You’re the author. I’m the editor: Respecting the difference
Hey, writers … ever wondered what would happen if you and your editor didn’t see eye to eye on every aspect of your book? This post is for you.
I recently–and successfully–finished editing a romance with some magical realism elements. My client’s happy and moving on with publication, but I can’t tell you how many times I read and reread their last email to me. I can’t tell you either how many times I constructed a reply in my mind, typed the reply, deleted the reply, and then wrote it again, only to delete it for good.
Sometimes, I just have to let them go.
I had a couple hurdles with this particular client. (I’m keeping my references to this client gender neutral to respect their privacy.) First, they didn’t speak English as their first language and they were writing in English. They did a great job, given that obstacle. I’ve been trying to learn conversational Spanish (not written form—just conversational) for years, and I could never have written so eloquently in Spanish as this client did in English.
With that said, though, it’s obvious in reading it that it’s written by a non-native speaker. This is where my second hurdle came in. My client liked it like that. They wrote in a very archaic form; the style lent itself to something you might find in a book written in the nineteenth century, even though the story was set in modern-day LA.
When this client first approached me about editing their book, I did a sample edit and I changed A LOT. I changed the wording so that it sounded more like it had been written by a native speaker, and I changed the style to make it read more like a current book.
They didn’t like that sample. At all. They had very definite ideas about what they wanted their book to sound like—even though they weren’t a natural speaker and so some of those nuances were lost to them because of that. I listened to what this client liked and didn’t like about my sample, and I did another sample, backing way off this time and editing with a much lighter touch.
They loved it. They hired me. The book is done. They are thrilled.
I made my peace with the writing style and the way it reads, accepting and honoring that it’s not my book, it’s theirs and they’re happy with it. But the story confused the heck out of me. I got to the end of it, and all I could do was scratch my head.
I truly don’t understand any of it. I don’t know what was real and what was a dream. I don’t know if any of it was real. I don’t know if anyone in the book was truly alive or if they were all figments of someone’s imagination. I wanted to understand, but I don’t.
I conveyed all of this (almost verbatim) to my client. I explained that I was confused and tried to describe what it was that confused me. They sent me a short response (like a sentence or two), which did not clear anything up for me at all.
I wrote back and reiterated that I was still confused. They thanked me very kindly for my work and said they’d really enjoyed working with me and wished me well. Period. Finito. We were done. They obviously didn’t want to try to explain anything else to me. I got the impression that they think the problem lies within me, not their story.
And that could be the case. I told them that too—that if they could just explain what happened in the story, then I could have that aha moment and realize I’d been a doofus. But if they couldn’t explain it, or if their explanation still didn’t work, then maybe I could help them sort it out so that whoever reads it next will completely understand.
I’m not going to get that chance. They made it clear they were happy with what I did but they also didn’t want to talk about what I perceived to be problems with the book.
Hence my rereading of their last couple messages and my subsequent writing and deleting and writing and deleting of another response.
I want to help them. I want to try to explain again that I’m not trying to be a pain. I’m not trying to be insensitive. I just want to help. I want to understand. I want to make sure their subsequent readers really get it.
But I have to just let go. I have to honor their decision not to discuss it further with me, just like I honored their decision to keep their writing style as it was.
It’s not my book. It’s theirs.
My point in writing this is for you writers to keep a few things in mind:
- If you find a good editor, they are truly going to work with you and your book to help you make it the best it can be. That is their goal.
- Working toward that goal can be painful and frustrating.
- If you’ve hired a good editor, trust them.
- Communicate with your editor. Consider and then answer their questions as thoroughly as you can. They had good reasons for asking them, and they want to hear from you.
- In the end, remember that it’s your book. If your editor suggests something that your gut doesn’t like, trust your gut.
I don’t know what my client intends to do with their book, but it will likely be out and available for purchase in the near future. I hope the confusion lies with me and not within the book itself. I hope thousands of people read it and love it.
And if that proves not to be the case, I hope my client will remember the last set of questions I asked and come back to me. Together, I believe we can sort it out.
Do you have a book ready for editing, the next step toward publication? Send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and tell me about it, about what you think it needs, and your publication goals. I’m looking forward to hearing from you!
And if you have general writing/editing questions, please share those in the comment section. I’ll get back to you ASAP. Thanks for stopping by and please do share my blog.