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Editing – The Good, The Bad & The Ugly

freelance writers and editorsI love good editors!

The good ones make my writing better. That’s true for many writers. The acknowledgments you see in many books thanking the editor are not just flattery – in most cases the gratitude expressed is genuine.

Which isn’t to say every editor is a good one, although I’ve found far more good ones than not.

Editing is really an art. Sure, there are rules of grammar and spelling, but the good editor brings much more to a manuscript that a rigid understanding of the rules.

Much of that ‘more’ is an understanding of their audience. The fact that they bring totally fresh eyes to your work is another reasons the good editors can be so effective making your writing better. Even when we writers have the luxury of putting our work aside for weeks, we simply aren’t able to see it as clearly as someone else.

When editing goes bad

Ideally you’ll get a chance to vet the work the editor does before it goes into print. This is true of books by trade publishers and some magazines.

If you get an opportunity to see the edited piece before it goes to print and you don’t like it, the first step is to ask why the editor made the changes. It could be that once you get the editor’s point of view you’ll be if not happy, at least satisfied that the edits are okay.

If, even after the explanation, you hate what’s been done to your piece, you’ve got a choice to make. You can let the edits stand or you can challenge them.

The best way to challenge edits you don’t like is to suggest an alternative – something that’s not the way you originally wrote it, but isn’t exactly like the changes the editor made either – a middle ground as it were.  The good editors will often be happy to meet you half way.

Once in a great while you’ll run into a piece of editing that so radically changes your meaning you’ll want to insist the change not be made.

This has only happened to me once and the editor seemed to be determined to add something that I felt changed the whole tone and gave a wrong impression of what I was saying.

After asking for some time to think about it I called her back and said something like, “If you insist on adding that I won’t fight you but I will ask you to take my name off it.” There was a long silence and she agreed to do it my way.

I’d make the same decision again, but you also need to know that I never wrote for that publication house again. I suspect I got a reputation of being hard to work with.

Often you won’t have a chance to approve the edits. Most of the time that turns out okay, but not always. My first article about computers was a humor piece and the editor added her own ‘touches’ making it so hokey I never even claimed credit for it on my credit list. I wanted to complain, but a fellow writer who had been in the business longer than I had advised me to just let it go. Good advice I’m sure.

By far I’ve had way more editors who have made my writing stronger and more readable, but the other kind of editing does happen occasionally.

What’s been your experience with editors?


Image: Attribution Some rights reserved by TheCreativePenn

{ 7 comments… add one }
  • My first experience with editing was a literary magazine at my school. I had submitted a rather dark story with a seemingly innocent title and narrator that really drew the reader in. He removed the reference to it in the story and changed it to something goofy. The editor said he had cut a bit for length, but I felt that change wasn’t a good one.

    The rest of the edits –there weren’t many– were really good. I thought and thought and finally came up with a way to put the reference back in and still have the same title, while only using one sentence. It worked perfectly and they accepted the change. The edit really challenged me to think, and it made the story better.

    You can read it on the Read Me page on my blog. http://aelizabethwest.wordpress.com I just put the story up because I don’t have a link to that particular issue of the magazine. I’ve emailed them about that but never got a reply. Oh well, I have a hard copy of it. That was the first time I was ever published and it was very exciting. I got to read it aloud at the issue party. 🙂
    Elizabeth West recently posted..Z!!!My Profile

  • I was just thinking about this last night! I’m always looking for something that I can use as a “sample,” but it seems like so much of my stuff winds up mangled by the time it hits the web or whatever (case in point — I did some lovely wedding invitations for a friend. When they arrived, she had “made some changes” but didn’t proofread, so now the lovely invitations were riddled with typos… arrrgh! She paid for the work, but I don’t want her to tell anyone that I helped.). I was griping to my husband — does that happen in other fields? Who takes a painting and decides to “add their own touch” to it?

    This isn’t to say I’m anti-editing. I love editing! I do editing work myself! But I wish people who weren’t actually professional editors would leave well enough alone.
    Amelia Ramstead recently posted..Why I Don’t Outsource TranscriptionMy Profile

    • In terms of samples, use the before stuff… I’ve done that. And I’ve left off stuff that got mangled from my samples.

  • Charlie

    An informative write up you’ve done. As I finish writing my novel, I wonder how much of it will need reediting.

    • Charlie, I’m sure you’ll need editing for your novel… we all do.

  • Because so much of my work is with corporate clients, editing can be a painful experience. I’ve had more than one piece not end up in my portfolio because the editing changed the piece so much that it was unrecognizable (and unwanted) as my own.

    But, then the people doing corporate editing are not typically professional editors. I’ve had some professional editors that you swore they made edits just for the sake of changes. Usually, they were minor so I didn’t care. That’s something newbies to editing have to adjust to . Don’t take it personally and review the edits objectively. Easier than it sounds (at first).

    I had a talented editor who reviewed several sections of my eBook as a courtesy. I was blown away by how good he was. I didn’t agree with all the edits, but he was GOOD. He had that all important balance you talk about, Anne, between the “rules” and the style for the targeted reader.

    I think the right editor is worth their weight in gold. Like most any profession, there are good ones and bad ones. My experience has been mostly positive.
    Cathy Miller recently posted..3 Business Writing Ideas From a Pet RockMy Profile

    • Come to think of it Cathy, I’ve had a couple of corporate clients over time that have absolutely ruined pieces… it’s a shame, but it happens.

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