Thursday, January 24, 2013

Cooperation, Not Capitulation

I've recently been seeing some…interesting blog posts about the editor-writer relationship—and even Kris Rush is talking about it, this morning.

Kris's post is a fantastic breakdown of the types of editor and what they do.

As anybody in the industry should know—and as many folks who chat with me end up learning—"editor" is a vague term. There are so many different types—that actually do disparate jobs—and for some of them, the job description actually depends on whom you ask.

I've seen more than one argument be caused by two folks using "editor" in different ways, or assuming the job description for "X editor" is always the same, everywhere, as it is in their experience…

But for more on the different types of editor and what they actually do, check out Kris's post.

As for me, I've seen some…troubling blog comments, forum comments, and even client comments. Troubling because the authors involved sound as if they think that an editor has the final say. (Or, at least, they think I want to hear them talk that way.)

Note: If you're my client and you did this, you weren't alone, and I'm not picking on you. These things seem to run in packs, from multiple sources.

Publishers have content requirements. An author with a publishing contract might discover that the publisher, for example, doesn't allow trademarks. In that case, the author has to change the trademarks if they want to be published with that company. An editor might go ahead and change the trademark to a generic. The author might prefer to remove the reference altogether.

The author should feel free to use their preferred method to repair a problem.

Or let's say a character says something that that doesn't make sense, in context. An editor might go ahead and delete it. The author might prefer to put in transitions so the line fits.

Cooperation, see? Fixing the problem…

But not necessarily capitulating to everything the editor says.

Maybe the editor's missing your point. That happens, and it isn't always your fault. If an editor flags something as, "Hey, when did he enter the room?", maybe she forgot and just needs the author to point out the line ten paragraphs up. In that case, nothing's actually wrong. But when the person entered the room ten pages up and just popped up again… That's a problem.

Maybe you're missing the editor's point. Maybe you're using "bemused" as "amused" because that's its common usage, though it actually means "confused" or "befuddled". Even if you're aware of that but prefer the common usage, an editor might be concerned about how your use of it would give vague, confusing, contradictory images to the reader.

We're all human. We're all imperfect.

Now, let's go back to the trademark example. Maybe your story really, really, really needs Kleenix in it. Removing the Kleenix or replacing it with "facial tissue" would completely ruin what you were going for in a scene.

The answer isn't for the publisher to capitulate to your demands. They have a content policy. If you want to be published through them, you'll have to abide by it.

If your contract includes an out, you'll want to take it.

If it doesn't have an out, you'll have to figure out what to do without the Kleenix.

Let's go back to the "bemused" example. Maybe your editor really, really, really doesn't want you to use that word. Let's assume it isn't against the publisher's content policy, and the editor can't strong-arm you into it. Maybe the editor nags, begs, and recruits help.

If you just want to convey something, why not change the word to something that won't stress out the editor?

If you very much want the word, why not see if you can add something to specify what you meant by it?

Now, if you're cutting the editor's paycheck—say, you're self-publishing and you hire an author—you're in authority over the editor. While the editor should know what they're doing, and an author should respect their expertise—at the end of the day, you're the one responsible, in that situation. If you want to give a guy more than one wife—something that's really easy to do, just by removing a few commas—then you're the one responsible for that, as long as the editor did her part and tried to put them in.

Assuming that the editor knew it was an error. Editors aren't telepathic (in my experience), and when things are done consistently, the editor won't always know that what's on the page isn't what the author meant to say.

Some editors are unreasonable, sure. So are some authors. But I can't control that; you can't control that. All we can do is seek cooperation, as best we can, and know our boundaries for where we'll put our foot down.

What are your thoughts on cooperation vs. capitulation? Do you think me overreacting to a tongue-in-cheek word choice?


Note that this post is not talking about ghostwriting or work-for-hire.

Those two are an entirely different matter.

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