The writer-editor relationship can be tricky to navigate. In the old world of traditional publishing, it was a case of, “What the editor says, goes.” Authors were constantly gnashing their teeth and tearing their hair out over the way their editors had slashed and gashed their books.
I saw that happen too many times. I even cried with a few authors. Because of it, I swore that if I ever became an editor, I would never, ever do that to an author. I never needed to take a machete to a manuscript. A scalpel was always sufficient. If someone’s book needed developmental editing, I’d send them to a developmental editor, then they could come back to me for the line edit. Then came the manuscript that needed a machete, whose author refused to go to anyone else but me.
Changing role of an editor
In the old world, editors were part of a gatekeeping team, set up to keep most writers out of the game. Some say it was with good intention, to allow only the best writing to reach the world. That may be so. In any case, the world has changed. Now, anyone can be an author. A person can self-publish the nastiest holey piece of tattered rag on Amazon. I know because I’ve seen some of them.
Editors are no longer gatekeepers. Editors now are guides, assistants, support personnel, that kind of thing. That is as it should be. The changing role of an editor goes along with that reshaping of the publishing world.
What I don’t like is the fact that authors no longer have to have editors. You may think I believe that for financial reasons. I don’t. I would never be able to edit every author’s work, so wanting them to all have an editor (or two) is not because I’d make more money at it. I’m booked solid as it is.
The reason I think every author should have at least one editor is every book needs at least one editor. It’s the nature of the thing: blindness to errors. I’m always thankful when a client trusts me to be their guide. When it became obvious that a machete-needing manuscript was going to end up staying with me, I cringed. I didn’t want to have to be one of those editors who sliced and diced a book. It meant having some hard conversations with the author. It meant some late nights, chewing on what to do about this or that. It meant having the ability to steer the book in entirely different ways: option A on decision one would produce a very different book than option B would. Ditto for decision two. It was terrifying to me, but at the same time, exhilarating. I could definitely see the attraction some editors had to developmental editing. Wow, the power to shape a book completely, like sculpting a statue out of stone.
But it’s too easy for a book to stop being the author’s book, and start being an amalgam of the author’s book and the editor’s book. I never liked that, and the authors who cried on my shoulder never did, either. I did that book because it wouldn’t have been written otherwise. The author would not have published it if I didn’t.
I’m working on a book right now that has needed developmental editing. It, too has required some hard questions. Rather than do it the way the “old world” editors did, however, I present the options to the author and let the author decide. I ask things like, “Do you want to go with option A, which will do this to your book, or option B, which will do that? Do you want your book to be boohoo or woohoo?” Then, I go with what the author wants. Because, after all, it’s the author’s book. The author is the hero; I’m just the guide.