothers who believe their fat, spotty, rude child – otherwise known as their manuscript – is perfect, and woe be to anyone who doesn’t lavish praise or who dares to change a word. Writer’s like this can’t recognize when the suggestions and changes offered by a good E/M are pertinent and needed. Unable to distinguish between the bright plumage of a good E/M and the black belly feathers of a Bad E/M, they rant and rave and become their own worst enemy. Unless they really are the equivalent of Thomas Wolfe or F. Scott Fitzgerald, they will not find the welcome mat out next time they want to submit a manuscript.
There is another breed of beginning writer at the other end of the spectrum. They can’t imagine ever disagreeing with an editor. They often end up butchering their fragile bonsai tree of a manuscript trying to please an E/M who may (good E/Ms) or may not (bad E/Ms) have the best interest of their manuscript at heart.
Great E/Ms are rare and magical beasts. They are actually able to see what works and doesn’t work in your novel. They make considered and constructive suggestions, help you find solutions to manuscript problems, encourage you through the hard process of making changes, and become a true partner in the publishing process. If you ever come across a great E/M, protect them with your life. They will make you a better writer and a better person. They might not turn your manuscript into a bestseller, but they will ensure it will sell better than it would without their input.
But let’s get back to the point of this diatribe – E/Ms are not God.
As a writer, I’ve long believed the myth that most E/Ms are trolls living under their desks snatching at any winsome manuscript trying to pass across their desk. I am loath to give up that unreasonable impression, even though I now find myself turning into a troll as my role of E/M expands.
Remember, an E/M’s comments on your manuscript are opinions. We may be wrong (but probably not). Comments on your manuscript are not judgements of you as a person or even as a writer. I wrote a lot of bad crap before the scent of my pros began to become more acceptably aromatic.
Speaking for myself I am completely capable of getting things wrong. If you send me a historical romance to edit, my tendency would be to strip down your flowing prose, excise all of the yucky moony-eyed stuff, and editing you by the standards of another genre with which I am more familiar.
Hopefully, I have evolved as an E/M to the point where I don’t do this. I have grown to understand the tropes of many other genres beyond my own. I could be a good editor for a historical romance or sweet romance or even an erotic romance – but I will never be a great editor in those genres because I have nothing to add to make a manuscript better other than the generic literary conventions. I could make such a manuscript better, but I most likely couldn’t help make it sing.
So, what does all of this mean when you submit a manuscript or work with an E/M? First, when your chosen E/M makes comments and suggestions don’t take them personally. Try to be objective about them. Do they make sense? Do they make your manuscript stronger? Don’t be obnoxious, but neither be afraid to disagree. I personally am open to a back and forth literary relationship. I may not get what you are trying to do until you explain it to me. Once I understand, I can tailor my advice and encouragement.
I am certainly not the final word on the worth of a manuscript or even the changes I think should be made. No E/M is. This is about your writing, not a troll’s editing. Still, as a writer, you need to be open and prepared to learn from an E/M’s experience, while not allowing an E/M to derail your vision.
ONE FINAL NOTE:
E/M shopping can be a dangerous path. After offering advice, no E/M likes to be told be told, “But that’s the complete opposite of what E/M so-and-so said.” E/M shopping will only lead you to a cornucopia of conflicting advice, causing utter confusion and frustration for a beginning writer.
An E/M offers advice and opinions. Throwing up your arms and telling an E/M another E/M gave the total opposite advice is the quickest way to make the current E/M abandon you in midstream. If an E/M’s advice is conflicting with what you’ve been told, keep your own counsel, consider the advice, and make a decision about which E/M is right. Then – most importantly – stop shopping around and stick with the E/M who serves you best.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Novelist, screenwriter, and television personality, Paul Bishop spent 35 years with the Los Angeles Police Department and was twice honored as Detective of the Year. He continues to work privately as a deception and interrogation expert. His fifteen novels include five in his LAPD Homicide Detective Fey Croaker series. His latest novel, Lie Catchers, begins a new series featuring top LAPD interrogators Ray Pagan and Calamity Jane Randall.
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