Gordon Aalborg – The Editor

Even editors need editors.

We all need editors [even me … especially me] because when you try to be your own editor, you will see what you expect to see and mistakes will slip by you. Simple as that. And once you’ve worked on a manuscript half a dozen or a dozen times, and revised it and re-revised it, you miss a lot more during a final proofing than you’d think. Trust me on this—I’ve been there.

My esteemed wife and fellow author Deni Dietz and I both evaluate and edit books for publishers. We also, as Stray Cat Productions, do freelance editing for authors preparing ms for submission to agents, other publishers, or as e-books.

Both Deni and I are extremely selective about the jobs we take on. We edit only electronically, using Track Changes in MS WORD. We don’t usually do partials and we try not to do books that—in our opinion—aren’t yet ready for editing that costs the author money. Most of our work comes from professional authors who know the drill, know what to expect and know what editing is all about – and what it isn’t.

Deni is a good editor. For some authors, I am a better one; for others, no good at all.

Deni is warm, diplomatic, tactful, and pretty easy to work with. She knows the fragility of author egos and governs herself accordingly.

I also know the fragility of author egos, but I don’t care. I learned my trade on the hard, dirty floors of newspaper, radio and television newsrooms and I’m old and curmudgeonly and occasionally cranky and usually sarcastic in the bargain.

And we both charge like wounded bulls. Good editing doesn’t come cheap, and shouldn’t!

My authors usually know when I get to their work because their tender, virgin, shell-like ears burn and the air turns blue even if we’re thousands of miles apart. My idea of tact is to tack pictures of the author on my dart board. That said, my authors like my style of editing and if they need their precious egos constantly massaged, are happy enough to look elsewhere for that.

The editor is not God … he only thinks he is.

Many readers might question the logic of such a statement, but that’s because few readers and, I sometimes think, even fewer writers genuinely understand what editing is all about.

The acquisition editor for a publisher certainly has the right to accept or reject a manuscript on the basis of stated editorial requirements, which to many authors suggests God-like power. And there are those so-called editors who insist on changes that involve little more than rewriting a book “as they would have written it” – putting their own image and stamp on a book just because they can. This, in my opinion, is not “editing” … it is a power trip and a nonsense. The problem is that such tyrants get away with it because so many wannabe authors are so desperate to be published that they will put up with this sort of thing.

What “is” editing?

Broadly speaking, editors fall into three categories:

DEVELOPMENTAL EDITORS are primarily concerned with STORY … is it there? … does it hang together? … is it “good”, or at least viable? Stuff like that. And yes, they “do” fix typos and such when they encounter them, if only because they “know” that if they don’t, the ms could go through another dozen editors along the way to publication and every one of them could miss that particular, perhaps tiny error. It happens. None of us is perfect. So the best editors, I believe, will “fix it if they find it” just to be sure it actually gets fixed.

COPY EDITORS are primarily concerned with grammar, punctuation, typos, structure, etc. And “house style” if they’re working for a publisher. The very best ones are trivia mavens, too, who will pick up on things like the fact the word you used in an historical novel wasn’t in common use at the time you’ve used it.

E-BOOK EDITORS are a specialized mob with specialized talents, who deal with all of the above plus the specific needs of a manuscript destined to become an E-book. And they, too, generalize because it is necessary.

Occasionally, we get authors who say, “I don’t really want you to “edit” the book … just skim through it and see if it “works”, if it holds together okay. Which is a nonsense suggestion. No editor I know of can just read a book and “not” edit if editing is required. It is the same as being told not to think of a white horse.

Deni and I have become generalists, because our sort of work demands that, so we serve in all three capacities as required, which sometimes results in a “Jack of all trades—Master of none” situation for which we make no apologies.

Mostly, as I said, we deal with professionals who want exactly our style of editing, and everyone involved knows the drill and the job gets done and everybody is happy with the results.

Professionalism is a state of mind .. an attitude.
Amateurism is a disease of the psyche.

Amateurism is also a state of mind that has nothing to do with how many books an author has written, or sold. The difference between amateur and professional—to an editor—leaps off the page pretty damned quick. And the problem is that if you “present” as an amateur, you will be perceived as an amateur and any editor’s experience with your work is colored by that.

I know allegedly professional authors to whom I wouldn’t give kennel space, much less edit their work at any price, because they have an amateur mind-set and an amateur attitude and their manuscripts are a nightmare to work with. And I have done “first books” for authors of such consummate professionalism it frightened me. Good books. Good writing. And they’re my competition and they’re younger/better/prettier than me, in the bargain. And they’re professionals right out of the gate!

No editor should be expected to run around picking up after any author as if the author was a recalcitrant teenager with a messy room. If an author doesn’t think a story is important enough to do the proofing, do the spell-checking, do the formatting, etc.—carefully and properly and professionally—I’m not about to care enough to bother with it at all. Simple as that.

Authors with the attitude: “The editor will catch it.” are amateurs. Authors with the attitude: “Near enough is good enough.” are amateurs. Authors who bitch and complain about having been asked to thoroughly read through the page proofs for their soon-to-be-published book, and then don’t bother, because, “I’ve read it a thousand, million times already.” are amateurs. Authors who say, “Iran it threw the spelling checker so it shouldn’t need mush editing” are worse than amateurs. Authors who can give Sarah Palin a run for Diva-of-the-year are amateurs. A pox on all their houses, I say!

My view is that your job as an author is to present me, the editor, with a manuscript that is PERFECT IN YOUR EYES. My job is to show you why you need new or better glasses.

If your manuscript is not perfect in your eyes, it isn’t ready to be submitted to anyone, anywhere, much less to an editor for whose time you’re paying. And definitely not to any editor you hope will pay “you” for the privilege of publishing your work!

The editor is “not” your enemy.
The editor is your friend and partner.

My role as your editor is NOT to rewrite your manuscript, or make changes for the sake of change. Editors don’t rewrite—YOU rewrite. It is YOUR book.

I am merely here to guide you, to play devil’s advocate, to tell you what “I” think works, or doesn’t work, and why, and to make such changes as I think need making to improve the book. To give you my opinion—it’s what you’re paying for, after all.

I don’t care about pandering to your ego; your mother can do that—I care about your story … your book. With your name on it!

So: I’m here to catch what you’ve missed, to look for inconsistencies, outright spelling or grammatical errors, tense and pacing problems, logic problems, and to make suggested changes I think will improve your book. YOUR book. Not mine. YOUR name on the book. Not mine.

Nowhere is it carved in stone that you must agree with my suggestions, but I do expect you to at least consider them, THINK ABOUT THEM. Understand that I made these suggestions for a reason, and the only reason is to help you!

Criticizing your masterpiece gives me no pleasure. I don’t like criticism any better than you do, but we all mess up occasionally, and somebody has to bite the bullet and point out the things that are wrong, or seem to be wrong, or might be wrong. It’s called “constructive” criticism and professional authors welcome it even though our egos hate it.

My role is to help you to make sure your book comes out as good a book as we can make it, recognizing that the time for major rewriting is BEFORE YOU SUBMIT IN THE FIRST PLACE.

It can also be extremely helpful—for purposes of your own proofing, but especially if/when it comes time for you to do the formatting required by any publisher—if you click “on” the ¶ icon in your task bar. This turns off/on all the paragraph marks, spacing marks, etc., within your ms. Usually this icon is beside the % icon that lets you increase/decrease the on-screen type size to make reading easier (another nifty and oft-needed aspect of things, especially if you write on a small-screen lap-top.)

In today’s market, presentation is everything. There are acquisitions editors out there who will knock back a manuscript if they find “x” number of mistakes in “y” number of pages and think the author should reasonably have caught them. If their publisher—who pays them, let us not forget—has an accessible style guide, they expect you to pay attention to it … to USE it. If nothing else, get in the habit of using a simple generic style guide and being consitent. You want your potential editor to be concentrating on the quality of your writing, not a lot of distracting formatting issues!

Well don’t you?