When Does Pride Sabotage Your Editing?
Pride Goeth Before… Well… Pretty Much Everything
Let’s face it: If you don’t let your pride go, you’re not going anywhere either.
I get it. You’re an author. You’ve spent the past months/years/lifetime working on your latest manuscript. You’ve self-edited. You’ve re-worked. You’ve sat in your coffee shop/comfy chair/drafty, pigeon-y Parisian garret for hours poring over every single line, every period, every accent mark, every footnote. And you have every right to feel proud of that accomplishment.
Go get yourself a coffee, fluff your pillows, and shoo the pigeons off the windowsill so you can look out at la tour Eiffel.
In some ways, the next step in writing is the easiest. It’s when you, the author, get to sit back and let someone else do the work. You hand over your manuscript and wait for it to come back to you with notes like “This is amazing!” “Best book I’ve ever read!” and “I only wish it were longer!” on it.
And—if you handed the book to one of your close friends or family members—it’s entirely possible that those are the responses that you’ll get. There might be a note or two about missing punctuation or a question about a chapter break, but that’s probably it.
Your pride has been patted on the back. You’re good to go. You finish your coffee, close your laptop, get out of your comfy chair, and start climbing down the stairs from your garret in search of an agent so that you can sell your masterpiece for no less than the down payment on a penthouse by the Seine.
And then, as you shop your book around, you start getting comments like “could use some tightening” or “show, don’t tell” or “didn’t I read this last year?” Suddenly this is not the easiest part of writing. And your pride… well… your pride either tells you that the new comments are completely wrong, or it steps a little to the side and says “Hmm… maybe there’s more work to be done.” This—if you really want your book to move forward—is where your editor comes in.
Editors, if we’re really being honest, are here to be your pride’s best friend and its worst enemy. We’re paid (or cajoled, or offered pizza and cat sitting) to tell you what we really think about your work. (Or at least some aspects of it.) And when you ask an editor to be honest, there’s a pretty good chance you’re going to get honest answers. I’ve had author-friends say to me “Let me know what you think” and I’ve responded with “Are you sure?” (The conversations do not always go well after that.)
Before you go down that avenue and find yourself wanting to commit a murder in the Rue Morgue (“It was justifiable homicide, monsieur. He criticized my use of the Oxford comma!”), let’s take a quick look at three common scenarios to figure out what kind of editor you’re truly looking for:
1. How married are you to the text?
If someone suggests the main character would be more likeable with a poodle, instead of a ferret, how will you feel? Would you be open to changing your focus from solar energy to a broader renewable resource platform? Have you been working on this for so long that you’re just done?
If any of those questions found you grabbing your latté and wondering about the penalties for public scalding in France, then you probably don’t want an in-depth developmental edit where the editor is going to pick your work apart and make suggestions for broad changes. So when your editor asks what you’re looking for, you’re going to want to ask for a copyedit, or a “surface” edit.
2. Are you kind of stuck, and in need of input?
Are you beginning to wonder if your book is too much like the other books on the market about renewable energy? Does it feel like there are too many cats in the book, but you’re not sure how to choose one over another?
If you’re truly looking for serious feedback and input, then you want a developmental editor. This is someone who will sit down with the manuscript—and with you—and really get to the meat (or meat-substitute, if you’re so inclined) of the text. If this is what you’re looking for, you’ll want to correspond with your editor in advance to discuss what is or isn’t off limits, and then plan to talk after the edit is done to find out why the changes were suggested so that you can figure out what to do next.
3. Are you fairly sure you’re done with the book, but not sure how it presents itself for its audience?
Are you afraid that cat lovers may not like that it’s set in Paris? Do you think that your plan for renewable energy might not fly in a market dominated by fossil fuel magnates?
There’s a very good chance, if any of these are true, that you don’t need an editor—yet. You probably need a “beta reader” (which is not to be confused with a betta reader, who—I believe—is a fortune teller for fish). Beta readers can definitely be your friends and family—assuming you can trust them to give you their honest opinions—or anyone else somehow connected to your book’s setting, genre, or overall topic.
(Next time, we’ll go a little more into why your editor, just like your beta readers, should—or possibly shouldn’t—be incredibly familiar with your book’s topic.)
One final thing (for today) about editors: the best ones also tend to be readers. This means that they not only know what should or shouldn’t be on the page from a technical standpoint, the odds are that they also know what should or shouldn’t be on the page from an enjoyment standpoint. Whether your book is about Parisian felines or solar panels, your editor should be able to tell you whether your book is not only “technically correct” but… well… good.
And, believe me, if your editor is serious about her job, and does a thorough job on your book, and still says the book is good, that’s going to do great things for your pride. It may not get you that penthouse overlooking the Seine, but as you sink back into your comfy chair to pet your cat and drink your latté, you’ll know that you’re ready for whatever the next round of editing might bring.
Robert Schmidt spends much of his time helping others craft their best work while he searches for hidden treasures.