Editors can either be chosen (as freelancers) by the writer-client, as is often the case with self-publishing, or they may be the publisher's choice, as when you're offered a contract by a publishing house. In both cases, there are times when we writers, both inexperienced and experienced, believe the editor is wrong in asking us to make changes to our manuscript, or in rejecting it. We may feel the editor does not understand the value or the meaning of our book or article. So, what is a writer to do? Accept the changes the editor asks for, or put an end to the cooperation with the editor? Is it better to change your editor instead of making the suggested changes to your book or article? And finally, what is the best, least risky strategy for dealing with such an issue?
First, it is necessary to make it clear that a writer's relationship with a freelance editor (i.e., one that the writer has chosen to hire) is different from that with a publishing house's editor. If the editor is hired by the writer, the author has the freedom to risk ignoring any suggestions the editor makes (which is a waste of money, of course) or find another editor. When dealing with the editor of a publishing house, however, the writer has little or no choice, as the publisher (not the author) is the source of the editor's paycheck. If the author is daring enough to risk not being published by the specific house, he may ask the publisher to assign another editor or allow a cooperation with an outside freelance editor.
Second, remember that editing is done on three levels: Developmental (Structural and Line) editing, Copyediting and Proofreading. It is mainly developmental (or content) editing that hurts. This is the area where most disagreements arise. When changes are of minor importance to the author, such as spelling or replacing a weak verb with a stronger one, they rarely cause an issue, especially if it is clear that such changes improve the manuscript.
Here are some examples of the types of changes developmental editors may request:
It is important for writers to determine from the start where to draw the line: What things one is not willing to change just to get published. That being said, our personal reaction to editorial suggestions is a matter of thinking and attitude -- areas over which we do have control.
As writers, we question things. We are truth seekers. Before making the decision to find another editor or cancelling a contract, a writer must determine the truth of the situation rather than simply responding to emotional reactions. Is it possible to tell with certainty who is right and who is wrong?
1. Check Your Wisdom
Have you chosen your editor or publishing house wisely? What is the editor's and/or publishing house's specialty? What is their policy? Is your book or article a mirror of your expertise in the field (skills, knowledge and experience)? Have you submitted to a magazine or website that is a good fit for your article? Have you followed the guidelines? Have you submitted your best work? Does your manuscript add to the publisher's good reputation?
2. Define "Right" and "Wrong."
How do you define "right" (as in "I am right") vs. wrong (as in "the editor is wrong")? Such definitions can be objective or subjective. They can reflect social concerns, social norms, historical time and individual experiences. They may change with time. Search yourself carefully to determine where your belief in right vs. wrong has been formed, and what the reality is behind it. Is it a belief or an emotion? Is it a belief based on objective, measurable factors or might it be a matter of opinion or taste? Having different beliefs or opinions does not necessarily mean one person is wrong and the other is right.
1) Why do I believe the editor is wrong? What proof do I have?
Be as specific as possible, and don't try to support your argument with opinions of friends and family.
2) What does the editor stand to lose if I am right? What will she gain if I am wrong?
Most editors are professionals: They know it boils down to doing business, and are not concerned about satisfying their egos. In other words, editors have much less "ego" on the line than writers.
3) Could I be wrong? Might I be distorting the truth in some way about my manuscript? How?
For example, am I deceiving myself as to the appropriateness of my style for the publication's audience? Have I supported my conclusions with facts rather than strongly held opinions?
4) Do I want to be right because my ego needs it? Is it painful to accept that the editor might be right?
It's easy to become emotionally attached to a manuscript and fiercely defensive against criticisms.
5) Have I written something the editor does not believe in, or that is contrary to her values?
We all have our own values, beliefs, opinions and preferences. They are deeply rooted in our minds and hearts, guiding and ruling our lives. If you are not in the same boat with your editor regarding beliefs and values, don't write an article in hopes that you'll change his mind; experience tells me you can never win.
6) Could we both be right? In what way?
Have I clearly understood what the editor is telling me? Can I read between the lines? Has the editor made herself clear enough? Have I made everything clear to the editor? Could we both be saying the same thing in different ways?
7) What do we disagree about?
Are we disagreeing over whether a problem exists in the manuscript in the first place, or are we disagreeing over the best way to fix it? How significant is the disagreement? Could we brainstorm a different solution?
When we believe the editor is wrong, there seems to be a gap between what we want as writers and what the editor wants. This gap does not actually exist – it is an illusion created by the way we think. In reality, it is not a question of who is right or wrong but of what does the job best. We both have the same ultimate goal: Satisfied, happy readers. The difference is in the priorities each of us hold in order to reach that common goal. Our priority, as writers, is to have our book or article published. The editor's is to make sure only the best and fittest of submitted manuscripts will be published, so as to guard the publisher's or website's identity. The difference in our priorities is a result of the different jobs we are doing. We have different responsibilities and each of us will be accountable for accomplishing different tasks. Writers and editors need each other. We are like the key and its lock. Together, we can unlock the doors of wonder to our readers. Keep in mind:
1) Some editors are writers themselves. They know the hardships you are going through. They, too, have experienced rejection and have been asked to make changes to their manuscripts by some other editor.
2) Editors may also be the publishers or owners of the website or publishing house you are submitting to. You need to trust them; they know their business well. Make sure your work matches their business vision, because they know their market better than you do.
3) Some editors are educators. They are skillful and experienced and know what you need to learn. They can teach you many things.
4) Last but not least, most editors are avid readers. They don't reject manuscripts because they don't love writing, but because they do. Thus, actually, editors and writers have a lot in common -- much more than we tend to think. Focusing on these similarities, rather than our differences, can help us all reach our end goal faster and more effectively. Moreover, if the editor is someone whose work you admire, you don't want to miss the opportunity to work with this person. Adopt a positive attitude, even if you are skeptical, and think of the editor as your friend.
I admit that there is a minority of unfriendly, unprofessional, inexperienced and not so clever editors in the industry, with whom it is wise not to spend your precious time. But the same is true for writers too. Most editors are wonderful and inspiring people for the writers who can appreciate them.
Of course, you can always hunt for another editor, if you see no benefit in bridging the "gap." Sometimes, people are just a bad match and the only thing you can do is accept it and compromise or end the relationship and move on. However, before you set out for a new editor, please read this article once again and try to apply it to your case. A couple of years from now, you may be surprised to realize that the editor you once believed wrong proved to be a great mentor and a driving force in your writing career.